Archive for the ‘ATSDR’ Category

Ecology’s Air Quality Assessment Concludes Air Monitors Needed in Northport

by Jamie Paparich


In 2008 I began looking into the decades of toxins the Canadian smelter, Teck, had been allowed to dispose of into Northport’s air, water and soil, literally slowly poisoning us.  The further I looked into it the more disillusioned I became with our Government agencies, specifically the EPA, the ATSDR, and the DOH.  There was one agencies that surprised me.


The WA State Dpt. of Ecology represents the state of Washington in working with Tribal, federal, and local government organizations who are addressing imageslong-term concerns over the smelter’s contamination, on cleanup and community outreach.


Ecology has conducted eleven independent studies in our area evaluating smelter contamination between 1992 through 2017.  The Dpt. of Ecology surprised me because their studies were scientifically, technically, and logically well thought out and conducted with total accuracy.  The most significant difference between Ecology’s studies, as compared to the other agencies, was simple; they were ethical and honest. They did not slant their results, or blame “data gaps” as a recurring reason as to why their studies could not be completed, and they did not manipulate the wording to make it seem the results of their research was not something Northport residents, Teck, or their own agencies should be concerned with; referring to Northport as an “intermediate health hazard”.


Ecology’s study conclusions statethe facts, the actual levels of toxins found, and the danger the levels found of arsenic, cadmium and lead in our air and soil could likely put the residents of Northport in danger.


Ecology has proven again and again they worked for us, to protect us.


In the 4 air monitoring studies they conducted between 1992-1998 each of the studies concluded that levels of arsenic and cadmium were consistently found to be way above the Acceptable Source Impact Level (ASIL) set by the EPA.   Ecology provided their findings to the EPA because Ecology conducted these studies to provide the EPA with information as to whether or not they should allow Teck a renewed air permit for a new source (Kivcet smelter.)  Although Ecology’s results provided accurate reasons not to allow Teck a new air permit.  Instead, the EPA approved the new permit and Ecology’s air monitoring results were never discussed or shared with anyone, including the residents being impacted by the air.


In 2007 Ecology sampled sediments in Lake Roosevelt and the upper Columbia River.  Their results concluded that widespread industrial slag could forensically be tied to Teck Resources, and that it had contaminated the soil and water from Lake Roosevelt, up through the Columbia River to the Canadian border.  In 2006 Teck, under the supervision of the EPA, began a remedial investigation of the area.  The study is still ongoing.  What the EPA and Teck have been able to accomplish from an eleven year study is not a fraction of what Ecology’s 2007 study accomplished.


In 2012 Ecology conducted soil and sediment sampling in upland, non residential areas.  Teck, and the EPA, were conducting similar testing.  The levels of lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and mercury Ecology discovered were so high they petitioned the EPA to fast track sampling of residential soil, fearing residents exposed to these heavy metals at levels this high, specifically children, were in more danger than originally thought.


The EPA pushed Ecology’s petition through and Teck conducted sampling of 74 properties in 2014 and removed contaminated soil from 14 residential properties and 1 tribal allotment in 2015.  In 2016 they began a second round of residential property soil sampling.  The results of this sampling has not been published.    This would not have been accomplished without Ecology.


Residents of Northport have long worried that it is the air that continues to trigger the several, rare health issues a large majority of residents have been diagnosed with.  When Teck began their remedial investigation, under EPA supervision, we requested air monitoring again and again.  It was always pushed to the back burner, or we were told there was no funding, or no evidence to support more monitoring was needed….even though the monitoring done of the air by Ecology between 1992-1998 showed levels of arsenic 200 times higher than safety standards, and levels of cadmium were 18 times higher than safety standards.


In working with the Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC), Ecology listened to our concerns and agreed with them.  They explained that there were so many old studies to go through, dating as far back as 1931, and so many missing years not monitored, that it would be a difficult analysis to conduct.  After discovering Teck had an air monitor in Northport from 1992 – 2009 they requested those monitoring results. They then collected results of air monitoring Teck had collected near the Canadian border from 2007-2014.  Armed with studies done on our air in 1931, from 1992 through 2007, and the border monitoring through 2014, Ecology asked their Air Quality Program specialists to use this data to evaluate conditions in the upper Columbia River valley and assess whether more air monitoring is needed.


Based on there assessment, they concluded additional air monitoring in the upper Columbia River valley is necessary. 


Ecology will now share their analysis with the EPA and Teck, requesting additional air monitoring be done as a part of their remedial investigation evaluating the smelter-related pollution impacts done to our environment and health.


If the EPA and Teck agree to this Ecology would work with the EPA and public health officials to further assess health concerns once the additional monitoring is performed and data is collected. Ecology expects EPA would use the data to inform a human health risk assessment.


Without this data the human health risk assessment the EPA is required to conduct of the area would be no different than the assessments the DOH and the ATSDR conducted in 2004, invaluable, inaccurate, and a waste of more time and money.


Northport residents who continue to be diagnosed with the rare, similar health issues that plagued the two generations before them do not have any more time to waste.


A special thank you to The Washington State Department of Ecology, specifically John Roland and Chuck Gruenenfelder

“An underdog never loses, they find a different way to win the fight.”

– Unknown

Runaway Train

Small communities through-out the United States are slowly, and unknowingly, being poisoned.  The poisons are unavoidable.  The residents are exposed to them from the air and dust they breath, the water they drink, the soil they grow gardens in, and the small particulate matter that they absorb through their skin.  There is no where to hide, and even if there were they aren’t even aware of the danger they should be hiding from. The question is, perhaps they are better off not knowing?

Industrial pollution is nothing new.  To a small community the benefits usually outweigh the cost.  These industries bring hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to their community.  They bring with them a promise of a better future.  A promise of job security, retirement, 401k’s, insurance.  They also bring with them their pollution.  Industrial pollution is an unavoidable consequence that we have been aware of since the Industrial Revolution began in 1840.  For well over a century the damage the toxic by-products of these industries were basically ignored.  There was very little evidence that the pollution was causing effects to people’s health or the environment.  By the time enough scientists, environmentalists, and personally affected advocates took notice the problem was like an oncoming, out of control train with no brakes.  Stopping it would take a miracle, ignoring it would eventually cause a disaster unlike any we had ever seen.

The Government saw the train coming, so they attempted to slow it down.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established on December 2, 1970.  Once the EPA fully understood the depth of the damage they were dealing with more government agencies were formed, specifically the Department of Health (DOH).  The amount of locations and the severity of the damage industrial polluters had created was simply unmanageable.  In 1980, in an attempt to hold these polluters financially responsible for the clean-up of these sites, a federal law was passed.  The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).  In 1986 The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) was also passed.  CERCLA & SARA gave the EPA the resources to establish and begin remediation of Superfund sites, locations throughout the U.S. so contaminated they require long-term investigations and millions of dollars of remediation to effectively clean up the hazardous materials.

Almost all Superfund sites are located near communities impacted by the toxins from the site.  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was created to assist the EPA with the hundreds of health consultations of impacted communities at Superfund sites needed.  It appeared the Government’s attempt to at least slow down the train was working, in theory.

My family is from Northport, Washington. We were one of those communities blissfully ignorant that we were slowly being poisoned. Northport is located in northeast Washington, 12 miles from the Canadian border.  It is a breathtaking little town, situated on the banks of the mighty Columbia River.  It is a small, close knit community of 375 people.  Many of the residents are from the families of the town’s original settlers.   

For over 100 years the residents of Northport have been, and continue to be, poisoned by the heavy metal toxins released by Teck, a lead and zinc smelter in Trail B.C. Canada.  The discharge from Teck’s smelting process is referred to as slag.  Slag is a black, sand like material that contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  From 1906 – 1996 Teck disposed of their slag through two specially designed pipes that dumped it directly into the Columbia River, 3 miles upriver from Northport.  Teck’s records indicate they dumped approximately 9.8 million tons of slag into the river over the course of 90 years. 

The air emissions from Teck’s smelting process are released from two smoke stacks. Teck increased the height of these smoke stacks shortly after a lawsuit brought against them in 1933. Two farmers from Northport sued Teck for damages to their crops and cows, caused by the massive amount of sulfur dioxide Teck was releasing from the smoke stacks.  Statements from residents at the time recall the suffocating smell of the sulfur dioxide, paint peeling off cars, barb wire fences disintegrating, and farm animals falling over dead.  Teck eventually lost the suit and was told to find a way to drastically reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide.  In an attempt to comply, but avoid financial loss, they raised the height of the smoke stacks.  Their theory was their air pollution would be dispersed high enough as to not cause damage to the environment below.  Unfortunately the increased height of the smoke stacks actually dispersed the pollution further.  This pollution often got trapped in the valley in Northport, giving the farms located in the valley the nickname of “the heavy fallout zone”.  All four Department of Ecology air monitoring studies done in Northport between 1992-1994 concluded levels of arsenic and cadmium were well above all safety standards.  Arsenic levels were 200 times higher than recommended safety levels.

The EPA conducted a site assessment of the area between 1999-2003.  They found it was so contaminated it fell under CERCLA, or the Superfund guidelines. A remedial investigation and feasibility study was planned. The EPA issued Teck a Unilateral Administrative Order, demanding they assist with the investigation.  Teck ignored the order, and the EPA all but forgot about it.  Until two members from the Colville Confederated Tribe filed a civil suit under CERCLA in 2004.  This suit demanded that the EPA enforce their order against Teck.  After several court battles Teck lost it’s last appeal and was forced to cooperate with the EPA to complete a study of the Upper Columbia River.  The first phases of the studies began in 2006.  After 9 years of testing, and usually re-testing, the studies are finally progressing.  There has been a clean-up of a beach and many residential soil clean-ups.

However, despite the data of contamination collected from the EPA investigations, and the multiple health issues reported by the residents, the DOH and the ATSDR did not think the health issues and exposure to the heavy metal toxins were linked.  In 2004 the ATSDR published their Public Health Assessment of Northport.  In it they stated “ATSDR’s conclusions are based on the environmental sampling and health outcome data that were available to ATSDR between 1995 and 1999. With few exceptions, these data showed no evidence of adverse health effects associated with exposure to environmental contaminants, but significant data gaps existed.”

When an established government agency tells you their is no evidence of health issues caused by your exposure to confirmed environmental toxins that should be a relief.  It was a relief, to many people.  However, the extremely high rate of rare illnesses and diseases diagnosed in three generations, of a town of approximately 350 people, still weighed on the community member’s minds.  The discussion of the illnesses died down a bit after the report.  Until the next diagnosis was made, and another, and then another.

Residents in Northport decided to conduct their own health survey in 2009.  Health questionnaires were distributed to current and past residents of Northport, spanning three generations. We received more than 500 completed questionnaires. Per the health cluster guidelines of the CDC and ATSDR, the results we collected from the returned questionnaires showed health clusters of brain aneurisms (23), specific cancers (65), parkinson’s disease/multiple scoliosis (13), thyroid diseases (116), and ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease (54).   According to the ATSDR’s ToxGuide, the EPA’s toxicity profiles, and the DOH’s toxic standards, chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins released by Teck can be linked to all of these health issues.

The DOH and the ATSDR had already discovered the health cluster of ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease in the area in 1992 and 2004, but they claimed there was no way to link the extremely rare diseases to our exposure to the heavy metal toxins of concerns the EPA identified.   

After publishing the results of our community health survey a doctor with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation contacted us.  He conducted his own study on the reported cases of ulcerative colitis and crohn’s in the area.  The study concluded that the rates of these diseases were 5 to 11 times higher than expected.  Based on these results an additional study is being conducted of the residents with ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease, focusing on the amount of accumulated toxins found in their systems and referencing the EPA residential soil study results.

I recently contacted the regional director of the ATSDR, Rhonda Kaetzel, and Kay Morrison with the WA DOH, regarding the Government agencies unwillingness to go forward with a human health assessment of Northport. The Canadian smelter has admitted fault for the pollution, and the environmental testing confirms the specific heavy metal toxins found above standard safety levels.  Armed with this information, it would seem our little town of 375 people would be ideal for several epidemiological research studies on the many health clusters discovered.  Many of the illnesses reported do not have cures, and what causes them has yet to be discovered.  In part, Ms. Kaetzel, the ATSDR director, responded with: “…DOH has communicated in the past that establishing a new link between a disease and environmental contaminant is not something that can be achieved without studying a large population of people with the disease and who have diverse exposures. Without a well-established link or specific funding, this type of research study is beyond the scope of the ATSDR-funded program within DOH and ATSDR.  Ms. Morrison’s response was more apologetic, in it she stated: “I understand that you’d like more research to be done to discover links between environmental contaminants and a number of reported illnesses in the Northport area.  Unfortunately EPA and ATSDR do not perform this kind of broad research….”

Chronic exposure to even low levels of heavy metal toxins cause health issues, the ATSDR, DOH, and EPA admit this.  The lack of knowledge on the actual health effects triggered or caused by this exposure are not well understood by these agencies due to the lack of long term investigations.  However, if they would utilize our established environmental history, and bio-monitoring of the impacted residents, a great deal might be learned.

Time and time again all of the Government agencies created to protect us have told me that our communities health issues are “beyond the scope” of their responsibilities.  So if it is none of these agencies responsibilities to protect future generations from the health issues possibly caused by long term exposure to low levels of these toxins, whose responsibility is it?

Maybe these agencies just assume it is better off not knowing.  Let someone else jump in front of that train.

ATSDR Director reassigned in wake of Congressional Investigations

Senior Public Health Official Reassigned in Wake of Congressional Inquiries

Dr. Frumkin, former ATSDR Director










“Americans should know when their government tells them that they have nothing to worry about from environmental exposure that they really have nothing to worry about. The nation needs ATSDR to do honest, scientifically rigorous work.”   -Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C


by Joaquin Sapien
ProPublica, Jan. 22, 2010 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Howard Frumkin, the embattled director of a little-known but important division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been reassigned to a position with less authority, a smaller staff and a lower budget.

Frumkin had led the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health since 2005. For the past two years he had endured scathing criticism from Congress and the media for ATSDR’s poor handling of public health problems created by the formaldehyde-contaminated trailers that the government provided to Hurricane Katrina victims. The agency, which assesses public health risks posed by environmental hazards, also was criticized for understating the health risks of several other, less-publicized cases.

An internal CDC e-mail sent by Frumkin on Jan. 15 and obtained by ProPublica said he was leaving his position that day and would become a special assistant to the CDC’s director of Climate Change and Public Health. His old job will be temporarily filled by Henry Falk, who led ATSDR from 2003 to 2005.

In the e-mail, Frumkin praised his staff and described more than 20 ATSDR accomplishments during his tenure. They include strengthening the agency’s tobacco laboratory and creating the Climate Change and Public Health program.

A CDC spokesman said Frumkin’s transfer shouldn’t be considered a demotion but rather a change of function and responsibilities that the CDC’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said would benefit both the agency and Dr. Frumkin, who is a recognized expert on climate change. But Frumkin’s authority has been sharply reduced, even though his salary won’t change. Previously, he oversaw two departments with a combined budget of about $264 million and 746 full-time employees. Now he will be an assistant to the director of a new program that has a budget of about $7.5 million, five full-time employees and five Senior Public Health Official Reassigned in Wake of Congressional Inquiries contractors, two of whom are part time.

Through a CDC spokesman, Frumkin declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

In 2008, ProPublica reported [1] that Frumkin and others failed to take action after learning that ATSDR botched a study [2] on the trailers provided to Katrina victims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency used the study to assure trailer occupants that the formaldehyde levels weren’t high enough to harm them. ATSDR never corrected FEMA, even though Christopher De Rosa, who led ATSDR’s toxicology and environmental medicine division, repeatedly warned Frumkin that the report didn’t take into account the long-term health consequences of exposure to formaldehyde, like cancer risks.

Frumkin eventually reassigned De Rosa to the newly created position of assistant director for toxicology and risk analysis. De Rosa went from leading a staff of about 70 employees to having none. He has since left the agency and is starting a nonprofit that will consult with communities close to environmental hazards.

The involvement of Frumkin and ATSDR in the formaldehyde debacle was the focus of an April 2008 Congressional hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. A report [3] by the subcommittee’s Democratic majority, released that October, concluded that the failure of ATSDR’s leadership “kept Hurricane Katrina and Rita families living in trailers with elevated levels of formaldehyde…for at least one year longer than necessary.”

About six months after the report came out, the same panel, the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, held another hearing [4] that touched on other problems at ATSDR.

Before that hearing, the Democrats on the subcommittee released a report [5] that revealed other cases in which the agency relied on scientifically flawed data, causing other federal agencies to mislead communities about the dangers of their exposure to hazardous substances.

For example, an ATSDR report about water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, said the chemically tainted drinking water didn’t pose an increased cancer risk to residents there. The report was used to deny at least one veteran’s medical benefits for ailments that the veteran believed were related to the contamination.

A month after the subcommittee hearing, ATSDR rescinded [6] some of its findings, saying it didn’t adequately consider the presence of benzene, a carcinogen that it found in the water.

Eight months later, the agency said it would modify another report that was criticized at the hearing, about a bomb testing site in Vieques, Puerto Rico. For decades, the U.S. military used the site to test ammunition that contained depleted uranium and other toxins. In a 2003report, ATSDR said that heavy metals and explosive compounds found on Vieques weren’t harmful to people living there. But Frumkin decided to take a fresh look at those findings because ATSDR hadn’t thoroughly investigated the site.

Subcommittee investigators acknowledged that Frumkin inherited many of the problems in the report from previous ATSDR directors —the original Vieques and Camp Lejeune reports were both done before Frumkin was named director in 2005.  But the investigators said he was aware of the agency’s problems and did little to fix them unless he was under political pressure. A CDC spokesman said that Frumkin’s reassignment had nothing to do with the congressional inquiries.

“Americans should know when their government tells them that they have nothing to worry about from environmental exposure that they really have nothing to worry about,” Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement to ProPublica regarding Frumkin’s reassignment. “The nation needs ATSDR to do honest, scientifically rigorous work. There are many capable professionals at ATSDR who are committed to doing just that.”

Government putting our health & safety at risk….still.

Changes to environmental assessments puts health, safety at risk, say critics

February 20, 2012
Heather Scoffield

OTTAWA—A group of environmental lawyers, doctors and academics says the federal government will endanger health and safety if it curtails the environmental assessment process in a “haphazard” way.

They fear the federal government, in its zeal to streamline approvals for resource projects, is developing a process that would be blind to long-term effects on people and communities.

“We know that some of the reforms they are planning are going to drastically limit public participation and probably be at the expense of the environmental protection,” said lawyer Rachel Forbes of West Coast Environmental Law.

If anything, she said, the federal government needs to strengthen public participation in environmental reviews, since local people know their environment best.

“We can’t afford to get these decisions wrong — the whole point of environmental assessment is to protect Canadians and their environment from danger,” said Gideon Forman, executive director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

Ottawa is soon expected to announce changes for environmental reviews to speed up the system.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says he wants to shorten time allotted to public hearings, reduce overlap with the provinces and clarify how best to consult aboriginal communities. He wants to sharpen the government’s focus on major projects and not get too concerned about the small ones.

“The ultimate goal is simple in itself, but not that simple to attain: one project, one review in a clearly defined time period,” he said in a speech in Calgary last week.

He says Canada is scaring away investors with convoluted and arcane procedures. Despite tinkering by several different governments over the years, including Stephen Harper’s, Oliver says a major overhaul is needed to clean up and modernize the process.

But Oliver and Harper have also complained about the long list of intervenors at hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast, branding them as “radicals” backed by foreign money who are needlessly delaying things.

view this article at The Star. com

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