Flint sullies EPA’s name, despite efforts of individual feds by Joe Davidson January 26, 2016, Washington Post
Given the federal government’s response to the Flint water scandal, EPA could stand for Ever Procrastinating Administrators, instead of the Environmental Protection Agency.
While most of the blame for poisoning the city water system rests with Michigan officials, EPA’s reputation has been sullied as an enabler, an accessory and an agency that failed to promptly protect people and the environment. [Isn’t that what all regulators the world over have become under greed ‘n globalization?] This is the same agency that is attacked from the right, as an overbearing big brother, and the same agency where dedicated employees have worked to improve water in Flint, despite foot-dragging from above.
Flint children have been assaulted, forever wounded by lead contamination. It will plague them for the rest of their lives. Someone must answer for that. The agency’s inspector general has opened an investigation into the response to the water crisis, “including EPA’s exercise of its oversight authority.” The probe will find that one EPA employee, in particular, worked diligently in that oversight role, but without much support.
Only last week, under pressure and months after being prodded, did EPA issue an emergency order to state and city officials, calling on them to ensure safe drinking water. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan formerly requested similar action in October. It wasn’t until December that EPA’s regional chief, Susan Hedman, responded, declining to take action.
EPA seemed to suddenly find urgency in a letter accompanying last week’s order. The agency is “deeply concerned by continuing delays and lack of transparency,” wrote Administrator Gina McCarthy. She cited “the public health emergency that is now unfolding as a result of the failure to properly operate Flint’s system, leading to multiple health-based drinking water violations and unsafe lead levels in the city’s drinking water.” But she made no mention of EPA’s own sluggishness.
“The EPA completely abdicated its responsibility to warn the people of Flint about the lead and the dire health consequences,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan.
“EPA, in the instance of Flint, was unambiguously part of the problem,” added Henry Henderson, NRDC’s Midwest director.
Yet, even as most of the culpability for EPA’s reputation has fallen on one person, Hedman, whose resignation is effective Feb. 1, others in the agency have been lauded for trying to do the right thing.
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the toxic water crisis, identified EPA “good guys” as Bob Kaplan, Miguel del Toral, Mike Schock and Darren Lytle.
Hedman’s resignation “provides a tiny ray of hope for EPA’s many outstanding scientists and engineers, who desperately want to do their jobs protecting the environment and public health – but are repeatedly hamstrung by incompetent and uncaring management,” Edwards wrote on his team’s blog.
Del Toral, an EPA expert on lead and copper in drinking water, has been singled out for much of the spotlight.
“He’s one of the heroes…. of this whole crisis,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents Flint. “I give him great credit for being willing to stand up and say there’s something wrong here.”
But he might have paid a price for standing up, according to Lee-Anne Walters, a Flint resident who complained about the toxic water that sickened her children. By email, Walters, a member of Water You Fighting For, confirmed a report in Edwards’ blog that said she was told by an EPA official that “‘Mr. Del Toral has been handled,’ and that Flint residents would not be hearing from him again.”
An EPA spokesperson said del Toral had not been reprimanded in any way and noted he has been interviewed by news media. A message on his telephone said he is away this week, so he could not be reached for this column.
Del Toral wrote a report about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water system in June. After it leaked, Hedman wrote an email, secured by Edwards in a Freedom of Information Act request, that seemed to play down del Toral’s findings. “It would be premature to draw any conclusions based on that draft,” Hedman wrote to former Flint mayor Dayne Walling. She expressed no sense of urgency.
McCarthy apparently recognizes that is a problem. The same day she issued the order and letter, she sent a message to all employees urging them to not be satisfied with “simple technical compliance, when a broader perspective would suggest that a larger public health or environmental issue is at stake.”
Without mentioning Flint, she said issues should be elevated for action when “there appears to be a substantial threat to public health [while lying about, endorsing and enabling frac harms across America?]; EPA is or can reasonably be expected to be a focus of the need for action; and/or other authorities appear to be unable to address or unsuccessful in effectively addressing such a threat; recourse to normal enforcement and compliance tools is not appropriate or unlikely to succeed in the near term; high and sustained public attention is possible.”
EPA’s action is welcome, albeit belated.
“They knew it was a crisis, they had someone inside who was trying to inform them of the crisis and they refused to act on it,” said pastor Allen Overton, a member of Concerned Pastors for Social Action. “Miguel del Toral, he ought to be the chief over the whole EPA. He’s the only one who had the courage to stand up and say something was wrong. My hat goes off to him.” [Emphasis added]
EPA’s fall in Flint, an aberration or part of a pattern? by Joe Davidson, January 28, 2016, Washington Post
The Environmental Protection Agency’s lethargic response to the Flint water crisis makes the agency look like an accomplice after a crime – the poisoning of the city’s water system and assaulting its population.
But was EPA’s dawdling in largely poor and black Flint an aberration or part of a pattern of lax oversight and enforcement?
For critic Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the answer is clearer than Flint’s water: With the exception of Obama administration initiatives on greenhouse gases, EPA “has steadily withdrawn from combating conventional pollution,” continuing the pattern under former president George W. Bush.
At the same time, EPA cites projects that show, in the words of Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, “we are implementing America’s environmental laws and delivering on EPA’s mission.”
Ruch has evidence to back up his claim. The data support him when he says “enforcement actions of all types have fallen.”
Statistics in an Environment & Energy Publishing report, drawn from EPA data, tell the tale: the 213 criminal cases EPA opened in 2015 were 87 fewer than two years before and down a fifth from 2014. The number of defendants charged also fell, but slightly. In 2013 the number of inspections and evaluations totaled about 18,000. That dropped to 15,400 in 2015.
The agency is charged with overseeing state anti-pollution programs like Michigan’s and under former president Bill Clinton “EPA often directly intervened (or threatened to) in cases where state agencies had dropped the ball,” Ruch added in an email. “We have not heard of any such action under Obama…In area after area, we see EPA retreating.”
For Henry Henderson, Midwest director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, EPA repeatedly demonstrates a “lack of urgency to enforce the law, holding back in situations where it is their responsibility to act and only responding when there is citizen action to force their hand.”
Part of EPA’s problem is resources — money and people.
Cutting staff from 18,000 in 1999 to 15,000 undercuts the agency’s performance, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
“What most people don’t understand is that nearly half of EPA’s budget goes to states, tribal authorities, and municipalities, and of the remaining half, almost half of that goes to contractors,” said a statement from John J. O’Grady, president of AFGE Local 704, which represents employees in the EPA region that covers Flint.
“EPA’s budget peaked in 2010 at $10.3 billion and is now at $8.1 billion for 2016,” he said. “How can the agency do more with less, particularly at a time when state environmental agencies are experiencing budget shortfalls? U.S. EPA does not have the sufficient capacity to assist. So, issues such as the one which occurred in Flint, Mich. happen due, in part, to minimal federal oversight and enforcement.”
Despite the budget cuts, EPA says its enforcement actions resulted in record-setting Superfund, Clean Air Act and hazardous waste settlements. Companies were required to invest more than $7 billion to clean up contamination and control pollution. The agency boasts of actions in 2015 that it says cut 430 million pounds of air pollutants and provided $39 million for “projects that provide direct benefits to communities harmed by pollution.” [Peanuts! Not even.]
And although environmental criminal cases are down, EPA notes the $4 billion its criminal program won through court ordered projects last year, the $200 million in fines and restitution [MORE PEANUTS! Frac contaminated aquifers in the US would take multi-billions to restore, if restoration is even possible], and the total of 129 years of incarceration for environmental criminals.
“The large cases we tackled in 2015 will drive compliance across industries, and protect public health in communities for years to come,” said EPA’s Giles.
Bob Perciasepe, EPA’s deputy administrator from 2009 to 2014, cautions against drawing sweeping conclusions about EPA from individual cases, like Flint. “Flint is not a normal occurrence,” he said.
Look at environmental issues broadly over the agency’s 46-year history, Perciasepe suggested. “Has pollution gone up? It has not.” [Ask Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, etc etc etc]
EPA, he added, has been “one of the greatest bargains the American public has paid for.”
For Earth Day last year, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reported on the agency’s progress on four big pollution problems – acid rain, leaded gasoline, pesticide DDT and air pollution.
“Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way,” she said, “there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.”
But does it lead often and aggressively enough? [Emphasis added]
Flint water crisis: Michigan made sure state employees had clean water 8 months before everyone else by Libby Nelson, January 28, 2016, Vox
By last January, people in Flint, Michigan, knew something was wrong with their water. It smelled and tasted bad. It was the color of rust. And they’d already been told it was contaminated with chemicals that can cause cancer.
Publicly, the state insisted all this was nothing to worry about. Privately, they made sure their own employees wouldn’t have to drink Flint’s water.
After a notice went out informing Flint residents that their water had unacceptable levels of total trihalomethanes — a chlorine byproduct that can cause cancer — the Flint office of the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget installed water coolers, according to an email obtained by Progress Michigan.
“While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, [the department] is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink,” the department’s facilities team wrote on January 7, 2015.
But the Department of Environmental Quality, which was notified about the budget department’s decision to buy bottled water (and noted that “certain departments” seemed concerned about the water quality notice), was still insisting that the contaminated water was perfectly safe to drink. [As nasty as the government of Alberta and it’s abusive, enabling AER treats citizens with drinking water and breathing air toxic with oil and gas industry contamination]
“It’s not like an eminent [sic] threat to public health,” a briefing the department sent to Gov. Rick Snyder on February 1, 2015, reads in part. The DEQ went on to suggest that city officials were exaggerating the threat so they could get more money out of the state for infrastructure improvements.
It would take eight more months for the state to admit that the water in Flint really was unsafe. The budget department might have had clean drinking water provided by the state, but ordinary people in Flint did not. [Emphasis added]
Lead poisoning strikes another US town
by AFP, January 27, 2016, msn.com
A lead poisoning scandal has struck a second US town, with schools closed in Sebring, Ohio Monday and the water treatment plant operator accused of falsifying reports.
Initial tests found elevated lead levels in 28 homes and one school in the midwestern village of about 4,400 people, Ohio’s environmental protection agency said. It is not clear how long lead has been leaking from the town’s pipes.
The agency said in a statement it has “reason to suspect that the operator falsified reports” and has asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal division for help with the investigation.
[WHERE’S ALBERTA’S CRIMINAL DIVISION, FRAUD UNIT?
WHERE ARE THE RCMP?
EVIDENCE OF ALBERTA ENVIRONMENT FRAUDULENTLY FALSIFYING THE ALBERTA RESEARCH COUNCIL’S “INDEPENDENT” REVIEWS OF ALBERTA ENVIRONMENT’S GOPHER-SHIT-SAMPLING OF ROSEBUD’S CITIZEN CONTAMINATED DRINKING WATER WELLS WAS FILED IN ALBERTA’S COURT OF QUEEN’S BENCH APRIL 2014. NOTHING BUT SILENCE FROM AUTHORITIES SINCE, INCLUDING THE NEW NDP GOVERNMENT AND ATTORNEY GENERAL.]
The Ohio agency did not specify what kind of reports it was referring to. A spokesperson for it was not immediately available for comment.
The Ohio case comes as a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate how the city of Flint, Michigan exposed 100,000 residents to lead poisoning after cutting water treatment costs.
Officials are accused of ignoring months of health warnings about foul-smelling water, even as residents complained that it was making them sick.
President Barack Obama weighed in on the Flint crisis last week, saying he would be “beside myself” if the health of his children had been placed at risk in such a way.
“You can’t short-change basic services that we provide to our people,” Obama said.
Lead exposure is harmful to everyone, but it can have devastating impacts on young children by irreversibly harming brain development. It has been shown to lower intelligence, stunt growth and lead to aggressive and anti-social behavior.
Ohio’s environmental protection agency issued a warning on December 3 about lead contamination in the Sebring water supply.
It issued a notice of violation to the village on Thursday after learning officials “had failed to properly notify its customers” and repeatedly failed to “provide timely and accurate information to the department’s field office.”
“It has become apparent that our field office was too patient in dealing with the village of Sebring’s ‘cat and mouse’ game and should have had closer scrutiny on the water system meeting its deadlines,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said.
“We are in the process of developing new protocols and appropriate personnel actions to ensure that our field staff takes action when it appears that a water system is not complying and taking their review seriously.”
Changes already made to the way the village treats its water have helped reduce corrosion in the pipes, the agency said. However, the water advisory will not be lifted until the village achieves two rounds of lead-free sampling in consecutive six month periods.
Pregnant women and children were asked to have their blood tested for elevated lead levels on Sunday and officials have also begun distributing bottled water and filtration systems. [Emphasis added]
Obama declares emergency in Michigan over bad water: White House by Jeff Mason and Ben Klayman; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Reuters, January 17, 2016
[WHERE’S THE NDP’S DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY OVER ROSEBUD’S DANGEROUS WATER?]
U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Michigan on Saturday and ordered federal aid for state and local response efforts in the county where the city of Flint has been contending with lead-contaminated drinking water.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had asked the president to declare both an emergency and an expedited major disaster in Genesee County to protect the safety of Flint residents.
Obama is authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts there, the White House said in a statement.
The action is being taken to “lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County,” it said.
Snyder sent the Michigan National Guard to distribute bottled water and other supplies in the area earlier this week.
A financially struggling city, Flint was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit’s system to the nearby Flint River in April 2014 to save money.
Flint, which is about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Detroit, returned to using that city’s water in October after tests found elevated levels of lead in the water and in the blood of some children. [Emphasis added]
Michigan: Emergency Declared Over Flint’s Water by Mitch Smithjan, January 5, 2016, The New York Times
Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan declared a state of emergency for the Flint area on Tuesday as concerns grew about the health effects of lead-tainted water there. His order, which followed emergency declarations by the city and county governments, came on the day federal officials announced an investigation of the contamination. Mr. Snyder’s administration has been criticized as slow to respond to residents’ concerns about their water. Last week, he apologized and announced staffing changes at the state agency that oversees environmental quality. Flint, which had long received water from Lake Huron provided by Detroit’s water utility, began drawing its water from the Flint River in 2014 in an effort to save money while a new pipeline was built. Residents soon complained about rashes and strange odors from the river water, but city and state officials mostly insisted that it was safe to drink. Last year, elevated levels of lead were found in children’s blood, and in October, Flint switched back to Detroit’s water system. Mr. Snyder, a Republican, said Tuesday that the emergency declaration would allow for more state resources to be used in addressing the effects of the tainted water. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
ROSEBUD: Last night representatives from Alberta Environment, Wheatland County and the Calgary Health Region issued a “water usage advisory” to the residents of Rosebud, located one hour east of Calgary. The advisory warns residents to use bottled or filtered water due to the presence of a carcinogen in their local water supply:
Bromodichloromethane. Bromodichloromethane is toxic compound formed as a byproduct of adding chlorine to drinking water. According the US Environmental Protection Agency it is also a common byproduct of coal bed methane production: (See p. Oil and Gas Extraction, Sector Notebook Project, EPA/310-R-99-006)
In the last two years EnCana has repeatedly drilled and “stimulated” shallow wells with chemicals around the hamlet for coal bed methane. Several residents outside of the hamlet have lost their safe water after extensive CBM drilling and fracing. Alberta Environment is conducting an ongoing investigation. Just last month Wheatland County and Alberta Environment said the hamlet’s water supply “complied with provincial standards.”
The trihalomethane – bromodichloromethane – was found by the regulator in Rosebud’s drinking water above Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines after Encana illegally fractured the aquifers and released methane into citizen water wells and the community’s drinking water supply.
Chloroform was also found in the drinking water, and toluene (solvent used extensively in the oil and gas industry, proven to cause brain damage especially in children), methane, ethane, and kerosene range hydrocarbons (which the regulator did not disclose to the community), among other chemicals (also not disclosed to the community). The Hamlet had to change water treatment away from chlorine because of the methane.
The community still does not know what chemicals Encana illegally injected into their drinking water supplies, and the regulators and Alberta government refuse to compel Encana to hand the chemical information over. Encana still hasn’t heeded the Alberta Rules of Court, and disclosed to Ernst all chemicals injected into the fresh water zones (Court ordered deadline was December 19, 2014)
No regulator or government has ordered Encana to stop fracing into fresh water zones at Rosebud, or to fix the frac’d aquifers and make the community’s drinking water safe again.
Citizens on water wells and hamlet residents are still living with explosive risks in their homes and businesses, and drinking unknown/undisclosed toxic chemicals.