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Wisconsin DNR not following its own rules

Wisconsin DNR not following its own rules

This really isn’t a surprise but it’s still very disturbing.

WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL   JUNE 3, 2016

WATER ENFORCEMENT | DNR DISREGARDING OWN RULES

State audit finds DNR ignoring own rules on water pollution

Wisconsin’s water quality regulators failed to follow their own policies on enforcement against polluters more than 94 percent of the time over the last decade, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau said in a report released Friday [MORE]

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Why “safe” levels of toxic chemicals may not be safe

Why “safe” levels of toxic chemicals may not be safe

“There’s no problem; toxic exposure is too low to cause any harm” is a common response by pubic officials when citizens raise concerns about toxins in the environment, such a PCBs or atrazine.

MEJO board member Kristine Mattis explains why this assurance may not be accurate in this article published at Counterpunch Online:

Toxic Curve Ball: Why Outdated Assumptions to Determine “Safe Levels” of To…

By now, a large number of consumers are aware of the hazards of the synthetic compound bisphenol-A (BPA). Effect… [MORE]

 

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Madison-Kipp removes chlorine, but environmental worries linger

Madison-Kipp removes chlorine, but environmental worries linger

By Steve Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal. (Photo: Inside Madison-Kipp)

Madison-Kipp Corp. has removed one worrisome toxin from the manufacturing plant it operates amid scores of homes along Atwood Avenue, but neighbors say they want more answers about other pollutants.

The machine parts maker sent an email to neighborhood residents last week to say it has stopped using chlorine to treat aluminum, eliminating the danger of a spill of the potentially deadly substance and ending smokestack emissions of certain dangerous breakdown chemicals including dioxin.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” company environmental and safety director Alina Satkoski said Wednesday. “We know this has been a concern of our neighbors.”

Madison-Kipp continues to operate under state permits for emissions of other smokestack pollutants, and cleanups of toxins in soil aren’t complete, although company officials say they are getting closer.

Chlorine was used to remove magnesium from 35 million pounds of aluminum the company buys each year and casts into parts for the automotive and other industries.

Madison-Kipp is paying a higher price to buy aluminum with less magnesium content in order to be a better neighbor, and it will continue the practice as long as a steady supply of the material is available, said company president and CEO Tony Koblinski.

“It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” Koblinski said. “As long as there is a steady stream we don’t give up too much.”

The chlorine announcement came as Madison-Kipp continued to work with state and federal regulators on investigations and cleanups of chemical toxins released into the ground during the more than 100 years the company’s Waubesa Street plant has operated.

Madison-Kipp is also the target of a 2012 state Department of Justice lawsuit over PCBs, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says probably cause cancer in humans and a variety of other serious health effects in animals. PCBs have been found in very high concentrations as deep as 25 to 30 feet below the company’s plant on Waubesa Street, one of three it operates in Dane County.

The company paid $7.2 million to settle lawsuits brought by neighbors after PCE, a likely human carcinogen that is associated with other serious illnesses, and other contaminants spread from the plant and sent vapor into their soil and homes.

But Koblinski has predicted a settlement with DOJ this year, and he said great progress is being made on several fronts.

The company has asked the state Department of Natural Resources for permission to end testing and removal of soil tainted with PCE in the yards of homes along Waubesa Street and soil contaminated with PCBs under the plant parking lot, along the adjacent bike path and in a nearby public rain garden, he said.

The company complied with a 2015 EPA consent order that threatened a $37,500-per-day fine if it didn’t fix processes that led to inaccurate reports of air emissions for nearly five years, Satkoski said. And the company has taken steps to avoid a repeat of a 2014 incident when moisture in a machine caused a 20-pound piece of molten aluminum to crash through the plant roof and land in a neighbor’s yard, Satkoski said.

Koblinski said he is willing to answer any neighborhood questions. But residents and local officials said they have trouble obtaining information from the DNR.

In particular, there are concerns about efforts to halt the underground PCE plume by pumping it from the ground, treating it and depositing 65,000 gallons a day into Starkweather Creek, a stream that is already listed as impaired by pollutants, said one neighborhood leader, Lance Green.

Confidence in regulators was shaken several years ago by revelations that PCE was in people’s homes and more recently when the Madison Water Utility revealed problems in Madison-Kipp studies indicating the PCE plume had stopped well short of a nearby drinking water source, said Green, who serves on the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association board and the group’s committee on Madison-Kipp as well as the Friends of Starkweather Creek board.

Madison City Council member Marsha Rummel and state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, tried to arrange a public meeting this week with DNR regulators, public health officials and others to answer residents’ questions about the activities.

However, Taylor and Green said DNR staff members told them they were wary because of verbal sparring at such a meeting in 2012.

Taylor said attorneys representing neighbors in the PCE lawsuit, which was still pending at the time, asked questions and that heightened tensions.

Taylor said she offered to screen questions and provide them to the DNR in advance, and Rummel arranged for a professional facilitator to run the meeting.

But the DNR declined, and said it would discuss dates for an “open house” meeting in which residents could talk with officials at individual tables set up for different topics, Taylor said. But that prevents the most knowledgeable neighbors from obtaining answers that everyone can hear, Taylor said.

“They don’t want to face the community in a group,” Taylor said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said the meeting was postponed by its organizers and the agency is waiting to hear further details about how and when it may take place.

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Where’s The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere

Where’s The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere

From HuffPost Politics (April 5).

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, local governments nationwide have had to assure residents worried about brain damage and miscarriages that their drinking water meets or exceeds all federal standards.

Philadelphia officials tried to quell concerns about lead poisoning after activists, in a series of news stories and a public hearing, questioned the city’s strategy for protecting the water.

“The Philadelphia Water Department is in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule,” John Quigley, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview. “Period. Full stop.”

Another city in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, the nation’s core regulation for lead in water: Flint, Michigan.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level. The rule essentially says that using lead pipes for drinking water is fine, even though childhood exposure to lead can cause permanently diminished intelligence and behavioral problems — serious ones. Widespread poisoning from leaded gasoline has emerged as a plausible explanation for rising and falling crime rates in the second half of the 20th century.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

 

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Madison advocacy group files complaint over DNR’s handling of open records requests

Madison advocacy group files complaint over DNR’s handling of open records requests

Photo: DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

Article below by Molly Beck, Wisconsin State Journal.

A lawsuit filed this week over the length of time it takes one state agency to respond to open records requests has open-government advocates hoping a court will make clear how long is too long for the state to respond to such requests.

Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm, filed a complaint this week in Dane County Circuit Court against the Department of Natural Resources alleging the state agency is violating the state’s Public Records Law by taking months — 10 months in one case — to respond to three requests for information related to a group of wetlands permits, concentrated animal feeding operations and air testing data.

The group’s suit comes amid criticism of the way Gov. Scott Walker’s administration handles requests for public records and in the wake of an unsuccessful July attempt by lawmakers to shield most records produced by the Legislature from public scrutiny.

DNR spokesman George Althoff said, “DNR takes its responsibility to the state open records law very seriously.” He said the DNR does not comment on pending litigation.

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council president Bill Lueders said he’s “glad to see a legal challenge over long delays in providing records.”

He said delayed responses to requests have been “an issue of growing concern” over the last several years — not just at the DNR, but at other state agencies, including the Department of Administration, Department of Corrections and University of Wisconsin System.

Lueders said the delays aren’t just a function of Walker’s administration, but rather a “gradual confluence of forces” is to blame, including state agencies being “strapped for staff.”

“And this is one of the areas they haven’t fully staffed,” said Lueders.

He said despite complaints over long waits, former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and current Attorney General Brad Schimel haven’t weighed in on whether a specific deadline for responding to requests should be outlined in the state open records law.

“The fact that two (attorneys general) have not wanted to draw bright lines there has kind of emboldened custodians to take even longer,” said Lueders.

The open records law does not set a time frame within which a government agency must respond to a request but says agencies should respond “as soon as practicable and without delay.”

Some other states define a response time in state law. In Illinois, for example, records custodians have five business days to “either comply with or deny a request.” If custodians need more than five business days, the law allows them to take another five days.

“The office of the Attorney General has been reluctant to make these judgments, so I hope this is an area in which the courts can provide guidance,” said Lueders.

The environmental group filed three requests for DNR records on March 9, June 3 and Aug. 19, the complaint states.

The DNR acknowledged receiving the March 9 request for air testing data on April 24 and sent the group an invoice for $162.50. The group sent the money to the DNR on June 29 but did not receive a response or records, according to the complaint. After months of calls and emails, according to the complaint, a DNR official responded on Jan. 12 saying the payment was received after the invoice’s payment deadline, prompting the request to be canceled.

The DNR took nearly five months to acknowledge the group’s June 3 request for information about concentrated animal feeding operations. In that email, a DNR official noted ongoing litigation, according to the complaint. The DNR said the advocacy group might want to resubmit a request. No further communication or records have been received from the DNR, the complaint states.

The last request, submitted on Aug. 19, was acknowledged on Nov. 10, when the agency asked the group to narrow the scope of its request. The group responded to the DNR’s emails on Nov. 18 and says the DNR has not provided further communication or records.

In addition to the failed attempt by lawmakers to gut the state’s records law, earlier this month the state Public Records Board rescinded a controversial decision that allowed public officials to quickly destroy certain records that they deemed to lack lasting significance.

The board’s decision drew little notice when it was made in August. But it came under scrutiny last month after Walker’s administration cited it to explain why it had no records on file in response to requests from the Wisconsin State Journal and liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

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Editorial: On MLK Day, environmental justice deserves a key role

Editorial: On MLK Day, environmental justice deserves a key role

Editorial below from Environmental Health News (see MEJO’s articles related to environmental justice here)

In celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, we have to keep environmental justice part of the civil rights movement

As people around the country celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a Michigan community lacking the most basic of human rights: water.

The fallout continues in Flint, Michigan, as the city’s water is leaching lead from old pipes. The problem started when it switched from Detroit water to Flint River water, which corroded old, lead pipes and exposed children throughout the city to a dangerous toxic metal.

The media—local, national and international—are providing up-to-the-minute coverage of the emergency, but it’s too late for the city that was trying to reinvent itself.

Michigan State Police

It’s too late for the children, doomed to a life of learning problems.

It’s too late for parents who blame themselves for offering their child a cup of water before bed.

Flint—a city that is 56 percent black and has an estimated 40 percent of its people below the poverty level—is not alone. Every day millions of poor and minority communities in this country are disproportionately exposed to environmental contamination.

On this day of reflection, it is imperative that environmental justice remains at the forefront of the civil rights movement.

There are almost 12,000 stories in our news archive that deal with environmental justice issues. While our daily news aggregation is not meant to be exhaustive, this number is far too high.

You don’t have to go back far. Stories since the turn of the year include:

Federal officials announced a hearing on the problem of coal ash dumping in minority communities. Down the road from Flint, in southwest Detroit, the biggest polluter in one of the state’s most toxic zip codes wants to … wait for it … get a permit to pollute more. In Chicago, an investigation found that federal housing is leaving poor children at risk of lead poisoning. Native people in Alaska are struggling to maintain their culture and way of life in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.

Health remains at the core of these injustices, but it expands beyond that and connects to other key issues for the civil rights movement—police brutality, education and job opportunities.

Just look at Flint, where children see daily violence and deal with a broken school system.

Now they’ve been contaminated with a toxic that is linked to brain development problems, learning disabilities, low IQs and crime. Their uphill climb for a good education and well-paying jobs just got a little steeper.

For the police brutality link, look no further than one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement, Freddie Gray, a 25-year old black man who was killed last April while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department.

While Gray dealt with multiple issues throughout his life, his early childhood lead exposure certainly did him no favors.

It is past time that this country deals with its legacy of shifting the pollution burden to poor and minority communities.

Esther Calhoun of Uniontown, Alabama, and president of Black Belt Citizens for Health & Justice, said of coal ash pollution in her community: “No one thought that the members of this poor community would fight back or that anyone would listen to us.”

But many like Calhoun are fighting back—it’s time for state and federal officials to listen.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality for months brushed aside community concerns about the Flint drinking water.

And an investigation last year from The Center for Public Integrity found that 95 percent of civil-rights violations claims are denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.

We can do better.

Martin Luther King Jr. urged civil rights leaders in his famous 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial to “demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

In honoring him today we should all remember that freedom, justice and progress are best cultivated in a clean, healthy environment.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

 

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