Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#851 -- Outlawing Chemical Trespass, 20-Apr-2006

.
.

Please join us in Chicago May 19-21 to discuss strategy and tactics
for preventing harm and winning on our issues. Get details here.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #851

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, April 20, 2006................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Featured stories in this issue...

Can We Make Chemical Trespass Illegal?
  In Pennsylvania, local governments have begun to confront corporate
  power directly, enacting ordinances intended to define corporations
  instead of merely "regulating" their behavior. The ideas embodied
  within these ordinances have been hammered out by Pennsylvania
  citizens in open debate, but the legal language has been crafted by
  the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Here we
  present a new model ordinance from CELDF, not yet enacted anywhere,
  which defines "chemical trespass" (toxicants entering our bodies
  without our consent), prohibits it, and punishes corporations (and
  their directors) if they do it. To understand the goals of this
  innovative approach to corporate power, you really should attend
  Democracy School, which we recommend highly. --Editors
Grass-Roots Activism Is the Key to Success
  Some say the environmental movement is dead. Author Mark Dowie
  argues that the movement is clearly alive but "courting irrelevance."
  The problem is that about 25 large organizations get 70% of all the
  available funding, which they tend to spend on lobbying campaigns that
  no longer work very well. Meanwhile, thousands of small groups working
  all across the country at the local level must divvy up the remaining
  30%. This arrangement starves grass-roots activism, which is
  innovative, passionate, effective, and connected to communities of
  people who vote. Dowie suggests several remedies, among them to
  strengthen the entire environmental effort by linking advocates for
  environmental justice, economic justice, public health, democratic
  decision making, and civil rights. Amen.
Vapor Intrusion: The New Frontier of Toxic Cleanup
  People involved with the cleanup or redevelopment of sites
  contaminated with volatile organic compounds are facing a new
  environmental challenge, vapor intrusion, which occurs when volatile
  compounds move up through cracks, gaps, or pores in soil and
  foundations into homes, other buildings, and even the outdoor air.
Chemical Companies Look to Coal as an Oil Substitute
  Germany lost World War I partly because they lacked access to oil.
  But they had plenty of coal so after that "war to end all wars,"
  Germany's chemical giant, IG Farben, prepared for Hitler's grand war
  by figuring out how to turn coal into oil, which they accomplished by
  1926. Today, faced with oil costing $70 per barrel, the biggest
  remaining unit of IG Farben, the BASF corporation, is gearing up to
  make oil from coal once again. The result seems certain to be ugly
  because there is no such thing as "clean coal" despite what the
  chemical and coal industries want you to believe. Note that there's no
  mention of global warming or coal mine devastation in this coal-
  friendly article.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #851, Apr. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP CHEMICAL TRESPASS ORDINANCE

Corporate Chemical Trespass -- A Model Ordinance

By Thomas Linzey

Introduction

This "Corporate Chemical Trespass" ordinance was developed by the
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a Pennsylvania
non-profit law firm. CELDF is making this model ordinance available to
anyone interested in mobilizing their communities to confront chemical
trespass by chemical corporations and the directors of those
corporations.

CELDF ordinances are designed to be discussed, perfected, and used
as linchpins of organizing campaigns conducted in coordination with
the Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools. These ordinances and Democracy
Schools reject a regulatory mode of organizing, and instead seek to
assert local control directly over corporations and the few who run
them.

Anyone interested in exploring this ordinance and Democracy Schools
for use in their municipality, may contact CELDF at (717) 709-0457,
info@celdf.org, www.celdf.org, or Richard Grossman at
rgrossman@riseup.net.

Liberty Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

Ordinance No. 2006-

An Ordinance of Liberty Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania,
Prohibiting Chemical Bodily Trespass within the Township; Establishing
Strict Liability and Burden of Proof Standards for Corporate Chemical
Trespass; and Subordinating Chemical Corporations to the People of
Liberty Township

Section 1. Name. The name of this Ordinance shall be the "Liberty
Township Chemical Trespass Ordinance."

Section 2. Authority. This Ordinance is adopted and enacted pursuant
to the authority granted to the Township by all relevant state and
federal laws including, but not limited, to the following:

§ The Declaration of Independence, which declares that governments are
instituted to secure people's rights, and that government derives its
just powers from the consent of the governed;

§ The Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, §2, which declares that
"all power is inherent in the people and all free governments are
founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety, and
happiness";

§ The Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, §27, which declares that
"the people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the
preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of
the environment";

§ Common law, which recognizes well-settled rules governing the tort
of trespass, and which requires injunctive, compensatory, and punitive
relief to be assessed for unauthorized intrusions;

§ The provisions of the Second Class Township Code Article XV, as
codified in 53 P.S. § 66501 et seq. that provide for the protection
and preservation of the natural resources and human resources, and for
the promotion, protection, and facilitation of public health, safety,
and welfare;

§ The provisions of the Second Class Township Code, Article XVI, as
codified in 53 P.S. § 66601 et seq. that authorizes the Township to
enact ordinances dealing with the protection of the township
residents' health, nuisances, and promotion of public safety.

Section 3. Purpose. The Board of Supervisors of Liberty Township
recognizes that over eighty thousand (80,000) corporate-produced
chemicals are currently used in the United States, and that scientists
estimate that over seven hundred (700) of those corporate-produced
chemicals are now found within the body of every human. Only a small
percentage of those chemicals have ever been screened for even one
potential health effect, such as cancer, reproductive toxicity,
developmental toxicity, or injury to the immune system. Among the
approximately fifteen thousand (15,000) chemicals tested, few have
been studied enough to conclude that there are no potential risks from
exposure. Even when testing is done, each chemical is tested
individually rather than in synergistic combinations that reflect
actual human exposure in the real world. The Board recognizes that one
thousand eight hundred (1,800) new chemicals enter the stream of
commerce annually -- thus entering into the bodies of people, and into
the air, water, soil, and food -- with few of those chemicals tested
for adverse impacts on human health or ecosystems. The Board
recognizes that sufficient data and experience exists for a reasonable
person to conclude that a significant percentage of both currently
used and newly manufactured chemicals are harmful to humans, animals,
and ecosystems.

Section 4. Purpose. The purpose of this Ordinance is to recognize that
it is an inviolate, fundamental, and inalienable right of each person
residing within the Township of Liberty to be free from involuntary
invasions of their bodies by corporate chemicals. The Board of
Supervisors of Liberty Township declares that persons owning and
managing corporations that manufacture chemicals and chemical
compounds trespassing on the bodies of residents of the Township must
be held liable for those trespasses. The Board of Supervisors also
declares that the failure and refusal of the United States' government
and the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure that
corporate chemicals do not trespass on the residents of Liberty
Township makes them jointly and severally liable for those trespasses.

Section 5. Definitions. As used throughout this Ordinance, the
following words and phrases shall have the following meanings:

"Corporation" -- any corporation organized under the laws of any state
of the United States or any country.

"Deposition" -- the placement of a toxic chemical or potentially toxic
chemical within the body of a person. The act of deposition shall be
assumed if a toxic chemical or potentially toxic chemical is detected
within the body of a person.

"Municipality" -- the Township of Liberty.

"Person" -- a natural person.

"Syndicate" -- includes any limited partnership, limited liability
partnership, business trust, or limited liability company organized
under the laws of any state of the United States or any country.

"Toxic chemicals and potentially toxic chemicals" -- includes, but is
not limited to, polychlorinated biphenyls, organophosphate pesticides,
organochlorine pesticides, carbamate insecticides, PBDE,
polychlorinated dibenzofurans, phytoestrogens, and pyrethroid
pesticides. The phrase shall include other chemicals or chemical
compounds that have been found to cause adverse effects to animals,
humans, or ecosystems, including those chemicals or chemical compounds
deemed to be mutagenic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic, or reproductive and
developmental toxicants.

"Township resident" -- a natural person who maintains a primary
residence within the Township of Liberty.

"Trespass" -- as used within this Ordinance, the involuntary
deposition of toxic or potentially toxic chemicals within a human
body.

Section 6. Statement of Law -- Chemical Trespass. All residents of the
Township of Liberty possess a fundamental and inalienable right to the
integrity of their bodies, and thus, have a right to be free from
unwanted chemical invasions of their bodies.

Section 7. Statement of Law -- Prohibition. The deposition of toxic
chemicals or potentially toxic chemicals within the body of any
resident of Liberty Township is declared a form of trespass, and is
hereby prohibited. No corporation or syndicate shall engage in the
production, distribution, use, and/or sale of toxic chemicals and
potentially toxic chemicals within the Township of Liberty.

Section 8. Statement of Law -- Culpable Parties. Persons owning or
managing corporations which manufacture or generate toxic or
potentially toxic chemicals detected within the body of any resident
of Liberty Township shall be deemed culpable parties, along with the
corporation itself, for the recovery of trespass damages, compensatory
damages, punitive damages, and the instatement of permanent injunctive
relief. If more than one corporation manufactured or generated the
detected chemical or chemical compound, persons owning and managing
those corporations, along with the corporations themselves, shall be
held jointly and severally liable for those damages, in addition to
being subject to injunctive relief.

Section 9. Statement of Law -- Requirement to Produce. Corporations
manufacturing or generating toxic or potentially toxic chemicals
detected within the body of a Township resident shall provide
information about the manufacture or generation of those chemicals to
the municipality sufficient for a determination by the municipality of
the culpability of that particular corporation for the manufacturing
or generation of a particular toxic or potentially toxic chemical.

Section 10. Statement of Law -- Duty of Municipality. It shall be the
duty of the municipality to protect the right of residents of the
Township to be free from chemical trespass under the provisions of
this Ordinance, and to obtain damages for any violation of that right.
If the presence of toxic and/or potentially toxic chemicals is
detected within the body of any Township resident, the municipality
shall initiate litigation to recover trespass, compensatory, and
punitive damages -- and permanent injunctive relief -- from all
culpable parties. If a significant number of Township residents have
been similarly trespassed against, the municipality shall select
representative plaintiffs and file a class action on behalf of all
Township residents to recover trespass, compensatory, and punitive
damages -- and permanent injunctive relief -- from all culpable
parties.

Section 11. Statement of Law -- Strict Liability. Culpable parties
shall be deemed strictly liable if one of their toxic or potentially
toxic chemical or chemical compounds is discovered within the body of
a Township resident. The municipality's showing of the existence of
that chemical or chemical compound within the body of a resident
living in the Township, and the municipality's showing that the
Defendant(s) are responsible for the manufacture or generation of that
chemical, shall constitute a prime facie showing of causation under a
strict liability standard. Current and future damages resulting from
the culpable parties' trespass shall be assumed, and the burden of
proof shall shift to the culpable parties for a showing that the
chemical or chemical compound could not cause harm or contribute to
causing harm, either alone or in combination with other factors, or
that the culpable parties are not responsible for the trespass of that
particular chemical into the body of residents of the Township.

Section 12. Statement of Law -- Corporate Constitutional Protections.
No corporation or syndicate engaged in, or planning to engage in, the
manufacture, distribution, and/or sale of toxic chemicals or
potentially toxic chemicals within the Township of Liberty shall be
protected, or empowered by, the Bill of Rights to the United States
Constitution, or by rights claimed within the text of the United
States or Pennsylvania Constitutions, within the Township of Liberty.
No corporation or syndicate engaged in, or planning to engage in, the
manufacture, distribution, and/or sale of toxic chemicals or
potentially toxic chemicals within the Township shall be deemed a
"person" for purposes of the Pennsylvania or United States
Constitutions, nor shall such corporations or syndicates have the
legal standing to assert State or federal preemptive law against the
municipality or the people of Liberty Township.

Section 13. Statement of Law -- Corporate Constitutional Protections.
A corporation or syndicate deemed a culpable party under this
Ordinance shall not be protected, or empowered by, the Bill of Rights
to the United States Constitution, or by rights claimed within the
text of the United States or Pennsylvania Constitution. Such
corporation or syndicate shall not have legal standing to assert State
or federal preemptive law against the municipality or the people of
Liberty Township.

Section 14. Statement of Law -- Municipal Testing. Liberty Township
shall select a laboratory with expertise in the testing for toxic
chemicals and potentially toxic chemicals and chemical compounds,
including, but not limited to, those chemical compounds listed in §5
of this Ordinance. The Township shall provide financial resources for
the first ten residents who request to be tested for the presence of
toxic chemicals and potentially toxic chemicals and chemical compounds
within their bodies, and make all reasonable efforts to provide
financial resources for the testing of additional residents.

Section 15. Enforcement. The Township Board of Supervisors shall
notify the Code Enforcement Officer of any possible violations, and
any resident of the Township may also notify the Township of any
possible violations. In addition to civil litigation brought against
culpable parties by the municipality, all violations of this Ordinance
shall be considered criminal summary offenses. The Board of
Supervisors authorizes a fine of up to $1,000.00 per violation. Each
day of non-compliance shall be considered a separate violation of this
Ordinance. The Township may also file an action in equity in the Court
of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, or any other
Court of competent jurisdiction to abate any violation of this
Ordinance. If the Township fails to bring an action to enforce this
Ordinance, or fails to diligently prosecute an action to enforce this
Ordinance, any resident of the Township shall have legal standing to
enforce the provisions of this Ordinance.

Section 16. Severability. The provisions of this Ordinance are
severable, and if any section, clause, sentence, part, or provision
thereof shall be held illegal, invalid or unconstitutional by any
court of relevant jurisdiction, such decision of the court shall not
affect, impair, or invalidate any of the remaining sections, clauses,
sentences, parts or provisions of this Ordinance. It is hereby
declared to be the intent of the Supervisors that this Ordinance would
have been adopted if a provision deemed by the Court to be illegal,
invalid, or constitutional would not have been included herein.

Section 17. Effect. This Ordinance shall be effective immediately upon
its enactment.

Return to Table of Contents

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Apr. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

MY VIEW: SUPPORT GRASS-ROOTS ENVIRONMENTALISTS

By Mark Dowie

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the modern American environmental
movement has been in a constant state of flux. The movement itself
began about a century ago with a small number of relatively
conservative organizations largely committed to wilderness
preservation, and has in the past 35 years grown into a vast national
complex comprising a few dozen large national organizations and
thousands of small grass-roots groups that focus on local and regional
matters as well as social concerns like environmental justice.

American environmentalism is interested in such a wide range of issues
that it seems at times to be many movements. Groups that are
preserving the forests, conserving wildlife, protecting rivers,
defending the oceans, and improving air and water quality all operate
under the broad and very vague rubric of environmentalism, as do
organizations making sure that minority neighborhoods don't suffer
unduly from environmental harms and that workers are not exposed to
toxic substances.

The large national groups take on most of those issues in one way or
another, so they often think of themselves, and their members, as part
of the grass roots. However, most members of national organizations
are passive check writers and occasional letter writers, essential
perhaps to the operation of the organization, and of some value to the
cause of environmental protection, but hardly vital to the grass-roots
commitment and energy essential to any successful social movement.
Changing the balance, so the grass-roots groups can be stronger, is an
essential challenge for the world of philanthropy.

To be sure, the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society work
aggressively to foster activism among their members, and a few members
of the other groups are active in local causes, often at the behest of
national headquarters. But the serious and most effective activists
are more likely to be found in the 50,000 or more small to medium-
sized regional and local groups scattered about the country, many of
them ad hoc and temporary in nature, frequently and unpredictably
appearing and disappearing from watersheds and neighborhoods they seek
to protect.

The press rarely pays attention to these activists, so the American
public is generally unaware of them, except perhaps when talk-show
hosts describe them as single-issue cranks, troublemakers, and
antagonists of economic development. Meanwhile the news media turn to
mainstream organizations, which have wrapped themselves in a mantle of
elite respectability and come to regard themselves as "the movement."
Sadly, those big green groups show little regard or respect for
anything remotely grass roots beyond their own largely inert
membership.

The failure of these mainstream organizations to produce meaningful
change has led some smart but not very wise young people to declare
the death of American environmentalism. These critics are right
about one thing: The movement is certainly in trouble. It is courting
irrelevance as unwieldy, unimaginative, overfed organizations, with
plush headquarters in Washington and New York, rely on tired old
tactics, such as politely lobbying the federal government, that long
ago ceased being effective.

But even if the big organizations are presenting obvious symptoms of
organ failure, it seems premature to write an obituary for a
nationwide matrix that still has 11 million dues-paying members, about
400 foundations and even some corporations supporting it, as well as
thousands of organizations that employ some of society's most
committed and brilliant scientists, lawyers, organizers, and
activists.

What the critics have missed isn't whether environmentalism is alive
or dead, or should be dead. The real question is what can be done to
bridge the divide between the mainstream and the grass roots of the
movement, and the answer to that has a lot to do with how
environmentalism is financed.

About 70 percent of the revenue flowing into the entire environmental
agenda ends up in the treasuries of about 25 large national
organizations, according to the book Environment Inc.: From Grassroots
to Beltway, by Christopher J. Bosso, a political scientist at
Northwestern University. That leaves literally thousands of small to
medium-sized groups, some with large and significant missions, to
compete for the other 30 percent.

While much of the money that flows to environmental activism comes
from individuals, a significant share comes from foundations that
attach strings to their grants. As a result, grant makers are setting
the agenda for much of the environmental movement.

Foundations tend to support the big groups, in part because they are
so unwilling to take risks. Many of them would rather write one large
check to a high-profile national organization than 10 small checks to
groups they have barely heard of and would have to monitor more
closely.

Some foundation executives also tend to buy into the sophisticated
publicity that flows endlessly from mainstream organizations, many of
which have merely swept into campaigns or issues at the last minute,
when success seemed imminent, and claimed credit for accomplishments
that grass-roots groups had been working on for years.

The lack of attention to the grass roots has been further exacerbated
by the growing number of foundations that want to shape their own
programs, rather than giving money to projects developed by
environmental groups. Most of the foundation program officers who
create these efforts have no experience working with grass-roots
groups.

Changing such patterns is not easy, but if foundations would pool
their money into a new effort to strengthen the grass roots, they
could make a big difference.

Foundations that join forces for such a project would have to be
willing to take risks, and even fail at times. Here are some of the
ingredients that should go into an effective effort to stimulate the
grass-roots groups:

* Grant-making decisions would be made fast, and money doled out
quickly. Grass-roots groups rarely have serious financial cushions,
nor do they have the luxury to take a long time to plan their
campaigns and wait for the money to come in.

* While moving quickly is important to helping groups get their start
and stay afloat, the best way to help grass-roots groups flourish over
the long term is for grant makers to commit funds for as long as 20
years, instead of the three years that so many foundations now offer
before they cut off their aid.

* Getting good and fresh ideas is also a critical need, and a key role
for a foundation collaborative. It could support circuit riders whose
task it would be to search the countryside for effective change agents
and organizations needing support. The collaborative should also turn
to its first or second round of grantees for suggestions about what
groups to support in the third or fourth rounds, thereby getting
feedback from groups that know what is needed most and democratizing
the process of grant making.

* To give small groups the help they need with marketing, technology,
fund raising, and back-office administration, foundations should
support the development of groups that provide those services
effectively and at low cost. Then struggling groups would not be
forced to waste time on tasks unrelated to their mission of protecting
the environment.

Such a collaborative needs to worry not just about supporting
organizations, but about supporting people. It should pay for health
and liability insurance for people who work for small, risk-taking
groups. Environmentalists should not have to feel compelled to work at
a big group just because that is the only way to get decent benefits.

The collaborative should also demonstrate its commitment to
environmentalism by making sure its money is invested in ways that are
aligned with its mission. It would either avoid investments in
companies with poor environmental records or use its power as a
shareholder to change the policies of companies that damage the
environment. Focusing solely on making grants is not enough.

Other goals of a collaborative to spur grass-roots groups would be:

* To provide grass-roots activists protection against retaliation from
companies they protest and from the backlash of activists from the
counter-environmentalist movements.

* To foster regional and international networks of small groups that
will become more powerful by multiplying their numbers and combining
their efforts.

* To encourage solid multicultural work that brings racial and ethnic
minorities into a movement that is still largely made up of white and
middle-class people.

* To strengthen the entire environmental effort by linking advocates
for environmental justice, economic justice, public health, democratic
decision making, and civil rights.

While large national organizations provide the overall movement an
invaluable service in the form of research, litigation, and
communication, they are not, and should not be regarded as, the heart
of the movement.

Once liberated from that self-image and the responsibility that goes
with it, national groups will be free to expand and improve their
scientific and legal contributions to the cause of environmental
protection and public health, all the while providing supportive
service and encouragement to the thousands of smaller neighborhood
groups applying social and political pressure where it is needed most
--- at the grass roots of the nation.

==============

**Mark Dowie is conducting research on the historical relationship
between international conservation and indigenous peoples for MIT
Press. He is also the author of American Foundations and Losing
Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth
Century.

Copyright 2006 The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Return to Table of Contents

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: Daily Environment Report, Sept. 20, 2004
[Printer-friendly version]

VAPOR INTRUSION: THE NEW FRONTIER OF TOXIC CLEANUP

By Lenny Siegel**

The characterization and cleanup of vapor intrusion at sites
contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is the new
frontier of environmental response. Most vapor intrusion responses
have focused on the direct vertical transport of contamination into
overlying homes, but increasingly it is being recognized as a
neighborhood phenomenon, both indoor and outdoor. The most common VOC,
trichloroethylene (TCE), has been identified in at least 852 of the
nearly 1,500 sites on the superfund National Priorities List and is
found at thousands of other sites across the country. No one yet knows
how many of the sites that have TCE intrusion pose a risk to public
health.

The vapor intrusion problem also exists at sites where soil has been
excavated and groundwater treatment remedies are in place. At these
sites, regulatory agencies and responsible parties are re-opening
their programs to consider this previously ignored exposure pathway.
Furthermore, the presence of VOCs in groundwater or soil also presents
a challenge for development or redevelopment. There are no clear rules
of thumb for determining when or how sensitive uses, such as day-care
centers, homes, and schools, should be located above sites
contaminated by carbon tetrachloride, perchloroethylene, TCE, and
related compounds.

One of the communities in which vapor intrusion is rising to the
surface is Mountain View, Calif., my community--the community where I
started learning about hazardous substances nearly 30 years ago. The
response to detected vapor intrusion at four distinct but neighboring
Mountain View sites is breaking new ground. All stakeholders are
learning a great deal about the nature and extent of vapor intrusion,
as well as what can be done about it.

I. Background

In the early 1980s, following the discovery of TCE pollution from
underground storage and waste tanks at a Fairchild Semiconductor
facility in south San Jose, Calif., environmental regulators asked
other Bay Area electronics plants to look for contamination, too.
Throughout Silicon Valley they found it. One of the largest chemical
plumes was found in the Mountain View industrial area that was the
birthplace of the commercial semiconductor industry, where Fairchild
Semiconductor, Intel, and Raytheon Semiconductor got their start, all
of whom are among the responsible parties at the site.

Today the area is known by the three streets that, along with the
Bayshore Freeway (Highway 101), bind most of the offending
facilities--"The Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) Study Area." Covering
300 acres, the MEW study area now hosts offices for firms such as
Netscape, Nokia, Verisign, and Veritas.

Led by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, the local community
successfully campaigned to get the Environmental Protection Agency to
add the MEW area to the National Priorities List in 1986. In 1987, EPA
also added the 2,200-acre Moffett Naval Air Station to the National
Priorities List not only because it contributed to the MEW plume but
because it also had created a couple dozen other contaminated sites.
The Navy turned over most of the naval air station to NASA in 1994,
but it retained responsibility for addressing most of the
contamination released during its tenure.

In the early 1990s, EPA's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
program began working with GTE Sylvania, which found three smaller TCE
plumes on its 75-acre property. GTE lies just south of the MEW area,
and the company worked hard to keep its contamination and legal
situation separate from the larger, multi-source superfund problem
nearby.

In the late 1990s, the Navy found a previously undocumented plume
under the 72-acre Orion Park military housing area, now owned by the
U.S. Army. The source of that plume still is subject to debate among
the local responsible parties.

The regulatory agencies and responsible parties gradually embarked on
a comprehensive cleanup of the MEW area that included soil removal,
underground "slurry wall" barriers, and the installation of "pump-and-
treat" systems. The goal was to protect the deep aquifers that supply
a fraction of the Mountain View water supply. Still, because of the
difficulty inherent in removing TCE from groundwater, EPA's cleanup
standards will not be met for decades.

To further ensure the public would not be exposed to TCE and other
contaminants, the city of Mountain View relocated a drinking water
supply well and undertook routine water testing. Long-term exposure to
low levels of TCE is believed to cause cancer, liver disease, and
neurological problems, plus a host of other ailments.

A. Community Gets Involved

Beginning in 1990, the Navy invited community activists to meetings to
learn about and oversee its superfund cleanup. The Moffett Field
Technical Review Committee, now the Restoration Advisory Board, has
become the model for about 300 such advisory groups at military bases
across the United States, as well as dozens of similar bodies at
civilian contamination sites. At meetings that occur every other
month, community volunteers, local officials, state and federal
regulators, representatives of the Navy, and other responsible parties
meet to discuss contamination and cleanup plans. Several times since
the Restoration Advisory Board's inception, local activists have used
this cordial body to influence the Navy's cleanup activities at
Moffett.1

B. Reusing the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman Site

As Silicon Valley moved from chip manufacturing to software
development, the MEW area was rebuilt. New buildings in the area
relied on "impermeable" slab foundations and positive air pressure to
protect occupants from the poisons below. The redevelopment was
praised, and in October 2000, EPA featured Netscape's MEW campus on
the cover of its brochure, "Reusing Superfund Sites."

Meanwhile, at the GTE site, the city of Mountain View approved an
award-winning planned community of more than 500 townhouses and
single-family residences centered around a new Valley Transportation
Authority light rail station. The homes quickly sold in 1997 during
the "dot-com" boom. In fact, people camped out to form a line at the
sales office when properties first went on the market. Townhomes
initially fetched about $350,000 in 1997, and by early 2003, when the
vapor intrusion scare struck, units were selling for $200,000 to
$300,000 more.

In Mountain View, compared to many other polluted communities, the
system seemed to be working. Still, residents and MEW-area employees
wondered about the effects of the toxic releases being emitted by the
air strippers that were part of the groundwater extraction systems in
the area. Small concentrations of volatile compounds escaped from
these devices via contaminated groundwater pumped from below and
wafted into the local atmosphere. Three such air strippers, looking
like Disney's Rocket-to-the-Moon ride, stood out like sore thumbs.

At a May 2001 meeting, EPA officials told community members not to
worry. Though the air strippers released untreated TCE directly into
the atmosphere, the concentrations were too low to cause any health
concern, according to those officials.

Not all community members were convinced. In 2002, when residents
adjacent to MEW counted five cases of Parkinson's disease on one
residential block, they suspected TCE was responsible.

II. Vapor Intrusion Rises to the Surface

In 1999, NASA announced plans to create a research park on the former
Navy property, centered on the regional TCE plume. It conducted
environmental studies in support of that plan and detected TCE vapors
inside some of the Navy's old buildings. That information was not
widely circulated. After the Navy in October 2000 discovered TCE
contamination just 10 feet below the Orion Park military family
housing complex, however, members of the Moffett Restoration Advisory
Board expressed concern the contamination might be entering the homes.
They called for indoor air sampling.

Then two developments on the national level changed the game.

First, in January 2002, the Denver Post published a lengthy series
showing how indoor air sampling ordered by the state of Colorado had
found significant levels of TCE in homes where the computer model
recommended by U.S. EPA had predicted little or no contamination
inside. As a result, EPA began a national effort to understand and
respond to what became known as "vapor intrusion."

Volatile compounds in shallow groundwater vaporize and rise. Vapor
intrusion occurs when these volatile compounds move up through cracks,
gaps, or pores in soil and foundations into homes, other buildings,
and even the outdoor air. The original cleanup programs at GTE, MEW,
Moffett, and thousands of other potential vapor intrusion sites did
not fully consider this potentially hazardous pathway.

A. EPA's Draft Toxicity Assessment

The second development that changed the game occurred in August 2001
when EPA released its draft toxicity assessment for TCE. It found
children were more susceptible to TCE exposure than adults, and TCE
was five to 65 times more toxic than previously believed.

EPA's Science Advisory Board peer review praised the "groundbreaking"
assessment, saying, "We believe the draft assessment is a good
starting point for completing the risk assessment of TCE. The Panel
commends the Agency for its effort and advises it to proceed to revise
and finalize the draft assessment as quickly as it can address the
advice provided in this report." 2

EPA Region IX took the draft toxicity assessment seriously. In 2002,
it adopted new, more stringent screening levels for TCE in both water
and air. The new air screening level in residential or "unrestricted
use" scenarios, corresponding to one excess lifetime (30-year) cancer
among a million people, is 0.017 micrograms per cubic meter. The old
screening level in Mountain View, based upon California's standard, is
0.96 micrograms per cubic meter. When EPA calculated the new levels,
it did not have the technology to measure such low concentrations
accurately. However, consultants for most of the responsible parties
in Mountain View gradually have developed techniques to match the new
requirements.

Most other EPA regions also adopted more stringent screening levels
for TCE, though not all are aggressively investigating vapor intrusion
sites. However, because the assessment has not been finalized, the
regions face limits in imposing those numbers on responsible parties.

If the new numbers officially are promulgated as a drinking water
standard--the maximum contaminant level or MCL--it will force cleanup
projects to pump-and-treat longer or adopt innovative remedies to
address the contamination. At locations where traces of TCE are found
in water supplies, the new standard will require more treatment or the
utilization of alternate water sources. The most immediate impact of
these more stringent standards, however, will be at sites where
shallow contamination is intruding to the surface as vapor because the
vapors already have a direct pathway to human receptors.

In spring 2002, the Navy agreed to conduct air sampling at Orion Park.
It found low concentrations of TCE both indoors and outdoors. Though
the Navy still doubts underlying groundwater pollution is the source,
public concern has grown. Local residents are worried about TCE
exposure, whether caused by vapor intrusion from cleanup sites or
landfills, releases from treatment systems, or continuing industrial
releases.

Sampling Simplified

Historical data on groundwater contamination in the most shallow
aquifer, taken from monitoring wells or direct punch measurements, are
plotted on a contour map. For TCE, concentrations over or within about
100 feet of the 5 parts-per-billion level (the promulgated drinking
water standard) usually are used to predict those areas that might
have significant vapor intrusion. However, there is some evidence,
particularly when preferential pathways are present, a lower
concentration should serve as the guide. In Mountain View, some have
questioned whether groundwater samples have been taken at enough
locations to draw accurate contours in the plume "border" area.

Probes are inserted into the soil underneath and near the perimeter of
structures to measure soil gas concentrations. In the absence of
preferential pathways, soil gas concentrations are a good predictor of
indoor air contamination. Most regulatory agencies use the Johnson-
Ettinger model to predict indoor air concentrations from soil gas
readings. In the absence of structures, soil gas measurements may be
the only way to estimate potential vapor intrusion into new
structures.

Using "Summa" vacuum canisters, which look like stainless steel
softballs or bowling balls, indoor or outdoor air is collected over
multiple eight- or 24-hour periods and sent to labs for analysis,
along with meteorological data. Before sampling, units are cleared of
people and potential chemical interferents, and they are sealed from
outside air. Great care must be taken to avoid contamination of the
canisters and the sample.

B. The Test Case: Mountain View

With the Mountain View community expressing increasing alarm about TCE
in the air, EPA Region IX decided to make Mountain View a test case
for its new approach to vapor intrusion and TCE toxicity. It convened
a public meeting in January 2003, and more than 400 people showed up.
EPA and the responsible parties--GTE, the Navy, and the group of MEW
companies--began new sampling programs to detect TCE and similar
compounds in indoor air with a few outdoor samples taken for
comparison.

The parties also shut down all the unfiltered air stripping systems in
the area, eliminating the releases they had found acceptable two years
earlier. They replaced most of the air strippers with water filtration
systems, but a number of Mountain View residents expressed concern
that the filters from Mountain View would be shipped out of state for
incineration, affecting the health of other, poorer communities.
Unfortunately, no one conducted outdoor air sampling before the air
strippers were shut down.

With support from EPA and the responsible parties, residents formed
the Northeast Mountain View Advisory Council to review plans and
oversee responses. Each month EPA project managers brief the advisory
council on site progress, and community participants offer suggestions
for strengthening the program. Notably, the Northeast Mountain View
Advisory Council members have urged EPA and the responsible parties to
go beyond the conventional, limited notion of vapor intrusion and
consider all sources, receptors, and pathways, and adapt their
investigative and remedial strategies as new information becomes
available. The advisory council members take what they learn back to
City Hall, homeowners' associations, and parent-teachers associations,
and the local weekly paper, the Mountain View Voice, covers its
meetings.3

Because TCE in air dissipates due to degradation (with a reported
half-life of four days), advection (wind), and dispersion, there must
be persistent sources in the northeast Mountain View area. While
investigators still may find additional active sources, it is more
likely the sources are the historical groundwater and soil
contamination. There is a large volume of TCE underground in Mountain
View, and it "wants" to come to the surface. The local indoor air
investigations suggest preferential pathways, such as cracks and
utility lines, predominate over homogeneous vertical migration, and
such pathways exist outdoors as well as indoors.

The results of the various sampling efforts have trickled in over the
past several months. Relatively high levels of TCE vapors have been
found in a number of buildings, including at least one home at the GTE
site and an older house just across Whisman Road from the MEW area.
TCE at levels causing concern has been found in some incomplete
commercial buildings, and a utility vault appears to have opened a
"preferential pathway" at one of the newer, supposedly vapor-resistant
buildings.

Lower levels of TCE have been found outdoors, inconsistently,
throughout the area, including at Slater Elementary School. Some of
the results at the school were about 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter,
and other reference locations showed even higher readings. Occasional
higher "spikes" of TCE--roughly 3 to 6 micrograms per cubic meter--
have been found in some spots, such as the open space Bay View area of
Moffett Field.

The local community appreciates the extent to which the responsible
parties, property owners, and regulatory agencies are studying this
problem. Some of the work--in lowering detection limits and conducting
repeated sampling--is cutting edge. But there is room for improvement.

Outdoor sampling should not be done simply for reference purposes. If
contaminants are detected above health-based screening levels,
sampling should be designed to map the extent and concentration of the
outdoor plume. Because that map will vary over time due to wind and
other conditions, there should be multiple "snapshots" taken.

Investigators should use methodologies and technologies to map outdoor
contamination plumes over time, and all the parties should work with
EPA to create an umbrella database of local sampling results. This
would better quantify public exposures. For example, in Mountain View,
it would make a difference to learn whether schoolchildren are exposed
to TCE above the screening level once a month or most of the time.
Also, by correlating measurements to wind direction, frequent or near-
continuous measurements would help identify sources.

Air contamination above shallow groundwater plumes seems high enough
and consistent enough to merit an additional response. If continuing
studies bear this out, more cleanup--not just mitigation techniques
such as land-use controls or venting--may be necessary. Engineering
controls may be necessary, but if they simply divert contamination
without destroying it, they will be insufficient.

The existing remedies being used at the sites are conventional slurry
walls and pump-and-treat systems. To protect the public, the
regulators and responsible parties should consider newer cleanup
technologies that are designed to treat or remove contamination near
the surface, such as accelerated bioremediation, advanced oxidation,
permeable reactive barriers, etc. These technologies have been
demonstrated locally, and some already are being introduced piecemeal
at the various properties and operable units.

III. The Health Standard Debate

Although EPA's program in Mountain View is moving in this new
direction, it could grind to a halt. The Air Force, on behalf of the
entire Defense Department, has challenged EPA's TCE toxicity
assessment. The Air Force is challenging the science, but the cost of
additional TCE investigation and cleanup is considered by some in the
current administration to be prohibitive. EPA has delayed promulgation
of new health standards, and it may instruct its regional offices not
to use the more protective levels.4 If so, public health in Mountain
View and probably hundreds of other sites with serious, shallow TCE
contamination will be sacrificed to the economic concerns of the
Defense Department and other polluters.

This is not just an abstract problem. After months of requests by one
member of the Northeast Mountain View Advisory Council, EPA and the
MEW companies sampled the air inside her home. They announced the
results in May 2004. In her 11-year-old son's bedroom, where he has
apparently lived above the TCE plume his entire life, TCE was found at
0.8 micrograms per cubic meter, well above the new health screening
level. If that screening standard is raised back to its old levels,
then he would supposedly be "safe," even though EPA's Science Advisory
Board commended EPA for coming up with health-based exposure levels
designed to be protective for children.

Residents of Mountain View and other local communities are better
educated, wealthier on average, and more empowered than most. For the
past quarter century they have been able to get the government and
private parties to address TCE and other pollution in their community
in an effective, open fashion. However, if national standards are
rolled back, they will become guinea pigs again and will continue to
be exposed to contaminants until national policymakers decide the key
purpose of environmental protection is to safeguard public health.

IV. To Build or Not to Build

Most vapor intrusion projects are being conducted at sites where
people already are living or working directly above contamination.
Figuring out when, where, and how best to protect those people is a
challenge enough in itself. But in the long run, it may be the tip of
the iceberg. Many more new developments, including sensitive uses such
as housing, will be proposed for sites contaminated with VOCs.

This is the emerging challenge for brownfields development across the
country, as well as any other approach that emphasizes the reuse of
polluted properties. At shallow TCE sites, it often is not enough to
dig and haul polluted soil and stop pumping contaminated water.
Residents and other potential occupants must be assured the air they
breathe, indoors and out, will be safe if such developments are to
remain viable.

This is not just an environmental problem. The vapor intrusion issue
has enormous implications for toxic tort litigation. One of the first
physical signs of exposure to TCE in one's own airspace is a
propensity to litigate.

Very little thought has gone into how to evaluate development
proposals based upon their potential impact on public health.
Stakeholders must embark on a better system that permits or even
encourages development while delineating, warning of, and addressing
vapor intrusion.

Admittedly, many community activists are from the start suspicious of
development projects. The developer, after all, is there to make
money. Yet Silicon Valley also suffers from a severe, chronic housing
shortage. As such, there is a consensus among economic development
proponents, environmental advocates, and social justice activists that
new housing, even new neighborhoods, should be built on former,
sometimes polluted industrial land in Mountain View and nearby cities.

Elsewhere, communities have a greater need for offices, stores, and
other uses that might open new contamination pathways. It is
imperative to determine how to meet those needs without exposing
employees, residents, shoppers, etc. to unacceptable contamination.

In Mountain View, the city just approved 46 new townhomes for the GTE
site, each expected to sell for $600,000, and another project is being
proposed on the edge of the MEW study area. At Moffett Field, the Army
has big plans for new, privatized housing, but the developer has
delayed action in the Orion Park area because of the contamination.
Other communities across the country are facing similar proposals, but
there is as yet no standard protocol for considering vapor intrusion
in development.

It is not enough to simply slap sub-slab venting systems onto new
housing or commercial units in suspect areas. Projects require
careful, up-front review. Fortunately, in approving the 46 new units,
Mountain View used the review required under the California
Environmental Quality Act to consider and mitigate potential vapor
intrusion hazards.

Based on the experience in Mountain View, plus ideas heard elsewhere,
the following is a summary of the questions that typically must be
resolved if a property has volatile compounds in the soil or
groundwater:

A. Is the Property Ready for Development?

Obviously, it is much easier to drill wells, test soil gas, and
conduct other characterization and remediation activities before
building, though some activities, such as soil removal, can be
coordinated with construction. As much investigation and cleanup as
practical should be completed before development occurs, and
development agreements should guarantee continuing access to the
property for the operation of remediation systems, long-term
monitoring, and the enforcement of any land-use controls.

Procedurally, this is trickier than it sounds. The agencies
responsible for overseeing environmental responses usually are not the
bodies that approve and oversee development. At the new 46-unit
development in Mountain View, EPA risk assessors reviewed the
developer's studies, but it was the city that imposed conditions--
mitigation measures under the California Environmental Quality Act--
after consulting with EPA. For example, it declared, "Construction
Activities shall not interfere with ongoing and proposed soil and
groundwater remediation and monitoring activities." 5

The precise form of cooperation will vary from state to state, but at
a minimum, local planning jurisdictions, such as cities, should
coordinate with environmental regulators and determine which site
restrictions should be incorporated either into cleanup or development
documents.

Some localities are not satisfied with existing regulatory
requirements. Ventura County, Calif., where major housing projects are
proposed near Boeing's contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory, now
requires groundwater and soil testing for TCE and perchlorate (a
rocket fuel component that does not pose a vapor intrusion hazard) at
proposed property developments within two miles of the lab.

There is at least one instance where a community group believes a site
is not ready for development for forensic reasons. In Beaverton, Ore.,
Victims of TCE Exposure (VOTE) are asking for a halt to redevelopment
of the former Viewmaster production plant until all data pertaining to
past worker exposures to TCE is collected.6

B. What Vapor Exposures Are Likely?

At existing structures, indoor air sampling can be used to guide
decisionmaking, but before buildings are erected, it is important to
model potential vapor intrusion. In fact, each site requires a
conceptual site model that considers all potential impacts on both
indoor and outdoor air. Will digging basements or the preparation of
foundations reduce attenuation? Will parking lots or other covers
reduce degradation? Will utility lines and vaults create preferential
pathways? Do ambient levels of TCE pose a long-term risk?

C. How Can Exposures Be Mitigated?

Unfortunately, today's modeling science, while useful, does not have
all the answers, so caution is in order. The city of Mountain View,
after taking flak for approving earlier projects at the GTE site, is
requiring protective measures even on the 46-unit parcel, where
studies show the risk from vapor intrusion is low. The new development
will have parking and storage on the ground floor, minimizing vapor
releases into living areas. In addition, the city is insisting upon
"commercial-grade vapor barriers under each unit."

Above the most contaminated portions of the MEW area, commercial
building designs usually have worked. Impermeable slabs and positive
air pressure keep indoor contamination levels down to the levels found
in outside air. There have been exceptions, however. Where direct
measurement has found contamination in indoor air, EPA quickly has
required corrective measures.

If a development relies on built-in engineering controls, the
longevity of such controls must be considered. In California and other
areas subject to land movement, foundations crack. Any development
that depends on impermeable foundations over the life of contamination
should have a monitoring scheme, as well as a contingency plan should
monitoring find new pathways have been opened. Where climate control
systems are used to minimize contamination, institutional controls
should mandate their proper operation and inspection.

Thus, even apparently effective engineering controls must be
integrated into long-term stewardship plans that (1) legally require
the controls as part of the remedy and/or development permits, (2)
provide for the long-term monitoring of their protectiveness, and (3)
provide for additional remedial action if they prove unprotective. Yet
to my knowledge, none of the Mountain View sites have any registered
institutional controls related to vapor intrusion beyond the CEQA
mitigation requirements. If construction and ventilation are regarded
as ways to limit human exposure, then they should be legally
incorporated into the cleanup.

Of course, if ambient air in the neighborhood of the contamination
exceeds health-based screening levels, mitigation that just blows the
contaminants outside is no solution. Accelerated cleanup, designed to
destroy shallow contamination, should be a requirement if development
is to occur.

D. What Should Potential Buyers or Renters Be Told?

In many communities, the market can reinforce regulatory actions to
force the protection of public health--if the buying public knows
about the potential risk. In California, property buyers are notified
about hazardous waste sites in their neighborhood at closing time.
Unfortunately, that does not give people time to consider the
potential impact of the contamination on their health or their
property values. Consequently, many residents of the GTE site are
suing project developers.

Mountain View's solution is to require notification as part of normal
marketing. That is, potential buyers will be able to weigh the impact
of underlying or nearby contamination before they make their decision.
This should motivate the developer, and in turn, the responsible
parties, to take extra steps to clean up or control contamination.

But even this creative approach has its shortcomings. When individual
homeowners put property up for resale, there is no requirement that
they notify in advance potential buyers of potential vapor intrusion
issues. Some Mountain View homeowners, already unhappy that the
publicity about TCE may have limited the appreciation of their
property values, may wish to hide the news. To protect subsequent
buyers, there should be institutional controls that require
notification each time a property is put up for sale. Similarly,
potential rental occupants should be given the same warning.

Warning, while valuable, may have unintended consequences. It may, for
example, lead to de facto housing discrimination. If all buyers are
informed that the more stringent health standards are designed to
protect young children, childless families may buy while those with
kids look elsewhere. Finally, while knowledge that cleanup is on the
way may be enough for buyers in tight housing markets such as Silicon
Valley to purchase new units, in other areas buyers may avoid such
projects.

Conclusion

It is too late to undo the drinking water TCE exposures of the
Viewmaster workers in Beaverton and others across the country who have
been exposed to TCE. One can only hope the Northeast Mountain View
Advisory Council member's son does not contract a serious disease from
growing up in a bedroom with TCE vapors. But it is possible to
carefully consider and plan development so many fewer people are
exposed to volatile organic compounds in the future.

1 The Navy maintains a Web site for the Restoration Advisory Board
(RAB) at http://www.navybracpmo.org/bracbases/california/moffett/.
Among other documents, it includes RAB minutes.

2 The Science Advisory Board's review of EPA's draft TCE Health Risk
Assessment is available at http://www.epa.gov/sab/pdf/ehc03002.pdf
on the World Wide Web. The cover letter also states, "The Board
advises the Agency to move ahead to revise and complete this important
assessment. The assessment addresses a chemical, trichloroethylene
(TCE), significant for being a nearly ubiquitous environmental
contaminant in both air and water, being a common contaminant at
Superfund sites, and because it is 'listed' in many Federal statutes
and regulations. The draft assessment is also important because it
sets new precedents for risk assessment at EPA."

3 For more information, see http://www.whisman.net/nmac/ on the
World Wide Web.

4 EPA explained the status of the health standard in its June 2004
Draft First Five-Year Review Report for the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman
(MEW) Superfund Study Area, Mountain View, California(pp. 6-8): EPA's
Office of Research and Development and Office of Solid Waste and
Emergency Response have requested additional external peer review of
the draft TCE Health Risk Assessment by the National Academy of
Sciences. Consequently, review of the toxicity value for TCE may
continue for a number of years. In the interim, because of the
uncertainties associated with the draft TCE Health Risk Assessment,
EPA Region IX is considering both the draft TCE Health Risk Assessment
toxicity values and the California TCE toxicity value (similar to
EPA's previously listed TCE toxicity value from 1987) in evaluating
potential health risks from exposure and making protectiveness
determinations. The draft report is available from the NMAC at ht
tp://www.whisman.net/nmac on the Web.

5 "City of Mountain View Findings Report/Zoning Permit" No. 211-02-
PCZA, April 13, 2004, p. 6.

6 VOTE wrote the city, "It is critical that an independent risk
assessment be completed to determine the rate and duration of
exposures of the former employees. The integrity of the structure,
plant operations, land contours and historic wetland dumping processes
of the site must be maintained for such an evaluation."

** Lenny Siegel is executive director of the Center for Public
Environmental Oversight and director of the Pacific Studies Center in
Mountain View, Calif. He is an expert on military facility
contamination and has served on numerous advisory committees,
including the ASTM/ISR Steering Committee on Brownfields Restoration,
California's CLEAN Loan Committee, EPA's Negotiated Rulemaking
Committee on All Appropriate Inquiry, the Moffett Field Restoration
Advisory Board, and the Northeast Mountain View Advisory Council. More
information on CPEO is available at http://www.cpeo.org on the World
Wide Web. Siegel can be contacted at lsiegel@cpeo.org.

Copyright 2006 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.

Return to Table of Contents

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: New York Times, Apr. 18, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

CHEMICAL COMPANIES LOOK TO COAL AS AN OIL SUBSTITUTE

By Claudia H. Deutsch

Coal for fuel? Pretty common. But coal as the main ingredient in wall
paints, fertilizers, even grocery bags?

With oil and natural gas prices showing no signs of plummeting, and
with incentives to use coal built into the Energy Policy Act of 2005,
it just might happen. And chemical companies, which use oil and gas as
feedstocks -- industry jargon for raw materials -- are hoping it will
happen soon.

"We want to be economically feasible in the United States, and coal
enables us to do that," said Andrew N. Liveris, chief executive of Dow
Chemical, which has tripled its research into coal-based ingredients.

That thought is echoed by Frank Mitsch, who follows the chemical
industry for the brokerage firm BB&T Capital Markets: "Coal can mean
the difference between being competitive here or having to ship jobs
and plants elsewhere."

In a sense, the chemical industry is simply brushing off an age-old
idea. As far back as the 1900's, coal tar extracts were used to make
chemicals. And the technologies have long existed to heat coal until
it turns to hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas, use the gases directly
to make ammonia for fertilizer, or liquefy them to use as building
blocks for plastics.

But when natural gas was selling for $2 per million cubic feet, and
oil was $10 a barrel, using gasified coal, which costs about $4 per
million cubic feet, made no sense. Now, with gas prices still above $7
per million cubic feet and oil prices at more than $70 a barrel, it
does.

According to the American Chemistry Council, the industry's cost for
feedstocks hit $40.12 billion last year, up from $34 billion in 2004,
$25.1 billion in 2003 -- and triple the $12.8 billion in 1999.

Feedstocks amounted to nearly 19 percent of the cost of the $213.75
billion in products the chemical industry shipped last year -- up from
17.5 percent in 2004, 14.5 percent in 2003 and just 8 percent in 1999.
For companies that make feedstock-intensive products like ethylene or
propylene, two building blocks for plastics, the percentage could be
double that.

"It may take three or four years to fine-tune the processes and build
the plants, but coal could possibly be the primary feedstock down the
road," said William R. Young, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

In fact, it already is in countries like South Africa, where coal is
plentiful and oil and gas are scarce. Sasol, based in Johannesburg,
has been making and selling coal-based feedstocks for many years.

Several Chinese companies already use coal to make vinyl chloride
monomer, a precursor to the polyvinyl chloride used to make
construction products like pipes. Andrew Wood, the editor of Chemical
Week magazine, said that numerous American and European companies
would open plants in China to make other chemicals from coal, too. "No
one's made real commitments yet, but it is clear that this is very
much the beginning of a wave," he said.

Manufacturers are preparing themselves for an onslaught of orders for
coal gasification equipment. General Electric, which bought
ChevronTexaco's coal gasification business in July 2004, expects to
get most of its profits from projects that use coal gas for generating
electricity. "But in the near term, turning coal to chemicals offers
the most significant opportunities," said Edward C. Lowe, general
manager of gasification for GE Energy.

Mr. Lowe said G.E. had licensed its gasification technology to five
large Chinese companies, and was getting "considerable interest" from
American companies. G.E.'s involvement is in itself drumming up
interest, said Owen A. Kean of the American Chemistry Council.

"When G.E. embraces a technology, it provides yet another form of
credibility," he said.

Coal is certainly available. According to the World Energy Council,
the United States had recoverable reserves in 2004 of about 254.4
billion tons; China has 114.5 billion tons. "Coal and renewables like
corn are probably the only natural resources we won't run out of,"
said Edward S. Glatzer of Nexant, a chemical industry consulting firm.

Miners, meanwhile, are taking a fresh look at old mines. International
Coal owns a large stock of low-grade coal reserves in Indiana and
Illinois that had not previously been economical to mine. Wilbur L.
Ross Jr., the company's chairman, said he was exploring whether to
gasify those reserves for use as feedstock.

"We've got a whole bunch of pipelines within 30 miles of the mines in
each direction, and as long as natural gas stays above $6.50, the math
works very well," he said.

Even in the unlikely event that natural gas prices drop, gas shortages
may still work in coal's favor. Agrium, the Canadian fertilizer
company, has a huge ammonia plant in Kenai, Alaska, that is operating
at half capacity because of gas shortages. Agrium will decide by this
summer whether to invest close to $1 billion to install equipment to
convert coal to feedstock and fuel, as well as capturing carbon
dioxide that it could sell.

"There's enough coal nearby to operate this complex for more than 50
years," said Lisa Parker, a specialist in government and community
relations for Agrium US.

But coal is catching on even in areas where gas is plentiful. Eastman
Chemical, once a part of Eastman Kodak, already derives 20 percent of
its raw materials from coal in the United States, and in September,
Gregory O. Nelson, its executive vice president, told analysts, "We're
asking ourselves, 'What if we could bring 30 percent to 40 percent of
our raw material base from coal?' "

David N. Weidman, chief executive of Celanese, a chemical company
based in Dallas, is asking similar questions. "Coal is easy to access,
it's in politically stable regions, and the technologies exist to
eradicate environmental impacts," he said. "It's been an
underappreciated feedstock for much too long."

It is more expensive to turn coal into a substitute for oil than for
gas, but companies that use oil as feedstock are taking a closer look
at coal.

"Crude oil still seems the most practical raw material for us, but we
certainly are staying abreast of any technologies that could change
the economics of our products," said Barry A. Phillips of Bayer
Material Science, which makes plastics.

BASF, the world's largest chemical company, has committed $121 million
over the next two years to research alternative raw materials, "and
yes, coal is on the list," said John Maurer, a BASF spokesman.

For now, though, most chemical companies are piggybacking experiments
with coal on their strategies for penetrating emerging markets.

Dow Chemical and Shenhua, China's largest state-run coal producer, are
discussing whether to jointly build a plant that would use coal to
make ethylene and polypropylene. Celanese is building plants in
Nanjing, just north of Shanghai, that will use coal-derived feedstocks
to make acetic acid, used in such products as cigarette filters. James
S. Alder Jr., vice president for operations, does not rule out the
idea of eventually converting the company's American plants to coal,
too.

"Coal is a viable long-term feedstock," he said. "That's true for
China, for the U.S., for any place with an abundant coal supply."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Return to Table of Contents

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

  In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
  might be done about it?"

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at dhn@rachel.org.
  
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
  necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the
  subject.

  Editors:
  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org
  
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

  To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Democracy
  & Health News send a blank Email to: join-rachel@gselist.org.

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903
dhn@rachel.org
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::