Backyard Talk

A 30-Year “Cleanup” Without A Solution

Cancer-Causing Waste Along The Texas Eastern Pipeline in Pennsylvania Still Exists
By: Sharon Franklin, Chief of Operations
Jim Ryan of the Perry County Times recently reported that it has been over 30 years since the public first learned that the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation in Pennsylvania buried industrial fluids containing the carcinogen polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) along the natural gas line, which could represent thousands of tons of contaminated soil.
Unfortunately, the PCBs still have not been fully cleaned up and there isn’t an estimate for when that will be completed. Max Bergeron, a spokesperson for Enbridge, the owner of the Texas Eastern gas pipeline, stated, “We have undertaken PCB remediation efforts at (the Shermans Dale) facility in accordance with applicable regulations and are committed to continuing efforts supporting the health and safety of the communities in which we live and work.” However, according to the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Enbridge is supposed to conduct PCB cleanups as it makes updates to its facilities, and that companies that previously owned the Texas Eastern pipeline were supposed to do the same, but did not completely remove all the PCB-contaminated soil. 
It has been confirmed that there are nineteen Texas Eastern PCB waste sites across Pennsylvania, according to DEP. When Bergeron was asked about how much PCB soil was removed and how much cleanup was left to do along the Texas Eastern line in Pennsylvania, he did not specifically answer those questions. 
 Why is this being reported now?  It is being reported now because it is the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Texas Eastern PCB settlement, but work on the natural gas pipeline has been ongoing in central Pennsylvania for several years. It came to the attention of the Perry County Times when a resident asked about regulatory violations at the Shermans Dale facility. They found the alleged violations on EPA’s website where it was noted the Shermans Dale Texas Eastern site had three violations in less than a year, including what appeared to be effluent runoff and emissions violations. However, EPA found no violations in their records, and Pennsylvania’s DEP said they were generated in error.
EPA spokesman Roy Seneca said in a May email that “We checked with our Water and (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) enforcement staff and they are not aware of any direct EPA involvement with these events.  They believe this was likely handled by the state.” Pennsylvania DEP stated that the incidents only appeared as violations because of a glitch in how data is uploaded to the EPA website.  Sometimes if a large batch of data is uploaded, it can trigger paper violations in error. But the permit for Texas Eastern Shermands Dale under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) had no violations attached to it. “The records we have regionally and downtown don’t show violations,” John Repetz, Local Government Liaison, said, referring to DEP’s records in Harrisburg.
There are many other communities throughout the country that are facing issues such as these. While EPA says it should have been handled by the state, the state says something like it was an uploaded data issue to the EPA site, therefore it wasn’t a violation.  This leaves communities along the Pipeline asking Why is there still cancer-causing waste along the Pennsylvania Texas Eastern Pipeline after 30 years and a settlement to cleanup PCBs in contaminated soil?
Photo Credit: Jim T. Ryan/Perry County Times

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Tensions erupt between environmental justice leaders and White House

Members of the environmental justice movement sent an email blast more than 5,600 times over a 48-hour period to top Biden administration officials, disrupting White House communication and sparking a tense exchange between the administration’s chief environmental outreach official and one of the key leaders of the movement.

The form-letter blast effectively shut down email communication over two August days between high-ranking Biden administration officials, including national climate adviser Gina McCarthy, her deputy Ali Zaidi, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and David Kieve, who leads outreach to environmental groups for the White House, according to Erika Thi Patterson, campaign director with the Action Center on Race and the Economy, and two others familiar with the incident.

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Photo credit: Al Drago/Getty Images

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Albany women say coal-plant is part of cancer-causing racism

A group of Albany women has been fighting for nearly a dozen years to bring to light what they’ve long suspected, that they are the victims of environmental racism. They say cancer is showing up in their families, and it all points to one facility that still stands today.
“My mom had cancer. My father had cancer too.” said Elaine McCall.
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Photo credit: Rawpixel, Getty Images

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Memphis pipeline canceled after environmental justice feud

Pipeline opponents; environmental groups; and Memphis, Tenn., activists celebrated over the holiday weekend after the developers of the Byhalia Connection crude oil pipeline abruptly dropped the project.
Plains All American Pipeline LP officials made the announcement late Friday, citing market factors for the cancellation. But serious legal and political obstacles loomed over the 50-mile project, which gained national prominence as a battle about environmental justice.
“If anybody is asking whether the movement is alive in Memphis, you have your answer,” Justin Pearson, one of the leaders of the effort to stop the pipeline, said in an online video posted shortly after the announcement. “Today Southwest Memphis’ movement rings across this country.”
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Photo Credit: Karon Focht/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Solving pollution from solvents requires solvent Superfund | Editorial

Shhh! Don’t tell the Republicans, but there’s a tax increase in the bipartisan federal infrastructure legislation that some in their party have endorsed.

The “deal” reinstates the tax, or fee, that feedstock chemical producers used to pay that ensure that “orphaned” Superfund contaminated sites will be cleaned up. The GOPers who signed off on the package must be OK with that, and that’s a good thing.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Chandler/AP Photo
Stories of Local Leaders

Persisting In the Face of Division: Living Room Leadership with Lee Ann Smith

By: Anabelle Farnham, Communications Intern
Lee Ann Smith’s son was only 11 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. In fact, finding the cancer in the first place had been almost a mistake: Gabe had gone to get an MRI so that the doctors could check for scoliosis. When the scans came back, he was scoliosis-free, but a different mass had been discovered. 
As a devoted mother, Smith’s first priority became helping her son to heal. They lived in Asheville, TN and the closest location for his treatment was a 4-5 hour drive away. Over the next two years, she put her energy into helping her son to get better, until he was luckily declared cancer-free at the age of 13. 
“When I first got that call from the doctor who gave the results from the biopsy, it felt surreal. This was something that happened to other people, not to me or my family.”
Only after Gabe had recovered from the illness did Lee Ann start thinking more about why he might have gotten sick. The family had no medical history or genetic predispositions that indicated he could have been vulnerable to this form of cancer. They ate a healthy diet, and no one in their family smoked. Yet, Smith’s first thoughts were always questions of the concerned mother: “What could I have done better to prevent this?”
“There’s this tendency, I think, to say, ‘What could I have done to have prevented this?’…Short of choosing not to live where I lived…I don’t know that there was actually anything that we could have done.”
This cancer was no ordinary case, however. When Smith asked the doctors about what could have caused the cancer, their pediatric oncologist asked her if their family had ever been to Chernobyl. One of the known causes of thyroid cancer in children is high levels of radiation. This prompted Smith to think that the doctor was indicating an environmental issue could be the cause behind Gabe’s illness. 
With this new knowledge, Smith began to do more research. She discovered that the house her family was living in was only one mile away from a toxic site. At the site, high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) were being pumped into the ground, evaporated into the air, and contaminating many people’s drinking water. The company, Chicago Telegraph Service (CTS), had abandoned the site in 1986. They had manufactured car and airplane parts in Asheville and used TCE as a degreaser in the process. 
When Smith made this discovery, she assumed that there were people who already knew and were taking action on it. Although CTS wasn’t functioning at that site specifically, they are still in operation even to today in other parts of the country. Surely someone was making sure they were paying for the mess they had left in the community? 
“When I found out about this, I thought that somebody was probably working to take care of it; that somebody was watching out for my health and the health of my children, the health of my family, the health of my neighbors…And as I found out more about it I discovered that not much at all was being done.”
But as Smith looked more and more into the situation, she realized that no clear action was being taken. What needed to be done was obvious to her: these chemicals were in their environment, threatening the health of the community around her and they needed to be removed. As an elementary school librarian, Smith would go to school in the county where she worked and teach kids in grades K-4. Who was protecting the health and safety of the children she worked with everyday?
“I kept thinking about these itty bitties I teach and I couldn’t give up, not just for my family, but also for them. Because it has got to get better.”
Smith began going to community meetings and found that there were other community members who knew about this situation because they had also gotten sick; many people had suffered from the same rare thyroid cancer as Gabe. However, on a federal level, the amount of people who were suffering was not being recognized. When the North Carolina Health Department in partnership with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) did a study, they found that there was no statistically significant number of people who were sick in the area. This is not unique to Asheville: ATSDR has conducted many health studies that depend on population density as a key factor to determining a location as having a “cancer cluster.” Because their town was not densely populated, the government entities around them were not declaring their suffering to be significant. 
Through these community meetings, Smith also learned that there was a history of the EPA working on the site. However, many of the people in these community organizations were angry at the EPA. The agency had not been effective at achieving a cleaner environment or protecting people’s health, and they had made many mistakes already. This ineffective action made people distrust the EPA and eager to find alternative solutions for approaching this site clean-up. 
While community organizers held anger towards the EPA for their inadequate response, Smith remained focused on accomplishing what she felt was most important: removing the toxic chemicals from the ground. She continued to recognize the EPA as the only entity with federal power to take them through this process. With the help of some community members that she recruited, and local non-profits such as Clean Water for North Carolina, she began to reach out to the EPA and seek partners within the agency that could help her achieve justice. 
Others in the community remained divided about the methods Smith was using. With their bad track record, people were unwilling to continue to pursue a clean-up through the EPA. Some community members felt so strongly that they would harass or even threaten Smith for the work that she was doing. One woman on the phone told her that she was “poisoning and killing” community members for working with the EPA. As though fighting CTS to take responsibility for their actions and spurring the EPA into meaningful action was not enough of a challenge, Smith was also faced with division in her community. 
“I had people actually come up and say to me ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing that? You’re never going to see clean up in your lifetime. You need to just give up now.’ …and I said ‘No, watch. We’re gonna get it.’”
Despite the conflicts with other community members, Smith’s work led to the area being declared a Superfund site in 2011. They were also able to write a technical assistance grant and hire a technical advisor who could help create more clear communication between the EPA and community by putting the more dense information from the EPA into digestible form. 
In the decade that followed the declaration of the Superfund site, the community was successful in developing and implementing two phases of removing the TCE from the ground. One strategy has been to put probes into the ground that heat up the soil and burn off the TCE. Secondly, they have been able to inject combative chemicals into the ground through a form of fracking that, when they come into contact with TCE, renders it inert. 
“I would love to be able to tell budding environmental activists, ‘oh my god, do it, its gonna be so easy and you’re gonna be so successful.” Unfortunately, that would be a lie. I can tell you that it’s gonna be hard. Find your support structure and lean on it.”
Although this site is on track to continue being cleaned up, Smith is still fighting today for justice. Most of the money that pays for clean-ups of sites like hers come from taxpayers dollars. In other words, Smith not only had to pay for all the treatment of her son Gabe, and her other son who later developed a bone tumor, but her money is also going into cleaning up a mess that she did not create. This is why she is a part of collaborating with CHEJ on our mission to reinstate the Polluter’s Pay Tax. To read more about this campaign and to support people like Lee Ann in their fight against corporations like CTS, check out this link: 
Photo Credit: POWER Action Group

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Brunswick Residents Living Next To A Superfund Site Worry About Cleanup 40 Years Later

Jasmin Buggs reeled in her line and looked with dismay at the bare metal hook.
The shrimp bait was gone — again.
Likely it was yanked off by a stealthy stingray or nabbed by a passing whiting.
Buggs and her boyfriend regularly fish in Mackay River off the edge of an old bridge that once connected Brunswick and St. Simons Island. Though both live locally, neither were aware of any pollution or fish advisory notices on the Back River, the next bridge over, due to suspected pollution from the old Hercules industrial plant. The 152-acre industrial site, marked by the white smoke billowing from a tall smokestack, is visible from the bridge across the marsh.
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Photo Credit: Laura Corley/The Current

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Kick the Fracking Industry Out of Indian Country

On Sunday, The Guardian published a comprehensive report on the environmental, health, and legal issues raised by fracking in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation. In particular, the outlet highlighted instances in which fracking wells owned by Denver-based gas and oil company Enduring Resources had either exploded or malfunctioned, contaminating nearby water sources. In one case from 2019, a fracking well leak brought on by a valve failure pushed 1,400 barrels of slurry off the well pad and into the surrounding snow; by the time the company moved to contain the contaminated area, the snow had melted and the toxins had been washed downstream into the adjacent creek bed. Three days later, an explosion sounded off from another nearby well. Three months later, at another site in the area, 20 barrels of crude oil were sent straight into the earth.
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Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Trump administration pollution rule strikes final blow against environment

The Environmental Protection Agency has completed one of its last major rollbacks under the Trump administration, changing how it considers evidence of harm from pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public-health regulation.
The EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, formally announced the completion of what he calls the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule in a Zoom appearance before Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative thinktank on Tuesday. The EPA completed the final rule last week.
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Photo credit: Alex Brandon/AP