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Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and others celebrated a major win in October when the groups reached a settlement with the International Coal Group (ICG) and Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet over years of false reporting and water pollution violations caused by failure of the state to enforce the Clean Water Act. The settlement included $575,000 in fines which will be used to monitor and clean up polluted waterways in eastern Kentucky. The fine is the largest ever levied by the state against the coal companies and is the first time that the state allowed affected victims to intervene in a Clean Water Act enforcement case. Appalachian Voices and Waterkeeper Alliance had discovered ICG falsified water quality reports that were submitted to the state and said they found more than 2,700 violations. Congratulations to all involved.
Fifty homes around the Black Leaf Superfund Site in Louisville have been found to contain high levels of contamination in their soil. Rubbertown Emergency Action has been working to inform the residents in the neighborhood and to get answers from the EPA on what will be done. The Black Leaf site, which was the location of many pesticide manufacturing plants over the years, will be cleaned up by EPA, but it is not clear if EPA will also clean up the homes surrounding the site. Councilman David James continues to hold meetings with EPA representatives and community members to create dialog and get answers.
Community members in Louisville, who have been struggling to bring attention to the leaking Lee’s Lane Landfill, have finally attracted the EPA’s attention. The site was on the Superfund list, but was removed in the 1980s after a partial cleanup. Since then, there have been reports of leaking toxics to the soil and air, and even buried objects coming up to the surface. There have been problems of ATVs tearing up the soil covering the landfill, and other public uses in the landfill area that could be dangerous for public health. The EPA has agreed to do additional testing of the groundwater and to do methane tests in the fall, but, much to the frustration of local residents, there are no plans for additional cleanup.
CHEJ’s Betty the Be Safe Duck, the two-story inflatable duckie that has become the symbol for a toxic-free future participated in a rally for chemical industry reform in Berea. Hosted by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), the rally gathered support for the Safe Chemicals Act currently before Congress. During the event petitions were signed and sent to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R), Rep. Ed Whitfield (R), and President Barack Obama, encouraging them not to “duck” the issue of chemical reform and to vote in support of the bill. The Act would require companies to show that the chemicals they use are safe. As KEF member Jason Howard points out, “More than 80,000 chemicals are in the marketplace today, but under an ineffective federal law called the Toxic Substances Control Act, only 200 have ever been tested for health or safety impacts. These chemicals include heavy metals that persist in the environment and travel through the food chain, and hormone-disrupting chemicals are linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, developmental and learning disabilities, even diabetes and obesity.”
Local residents were pleased with their meeting with EPA, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, and other agencies in late October to discuss the reevaluation of the cleanup implemented at the Lees Lane Landfill in Louisville. Removed from the Superfund list in 1996, the site remains a concern to residents living nearby due to methane leaks and the presence of over 2 million cubic tons of domestic, commercial, and industrial waste. Concerned local residents, led by John House Sr., made their case for a full-scale health study. House passionately stated “It’s too late for us… I’ve accepted that. But here’s the deal – there are children there.” EPA officials have not yet decided the extent and content of the study, but “it’s going to be a thorough assessment of human health and environmental risk.”
Advocates for Human Rights and Rubbertown Emergency Action helped sponsor an environmental justice fair dubbed “People Not Poisons” that focused on calling attention to the concentration of chemical and power plants in the neighborhoods surrounding Chickasaw Park, which are mostly African-American or white working class. Campaign and policy manager Michelle Roberts was the main speaker at the event, touching on issues such as the role of segregation throughout the 20th century in allowing the influx of chemical plants into an area where communities were already well established.
Congratulations to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and other environmental groups who reached a settlement agreement with the East Kentucky Power Cooperative to stop construction of two multi-million dollar coal-burning power plants in Clark County. Instead, the power company will focus on ways to improve energy efficiency and renewable energy options. One Clark County resident said, “It creates an opportunity for our cooperative to become a leader in developing affordable, accessible clean energy and energy efficiency programs that can create jobs across the region while meeting the needs of their customers.” This agreement will not only create jobs for the region, but it will also reduce financial risk for customers and benefit the health and environment of the people of the region.
Residents of the Rubbertown section of Louisville united this summer to protest the muddled warning system the local Dow Chemical company utilized a week earlier to alert residents of a gas leak. The company had sounded sirens to let the community know to stay inside with windows closed, but they failed to tell the residents beforehand what the sirens meant. About 200 people gathered to voice their worries about the message mishap, tying it to the much needed reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the primary legislation in place to regulate companies’ handling of hazardous chemicals. Better notification protocols is the primary concern of the community, who were frustrated by Dow’s failure to harness modern technology such as texting to quickly notify residents of possible danger.
The Kentucky Environmental Federation (KEF) in Berea is working with city officials to address the development of the Berea Community Park on an old landfill site. The city began developing the site before issues were raised about the safety of building the park on the old landfill. In response, the city hired a consultant to evaluate the site who proposed taking only a few samples at the site. CHEJ reviewed the sampling plan and advised KEF that more testing was needed. KEF is now working with the city to determine what additional testing should be done. CHEJ is continuing to provide technical support to KEF.
Residents of Rubbertown cheered a recent court decision that will help them address toxic air pollution from 11 plants in their neighborhood. In the midst of a fairness hearing between one of the plants, Zeon Chemicals, and those living within two miles of the site, a judge ruled that the proposed settlement was unfair because some residents would receive compensation while others would not. Rubbertown Emergency Action had actively organized against the lawsuit arguing that anyone living within two miles of the facility was forced into the settlement without choice. With this ruling, community members will not be bound by terms of an unfair ruling, and can continue to organize against polluting industries in the region.
Community groups in Kentucky and West Virginia are celebrating a big victory – the EPA has sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop removal. The letters specifically address two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits. “The two letters reflect EPA’s considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.” Since then, the EPA has rejected three more federal permits for mountaintop removal coal mining. According to a NY Times story, “the three permits would allow the burial of about 8 miles of streams under blasted rock, blocking downstream water supplies and damaging ecosystems.”
In Remembrance: Rev. Louis Coleman
The Rev. Louis Coleman Jr. passed away this past July. Rev. Coleman, one of Louisville’s best-known activists, picketed or prayed for over three decades in front of nearly every major Kentucky institution to advance justice and civil rights. In recent years, he fought against air pollution from a cluster of chemical plants in Louisville. Rev. Coleman was the longtime head of the Justice Resource Center and pastor of First Congregational Methodist Church in western Louisville.
Members of the Coalition for Health Concern (CHC) remain vigilant as they watch the slow dismantling of the LWD hazardous waste incinerator facility in Calvert City. The USEPA estimates that it will take at least six months to remove the three incinerators, the buildings and the equipment. The cleanup will cost more than $12 million, which is being collected from former LWD customers including General Motors and Kodak. CHC wants the EPA to conduct soil and groundwater testing to make sure the site is properly cleaned up after the incinerator and buildings have been dismantled. They want the testing to include radioactive substances since there is evidence that nuclear waste was illegally burned in the incinerators.
Residents in London are organizing to block an asphalt plant from locating near a residential area. More than 300 fliers have been circulated to encourage citizen participation in the next fiscal court meeting where the permit request will be discussed. CHEJ is providing organizing assistance to the residents.