Magazine article Insight on the News
EPA Puts Business before Environmental Health. (Correspondence)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Somerset County, Pa., was organized to fight the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for this commonwealth when contracts for the disposal of Philadelphia sludge were signed and agreed upon by strip miners in the area and unopposed by government officials who had contracts with the company, then called Modern Earthlines. [See "Undisclosed Report: EPA Knew it Was Toxic" Oct. 15-28].
In conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, this area received Philadelphia sludge by convoy, dumped on strip-mined land. This land, by virtue of deep mining and repeated stripping, was a direct conduit to the underground water supply. But we were assured by the EPA and DEP that this was a safe practice since pH levels in the soil artificially were elevated and supposedly bound the heavy metals and other chemicals in check. Pathogens, according to the EPA and DEP, were taken care of at the waste-treatment plant in Philadelphia. I will concede that if you threw this sludge on a wall, you could grow grass--and that was a selling point for strip miners who wanted fast reclamation.
Let me assure you that as the group, affectionately called OCRAPS (Organized County Residents Against Philadelphia Sludge), became effective in finding information and researching this product, things got very hot! Threats were a 3 a.m. ordeal for the people who were vocal. Members of this group--mothers and fathers, older residents, avid outdoorsmen--were pitted against professional promoters from New York. But we did prevail. Legislation was introduced that halted the indiscriminate loading rates and trucking violations, and generally the practice was stopped in Somerset County and surrounding areas.
How is it that the very people entrusted by law with the long-term safety and health of the environment can turn a deaf ear and blind eye when "big business"--and this is "big"--is involved? After all, it was an EPA order that halted the dumping of sludge in the ocean that precipitated the dumping on the land. What's their credo? Dilution is the solution to pollution?
Linda Jo Berkey Somerset, Pa.
Although Sheila R. …