Friday, January 18, 2013

The Village of DePue: Put a Fence Around It - Part 15

This is Gabby Garcia.  The CleanUp DePue web site tells me she is standing "in front of the 750,000 ton zinc slag pile."

There is a chain link fence that separates Gabby from the pile of slag left there from 80 years of zinc smelting, fertilizer production and other industrial operations. If I had to guess, I am pretty sure that Gabby perceives this slag pile just as the CleanUp DePue August 15, 2012 press release describes it:
The fence refers to chain link that cordons off 950 waste-tainted acres on the former site of a smelter and other operations that include a 750,000-ton slag pile the locals call “the pile of black death.” 
Why would Gabby think anything different?  Her town's advocate, Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic and pro-bono counsel for the Village of DePue, tells her and others that the pile behind the fence is doing harm:
The reality is that children are growing up here, eating from home gardens, playing in parks and ball fields, boating in the lake, and later working and living as adults in DePue. Any realistic assessment of health risks has to take these multiple, constant and long-term exposures into account.
Northwestern University built a web site to help Gabby understand the danger posed by that pile behind the fence.  They tell Gabby:
The [] map shows contamination levels for nearly 2,000 samples, as well as the health risks for residents with prolonged exposure to these contaminants. (1)
She is then told by Northwestern that:
heavy-metal contamination in general leads to increased incidence of neurological issues and cancer. can see why Gabby might be concerned   So let's say that Gabby wants to know what will happen to her if she plays in White City Park.  She goes to the interactive map and clicks the little icon and this is what she sees:

Gabby is told that she will be exposed to "Contaminants above Illinois EPA soil background level" for which seven chemicals are listed: Barium, Cadmium, Copper, Iron, Lead, Manganese, Zinc.

Gabby then clicks on that little red question mark "?" and she is told:
The Illinois EPA considers these background standards an appropriate measure by which to compare soil samples.
Underneath that statement she reads that the first chemical, Barium:
According to the US EPA, people who ingest excessive Barium in drinking water over a prolonged period of time may experience an increase in their blood pressure.
She then looks at the next chemical, Cadmium and is told:
According to the US EPA, people who ingest excessive Cadmium in drinking water over a prolonged period of time may could develop kidney damage.
According to the US EPA, "Some people who drink water containing copper in excess of the action level may, with short term exposure, experience gastrointestinal distress, and with long-term exposure may experience liver or kidney damage.
It is not associated with health risks but an abundance of iron in drinking water may cause "may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color).
According to the US EPA, "Infants and children who drink water containing lead in excess of the action level could experience delays in their physical or mental development. Children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure."
The US EPA does not have any standards regarding the amount of magnesium healthy to ingest in drinking water
It is not associated with health risks but an abundance of zinc may cause "cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water" according to the US EPA.
Here is what Gabby sees when she turns around:

Here is what Gabby has been told about what she sees:
  • "pile of black death” 
  • "heavy-metal contamination in general leads to increased incidence of neurological issues and cancer"
  • "may experience an increase in their blood pressure"
  • "could develop kidney damage"
  • "may experience liver or kidney damage"
  • "skin or tooth discoloration"
  • "could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure"
Is it any wonder that Gabby and her fellow DePueians would want to sign a petition to:
Support the cleanup of DePue, including full restoration of Lake DePue, removal of the slag pile and other hazardous substances from the plant operation’s site and the entire DePue community.
In the eyes of Gabby and her cohorts, removal of the pile equals cleanup.

That option would take care of the problem, but that's not the best remedy, nor is it necessary to protect Gabby.

If the data that I have access to is a true and accurate representation of the contaminant levels in OU-4, then the risk of adverse health affects will be removed once the remedy proposed for OU-4 is accomplished:

Source: Illinois EPA to the Illinois General Assembly House and Senate August 10, 2012
The problem with that remedy is that it does not meet with the only remedy Gabby has been told is acceptable; removal.

Removal of these piles is not going to happen because there is no reason to remove it other than the perception that leaving it in place harms, or has the potential to harm, the folks who live in DePue.  Leaving the piles where they are is the only viable remedy when all the risks are considered.  That is a bitter pill to make these folks swallow but that's what the need to accept.

As I brought up in my previous posts, removal of the contamination places it in somebody else's backyard.  Not only that, it increases the real risk of harm to other humans when each truck leaves DePue and travels to the new backyard.  The further it travels the greater the risk of an accident  For guys like me, I look at their situation and ask if the probability of death or injury from a head-on collision of a dirt truck more or less than leaving the contamination in place where it is?

I also look at the fact that disturbing that pile will bring up dust and possible contamination when it is worked on.  Is that probability of this exposure more or less than that from leaving the waste in place?

I cannot ignore those risks in my decision process.  They must be weighed along with what the impacted citizens in DePue want  Those are real risks, whereas the pile behind the fence may - or may not-  be a greater risk.

That's what needs to be conveyed to the folks in DePue by Nancy Loeb and Northwestern University.  What Gabby sees and has been told does not accurately reflect the risk to her based on the evidence that has been provided by CleanUp DePue.

If Gabby is being harmed by this pile of slag or from the contaminated areas that were the result of past activities, then there is a real concern.  The sample data does not support that.  The levels of contamination that Gabby has the potential to be exposed to our very low in OU-4.  Once they are cleaned up, as has been proposed, she will be at the exact same risk than if the pile were picked up and moved far away.

I can say this based on what I have been told has been done to the contamination that is there, what is being proposed for the site, what the sample results show, and from what Mr. Garcia's science class found.

So let's bring this all to an end and ask this final question.  Is Gabby's health being compromised as she stands on the other side of the fence?

If yes, remove the pile.  If not, make sure that pile stays where it is, behind a fence, secured.  The genie still in the bottle, the sleeping giant asleep, the lion it its cage.  No exposure, no health effect.

Next post: The Village of DePue: Wants and Needs - Part 16


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