Friday, December 29, 2006

Lead in Ringwood animals

Ten days after reporting how the Bush Administration wants to allow a massive increase in the amount of toxic substances like lead polluters can dispose of without disclosing how they do it, the front page of the Record carried the findings of lead in animals surrounding the Ringwood Superfund Site.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Ringwood, the really short version is that Ford built 6 million cars in Mahwah and dumped millions of gallons of lead paint waste in Upper Ringwood over a 25 year period ending in 1970. The site was one of the first Superfund sites, declared clean, but was relisted this fall after it was discovered the work was nowhere close to complete and Ford's subcontractor apparently misled the EPA about whether or not residents use groundwater (they do, the contractor said they didn't). By all accounts, the pollution is slowly spreading and approaching a point where it could threaten the Wanaque Reservoir, affecting the drinking water of 2.5 million people.

It's catastrophes like this that the Environmental Protection Agency was created to prevent. There are serious and costly effects of unregulated dumping. Over 35 years after the dumping stopped, the community is still dealing with the aftermath. However, the official line from the White House is that rolling back the reporting requirement will save businesses money. Here is the the gist of the new policy the Bush Administration is pushing.

The change would affect annual reports to the Toxics Release Inventory, a
20-year-old database of hazardous chemicals used, stored and released by businesses into the air, land and water.

Under the rule released Monday, companies that use up to 2,000 pounds of such material --chemicals such as asbestos or arsenic -- could file a shorter form that lists the names of chemicals, but not the amounts. Currently, companies that use more than 500 pounds of those chemicals have to report the amounts they use or release.

For the most dangerous compounds -- highly toxic materials such as mercury or lead that persist in the environment -- the threshold for reporting details would be raised from 10 or 100 pounds to 500.

Basically, what they're proposing is that over 25 years one company can dispose of roughly 12,500 pounds of lead without telling how they did it. This will be a boom for the illegal dumping business, and have potentially disastrous effects on the areas where the dumping occurs. In Ringwood, lead in the small animals was found as high as 292 parts per million. The FDA safety level for lead in candy consumed by children is 0.1 parts per million. Once again, from the Record:

Even in small amounts, lead can harm the nervous system, kidneys and red blood
cell production and can affect reproduction and development, federal health
advisories warn.

Fortunately, several members of Congress have already signaled their opposition to this move and vowed to fight it. I haven't read a statement from Garrett about the proposed rollback, but I have got to hold out hope he'll fight like hell to prevent another Ringwood.

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