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Archive for February, 2014

Medical researchers say brain disorders tied to industrial chemicals

Medical researchers say brain disorders tied to industrial chemicals

“Children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements and damaging societies” according to a new Lancet Neurology article. Also read more here.

In other words, toxins emitted from Kipp and other industries have significant long-term and irreversible effects on our children, our educational system, and our whole society. Here’s the abstract from the Lancet Neurology article by Dr. Grandjean and Dr. Landrigan:

“Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.”

EIGHT of the chemicals highlighted as the most damaging to the developing brain are known to be emitted from Madison Kipp Corporation and/or have been found in soils, groundwater and/or air at the site. This factory is just feet away from homes, schools, daycare centers, and a community center that focuses on programs for low income and minority children.

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High Levels of PCBs Being Excavated from Kipp’s Floors—Are Workers Protected?

High Levels of PCBs Being Excavated from Kipp’s Floors—Are Workers Protected?

(Two Kipp Workers, photo by John Hart, Madison.com). According to a recent letter  from Kipp to the DNR, Kipp has been excavating inside the factory, and finding PCBs in concrete floors hundreds of times above the residual contact levels (levels considered safe for direct contact) in some places. This is not surprising, given that up to 20,000 ppm PCBs have been found beneath the factory floor, as we reported in our previous post. All of these PCB contaminated materials are also very likely contaminated with dioxins—among the most toxic chemicals ever studied (significantly more toxic than PCBs).

This raises more questions for our “Unanswered Questions: Madison-Kipp Unbound” series: What is being done right now to protect Kipp’s non-unionized workers as these highly PCB contaminated materials are being excavated? What machines (referred to in the letter) are being installed? Who is doing the excavation? What is being done—and has been done in the past—to protect workers from the myriad toxic contaminants used at Kipp, emitted into factory air, and sloshed around on the floor? Are tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and other toxic vapors seeping into the plant from the giant contaminant plume below the floor?  Has anyone measured? What about the workers who clean Kipp? Are they and other workers aware of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins in floors, walls, and air? Do they have adequate protective gear? What are Kipp Corporation and the relevant government agencies doing to assure that workers are not exposed to toxic contaminants?

Are Kipp Worker Exposures Even on Radar Screen of Government Agencies…?

Madison Kipp’s non-unionized workers—which include many minorities, as well as some ex-offenders—are among the most exposed to the factory’s toxic pollution. Kipp also hires a number of low-wage LTEs (limited term employees) during busy times, and at times employs homeless people.[1]Various companies are contracted to clean Kipp and remove wastes; cleaning Kipp and removing wastes likely involve exposures to a stew of toxic contaminants.[2]

Yet even as PCE, PCB, TCE (trichloroethylene), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), vinyl chloride, dioxins, heavy metals, and myriad other contaminants have been measured in soils and groundwater under Kipp, and/or emitted into factory air and from stacks, local and state government agencies and elected officials apparently are not very concerned about the health and safety of the manufacturing workers at the plant. In our reviews of thousands of pages of documents and communications from local and state agencies, we have not seen anything about assessing exposures to Kipp factory workers, assuring that they are protected, or communicating with them about potential exposures in and around the plant.[3]  Even public health agencies don’t seem to be concerned about workers’ health and well-being at all—or if they are, it is not evident anywhere.

What about the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has an office in Madison? It’s our understanding that OSHA doesn’t investigate workplace exposures unless there is a formal complaint. While OSHA has been in Kipp several times in the last 10-15 years to investigate a number of serious worker accidents, and has issued numerous citations for significant safety violations (see next story), we have found no evidence that OSHA staff have ever investigated worker exposures to PCEs, PCBs, or any of the other highly toxic contaminants found at Kipp in recent years—nor has OSHA been involved in helping to develop strategies to protect workers from harmful exposures to these contaminants .[4]

When MEJO met with four DNR managers on Jan. 29 2014, we asked whether they had ever contacted OSHA and they said “no”—but “they will.” Shouldn’t the DNR and its city/county and state health agency collaborators have contacted OSHA many years ago, especially as the enormous plume of toxic compounds was documented under the plant, with a high potential for vapor intrusion into the factory (however, see footnote #3)? Why haven’t they contacted OSHA to get guidance on assessing worker exposures and ways to best protect workers as toxic materials are excavated all around the plant? Do DNR staff have training in assessing workplace exposures to dusts and particulates, vapors, VOCs, PCBs? Are they industrial hygienists? Is the EPA, involved with the PCB portion of the Kipp investigation, assuring that workers are protected from PCB exposures?

Of course, Kipp’s non-unionized manufacturing workers are very unlikely to complain to OSHA or anyone, for a number of reasons. Most are unaware of the toxins around them and/or serious implications for their health and their children’s health (if they are women of childbearing age). Even if they are aware, they are very unlikely to complain to superiors or say anything publicly, because they do not want to jeopardize their jobs.  Not being unionized, they have no organization to protect and represent them in complaints against their employer. They are probably very grateful to have a job—any job. Some, like homeless people and ex-offenders, have few other choices.

Sadly, this scenario fits a classic pattern of environmental injustice: the most vulnerable people—also the least privileged, least likely to have the capacities and resources to protect themselves, and with fewer alternatives available to them as far as work—are ignored by government and other powers-that-be.

Why have government agencies, public officials, media, and even neighborhood groups not raised questions about the health and safety of Kipp’s workers? With jobs and economic growth currently the top priority on all sides of the political spectrum, public officials on the left and right are reluctant to do or say anything that might threaten jobs.

MEJO does not want Kipp workers to lose their means of supporting themselves and their families. But they deserve safe and healthy work that will not increase their (or their children’s) risks for serious health problems—problems that will likely create even more socioeconomic challenges for them in the future.

Again: What are Madison Kipp, responsible government agencies, and elected officials doing to assure that Kipp workers are protected from toxic exposures?

To be continued in next post…

People out there–comments, answers, questions, corrections? Please send to: info@mejo.us. THANKS!!!


[1] MEJO members know people who worked at Kipp while homeless (though they are still homeless, they no longer work there). Sadly, one said he couldn’t keep the job because he kept falling asleep at work. Another recalled sloppy practices in the plant. See the next post…

[2] MEJO members have talked to people who cleaned at Kipp and suffered health effects while there.

[3] Ironically, a recent Kipp consultant report revealed that Kipp would be assessing vapor intrusion only in the office portions of the plant. Why not the manufacturing portions? Are they concerned about Kipp’s managers and administrative staff but not the manufacturing workers, cleaning contractors, and other temporary workers?

[4] In 2011, OSHA did a very limited one-time assessment of aluminum dust.

 

 

 

 

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20,000 ppm PCBs under Kipp? No Worries ! “Just Ordinary Dirt,” says Kipp CEO

20,000 ppm PCBs under Kipp? No Worries ! “Just Ordinary Dirt,” says Kipp CEO

(Kipp’s CEO, Tony Koblinski, in Kipp’s corporate offices, photo from Madison.com)

In a June 19, 2013 letter to the Wisconsin DNR (first obtained by MEJO in January, 2014), the U.S. EPA stated that it informed Kipp in a meeting on April 10, 2013 (see powerpoint presented at that meeting here) that the PCB levels of up to 20,000 ppm found in soils under the factory are “too high to remain in place” because “unacceptably high exposure levels would exist if institutional controls and/or engineered barriers fail.”

The DNR’s non-industrial residual contact level (RCL) for PCBs—the level above which human contact is considered unsafe— is .222 ppm. In other words, the levels of PCBs found under Kipp are up to nearly 100,000 times above the level considered safe for human contact.  Apparently EPA risk assessors don’t think leaving these PCB-laden soils under the factory is an acceptable option, because if caps or barriers constructed to contain the soils fail, people could be exposed to extremely harmful levels of PCBs.

Soils behind some homes on Waubesa Street, just feet away from the PCB contamination under Kipp, were also contaminated with PCBs  above RCLs. Before there was any public awareness or discussion about this problem, Kipp quietly notified people with contaminated soils behind their homes, and quickly moved to excavate them. Neighbors observed that little to nothing was done to protect residents from PCB dust and runoff during excavation in June.  Getting rid of the evidence as fast as possible, perhaps?

Most appallingly, during excavation—well after Kipp had been notified of the PCB problem by the EPA— Kipp CEO Tony Koblinski had the gall to tell a concerned neighbor that the soil being hauled from people’s yards was “ordinary dirt.” When asked about the PCBs in the soil, he said “you don’t know that” and “I don’t know that.” Unbelievable! Watch it here.

Which brings us to….

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS 

As we described in an earlier post— the understaffed and overwhelmed DNR told MEJO they can’t be burdened with further questions from us (and may charge us $700 if we persist in asking them). We turned to Ask.com, but it didn’t have answers either. So we will turn to you—citizens, the public, anyone out there—for help with our questions.

Any answers to these questions?

What is the source of the PCBs under the Kipp plant and behind the homes on Waubesa Street?

A Kipp consultant report (see page 2) says that there was a road between the Waubesa Street homes and the factory at one time, and implies that perhaps it was coated with PCB oils and that may be the source of PCBs under the plant. If that’s the case, why did Kipp only share first this information in late 2013? Why did the DNR not post the report with this information on the Kipp website until months after it was released, and only after MEJO found it in the DNR files and asked that it be posted (in Dec. 2013)?

Why did DNR tell MEJO on Dec. 4, 2013 that “the source of the PCBs is unknown”—when the Kipp consultant report with the statement about the road was submitted to the DNR on Sept. 30, 2013? Do Kipp and the DNR not want the public to know about this old road? Why not?

When did Kipp first do PCB testing under the factory? How many samples were taken? Where exactly?

What is the range of PCB levels being found beneath the factory? When did the DNR and health agencies first see PCB data from under the factory?

Before being taken away to a landfill, PCB contaminated soils were stored on the north side of the Kipp parking lot for various periods of time. Were signs posted there to keep children away? Did Kipp comply with regulations (NR 714) regarding signage at contaminated sites?

Were adequate barriers placed over/around the piles of contaminated soils to prevent dust from flying up and runoff from going into the storm drains, gutters, and the nearby raingarden (found to be very contaminated with PCBs in 2012)?

Why was there no public meeting to discuss these important PCB results, with serious implications for the neighborhood, the broader community, and the City of Madison?

Why did DNR staff intentionally withhold this information from a journalist who contacted them with questions about the PCB excavations in May 2013?

The DNR told us they are meeting with SASYNA regularly. Have they discussed the PCB levels under the plant with them?  If not, why not? If so, why hasn’t SASYNA shared it more widely with the community?

Were neighbors on Waubesa Street ever notified of high levels of PCBs under the plant feet from their homes—and the future implications they could have for them? (e.g., more digging behind their homes, potential exposures for them and their children, etc.)?

What is the status of the PCB testing under Kipp currently? Will the public ever see the full results?

What is Kipp planning to do about the PCBs under their plant?

What about Kipp’s non-unionized workers? Is anyone assessing their exposures to PCBs and the many other toxic compounds being found in and under the plant? (See upcoming posts)

People out there—any thoughts? Further questions to add? Please send them to info@mejo.us

 

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Environmental Injustices “Beneath the Surface” in Madison

Environmental Injustices “Beneath the Surface” in Madison

In “progressive” Madison, denial of any serious environmental pollution problems, growing race and income inequalities, and white privilege among government decisionmakers work together to create—and yet render invisible—racial and socioeconomic disparities in exposures to toxic contaminants. Watch this excellent documentary by University of Wisconsin students Makie Matsumoto-Hervol, Jessica Duma, Mitchell Johnson, and Ellie Shand to learn more about environmental injustices related to subsistence fishing in Madison…

 

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DNR Too Busy to Answer Questions About Madison-Kipp. Can Anyone Out There Help?

DNR Too Busy to Answer Questions About Madison-Kipp. Can Anyone Out There Help?

For several years, MEJO has been asking the Wisconsin DNR questions related to Madison-Kipp Corporation’s toxic pollution. Last December, Remediation and Redevelopment staff threatened us with a $700 fee to ask further questions—citing this policy. The DNR email message and our response are here.

On January 29, 2014, we met with South Central Region Bureau Director Mark Aquino and three of his staff to discuss their rationale for applying this policy— clearly intended for industries and facilities that have released toxic pollution—to citizens asking questions about the effects of this pollution on people and the environment.

They explained that the DNR is too busy to answer further questions. They have much more important work to do. They reminded us that we can review online and hard copy files any time to search for answers to our questions. Here is a partial transcript of what they said.

Given this, we appreciate the generosity of DNR to allow four agency managers to take an hour and a half to meet with us free of charge. This probably cost taxpayers about $300, so the DNR could have raised $400 ($700 technical assistance fee minus $300 actual costs) to reduce the state’s debt—but they didn’t; we’ll be eternally grateful). But we have learned that these public servants do not want to be burdened by further questions about Kipp.

This leaves us with a problem. Many of our questions have never been answered. New questions are arising all the time as monitoring data is released and we review documents. We have reviewed thousands of pages of documents and still not found answers. We have spent entire days going through jumbled, unorganized files at state and local government offices looking for information or documents we never found. Some critical documents—that we know exist—don’t seem to be in the files at all. Others seem to have disappeared from the files over time—we saw them once, they were gone the next time.  Aquino assured us that these files were the “official repository,” so the disorganization of the files, and ease by which documents come and go, are disconcerting.

Further, many of our most important questions cannot be answered by reviewing documents; we need answers from actual people—in particular, government agency staff who make decisions related to Kipp pollution.

But rather than further burden the understaffed and overwhelmed DNR, we have decided to try other strategies to address our questions. We turned to Ask.com, but it didn’t have answers either.* So we will turn to you—citizens, the public, anyone out there—for help with our questions. We are launching a new series, “Unanswered Questions: Madison-Kipp Unbound—How a Polluter Gets Its Way” in which we will post questions that we would have sent to DNR and other government agencies—or have sent them in the past but not received adequate (or any) answers. We hope someone out there can help us!

Watch for Part 1 of “Unanswered Questions,” coming soon….

 

*Ask.com directs you the DNR Brownfields web pages for Kipp, which don’t have the answers, of course.

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