21 Dec 2001 Special Holiday Edition
The Grinch Who Stole our Business: A Sad Christmas in Hudson Falls
The Grinch Who Stole our Business: A Sad Christmas in Hudson Falls
Every Person in Hudson Liked Freedom a lot
But the EPA, Which worked in Washington, Did NOT!
They ruined our Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
Just as in the Dr. Suess story, a Grinch is threatening to spoil Christmas – in this case, for the people of a small New York town. Hudson Falls business owner Judy Dean, who owns a small marina on the Hudson River, will likely suffer unneeded economic hardship because the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insists on dredging the river to remove chemical residue. Many locals oppose the federal intervention, and evidence suggests that the EPA’s solution to this "problem" may only cause more environmental hazards.
Between 1947 and 1977, the nearby General Electric plant legally dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River. PCBs were outlawed in 1976 under the false assumption that they caused liver cancer. While initial studies 25 years ago found PCBs caused liver cancer in lab rats, a later study indicated high levels of PCBs in the blood of G.E. workers had no correlation to higher cancer rates. Even though PCBs were found to not be a human cancer risk, President Bill Clinton decided – in the last few days of his administration – that nearly 40 miles of the Hudson River should be dredged to remove the remaining chemicals.
Ironically, the Hudson River is cleaner today than it was just a few decades ago. PCB levels in fish in the Hudson River have been declining. Considering that the EPA still erroneously believes that PCBs are toxic, why would they support a project that would release them into the water again instead of letting them remain safely entombed underneath river sediment?
Another problem with the EPA’s plan is that it is not known where the sludge that is to be dredged from the river will be dumped. Initial reports indicated that the sludge will be dumped on land used by dairy farmers near Hudson Falls. When this plan encountered local opposition, the EPA said it would dump the sediment outside of Hudson Falls. However, the EPA still refuses to say where it plans to dump the alleged toxins.
"The EPA has had ample opportunity to be open with the residents of the Upper Hudson River," says Jane Havens, vice-president of Citizen Environmentalists Against Sludge Encapsulation, or CEASE, a local group fighting the dredging. "The EPA has a history of hiding and withholding information, and we are just their latest victim."
In Hudson Falls, the Hudson River gets as narrow as 75 feet, although it is approximately a mile wide downstate. The dredging project would create a great deal of water traffic on this relatively narrow portion of the river, causing financial loss for marina owner Judy Dean, among others.
19 barges, which are approximately 35 feet wide, will be on the river 24 hours a day throughout the duration of the project — the specifics of which the EPA refuses to share with the residents of Hudson Falls. This barge traffic will most likely put Dean out of business. She estimates that the EPA’s dredging will make her marina completely inaccessible to all commercial water traffic. She will lose 100 percent of her revenue, from gasoline sales to renting dock space. "This waterway connects us to the rest of the world," says Mrs. Dean, "and the dredging project will cut us off."
Despite the opposition of Hudson Falls residents, the EPA insists on proceeding with the dredging project.
In "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," the Grinch finally recognized his errors and eats Christmas dinner with the Whos. Will the EPA identify its errors in Hudson Falls, and stop threatening the business of Dean and other residents? We can only hope for a cheerful ending
When the government realized its regulations were too tight,
They whizzed right to Hudson through the bright morning light,
And they removed the barges! And the large ugly ferry!
THEY THEMSELVES! Made Hudson Falls merry!
by Christopher Burger
Chris Burger is program coordinator for the John P. McGovern M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Readers may write him at [email protected].
Patience or Panic? – The EPA Seems to Let Demographics Decide
Residents of the affluent Spring Valley community in Washington, D.C., where the average home price exceeds $500,000, will wake up this Christmas morning to open presents, eat coffeecake and maybe even brush snow off their SUVs as they have the past 15 years. Despite Spring Valley’s exposure to a potential environmental threat literally under their feet, the government has yet to move them off the land.
That wasn’t the case in Times Beach, Missouri in December of 1982. While residents exchanged Christmas gifts, they received holiday greetings from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that were anything but cheerful: "If you are in town it is advisable for you to leave and if you are out of town do not go back."
Overnight, residents’ lives were turned upside-down. They were forced to abandon their homes and their possessions in a hurried and thorough evacuation reminiscent of a disaster movie.
In Spring Valley, however, things are being handled differently. Despite Spring Valley’s location above a World War I chemical weapons test site where the occasional 80-year-old ammunition is still unearthed, EPA officials in biological and chemical "moon suits" have not arrived to transport people to shelters.
One federal agency, two local communities and two similarly-uncertain natures of contamination. Yet the EPA treats the politically-connected and affluent community of Spring Valley with patience while it handled the less-influential community of Times Beach with panic.
If Times Beach were an affluent community, would the EPA have treated its residents so inhumanely? Probably not. After all, there was no hard evidence that the feared chemical, dioxin, was harmful. Panicky EPA campaigns, not facts, spurred fears.
The facts indicate dioxin is not as dangerous as the EPA and environmentalists led us to believe. It certainly is not dangerous enough to warrant the evacuation an entire town. While writer Michael Brown describes dioxin as potent "beyond imagination" and cites environmentalist claims that "if three ounces were evenly distributed and subsequently ingested among a million people… all of them would die," the Department of Veterans Affairs says a form of acne "is the one human effect universally linked to dioxin exposure." Today this acne is the only observed side-effect in inhabitants of Seveso, Italy after a 1976 explosion exposed them to some of the highest concentrations of dioxin ever recorded. Despite claims by alarmists, there is no evidence that dioxin causes cancer.
Dartmouth College Chemistry Professor Gordon W. Gribble, Ph. D. says the problem is chemophobia – "The ignorant and irrational fear of chemicals." Just because something is a chemical with a complex name does not mean it is dangerous. In fact, dioxin is naturally produced in forest fires and soil. Considering the media portrayal of such chemicals, it isn’t surprising the public is susceptible to chemophobia. Shouldn’t the EPA be immune to it?
Today, the EPA official who ordered the Times Beach evacuation admits that it was "unnecessary" and an "overreaction." Apparently, the agency did not consider the devastating effects its panicked response would have on the Times Beach residents. The fact that Times Beach residents were powerless to fight back probably also influenced their actions.
When the EPA deals with people who have the means and power to fight back, chemophobia is suddenly replaced by prudence. The Spring Valley region of Washington, D.C. is populated by the powerful and the wealthy. For 15 years, the federal government has known chemicals such as arsenic and mustard gas contaminate the region.
Did the EPA respond to the contamination in Spring Valley with the panicked chemophobia that ruined the Christmas of Times Beach’s 1,400 residents? No. To the contrary, the investigation has been characterized by an almost phobic reluctance to displace a single resident – a reluctance the displaced residents of Times Beach surely wish the agency had extended to them.
EPA officials know whose neighborhoods they investigate. They know that residents of locations like Times Beach are powerless to fight it. They also know that the lawyers, media stars, wealthy businessmen and future Presidents who live in Spring Valley could ruin their careers. With so much power to do so much damage, shouldn’t the EPA always proceed cautiously?
If evidence of ground contamination is ever found in my neighborhood, I sure hope I’m living next to Senator Joe Lieberman instead of Joe Shmo – otherwise, who knows what the EPA will do to me.
by Syd Gernstein
Syd Gernstein is a research associate with the Center for Environmental Justice of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Readers may write him at [email protected].