25. EPA Fiddles While Illegal Incinerator Pollutes Ohio

Sources: THE NATION, Date: 9/27/93, Title: "ETA. Fiddles While WTI. Burns," Author: Liane Clorfene-Casten

SSU Censored Researcher: Jesse Boggs

SYNOPSIS: On the banks of the Ohio River, near the town of East Liverpool, Ohio, there sits a hazardous waste incinerator -- one of the largest of its kind in the country. It illegally burns unidentified wastes in violation of countless Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, in spite of campaign promises by Bill Clinton and Al Gore to block its operation. The incinerator also operates against the advice of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources because it is located within a few hundred feet of private homes, in an area with flood hazards and air inversions that prevent pollutants from escaping.

The $160 million incinerator operates in defiance of opposition from scientists, environmentalists, government experts and local activists. Additionally, it has failed to pass three trial burns which have indicated that it releases dioxins at two to five times the legal levels. Why, one might reasonably ask, is it there?

Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) is convinced it is there because of deals made between EPA officials and the company that runs it -- Waste Technologies Industries (WTI). Writing in The Nation, investigative journalist Liane Clorfene-Casten provides evidence that the incinerator's "charmed regulatory life" is a product of political favoritism, lax and even illegal regulatory activity, and highly questionable courtroom proceedings.

Example: Financier Jackson Stephens, chairman of Stephens Inc., one of the nation's largest investment banking companies, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, founded WTI in 1980. In 1988, he gave $100,000 to the Republican Party and hosted an inaugural bash for President George Bush. Four years later he raised $100,000 for Bill Clinton and extended a $3.5 million line of credit to his campaign through one of his banks.

Example: A secret memo written by EPA attorney Nancy-Ellen Zusman lists a "schedule of items to be accomplished" in order to get the incinerator started. It includes a timetable for bringing the illegal incinerator on line and modifications to a flawed 1983 permit. After reading the memo, Senator Metzenbaum protested loudly in a communiqué to then-EPA Administrator William Reilly: "The memo makes clear the position of the U.S.E.P.A. all along is to give W.T.I. the go-ahead.... I don't believe I have ever seen such irresponsibility on the part of government officials."

Example: Ohio Valley residents went to court to block the incinerator. A Federal District Court, in spite of its own findings that "the operation of the WTI. facility... clearly may cause imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment," nevertheless permitted WTI to conduct an eight-day trial bum, noting the cost of delay to WTI outweighed the risk of harm to the community.

All this prompted EPA official Hugh Kaufman, a longtime critic of the project, to comment, "The W.T.I. case is a symptom of a national problem. The E.P.A. process for regulating waste disposal is riddled with deceit at best, and fraud at worst." Kaufman's voice is a lonely one in Washington. Neither the President nor the environmentally-concerned Vice President seem inclined to make any moves regarding WTI. Meanwhile, the incinerator continues to spew toxins from its stacks, heedless of the protests of Ohio Valley residents and curiously ignored by the major media.

COMMENTS: Liane Clorfene-Casten, author of The Nation article, reported that while several media sources dealt with the story before she did, it was mostly in bits and pieces. "However," she added, "Network TV failed to cover anything and most of the major daily newspapers refused to cover it at all after my publication (in The Nation) -- despite the fact my piece was comprehensive and data was available for anyone to continue investigating, especially since the story is on-going, a constant drama."

Clorfene-Casten feels there is much for the public to learn from greater exposure of the WTI issue since it "is a powerful lesson in environmental corruption .... The national public has a right to know the EPA, and our national leaders, are corruptible. Human life is fodder for the power seekers. It's a fundamental civil liberties issue."

Clorfene-Casten feels that the primary beneficiary of the limited coverage given this subject is the "incineration industry whose hunger to build more and more burning machines (which at this point are totally unnecessary), is only matched by the EPA's perverted enthusiastic support for this flawed and dangerous technology.

"The polluting industry is not reined in by the EPA but fined. As a result, thousands of people living in incinerator communities across the country are at high risk for cancer, birth defects, impaired childhood development, infertility and other reproductive effects, suppression of the immune system, neurological disease or impairment, hormonal alterations and toxicity to the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and skin-for long-term health effects.

"The food chain is profoundly affected as well. Documents tell us the EPA technocrats know this but will not act. And since the mainstream media has already bought into the lie that 'dioxin is not as dangerous as we once thought it was,' the mainstream press won't discuss the hazards of a dioxin spewing machine without admitting what they are not prepared to admit; in smaller doses than once believed, dioxin is very toxic, is carcinogenic, and is capable of serious hormonal damage.

"In general, media has a tendency to cover up for all our presidents -- from Kennedy's sexual exploits to Bush's connection to Iran-contra and more, and Clinton's criminal consent to burn thousands of barrels of Agent Orange in Jacksonville, Arkansas. (It's an on-going dioxin producing machine.) Either we have some warped idea that we need to protect the `morality' of the presidency, despite the evidence of dishonesty, payoffs and compromises, or the corruption is so pervasive, everyone connected gets protected.

"The American people are mostly shielded from the truth of how the compelling, intoxicant of power translates into dreadful, unethical and life-threatening tradeoffs. The law doesn't count. The Justice Department will not prosecute certain environmental criminals. People pay the price. WTI protesters are given little more than bureaucratic runarounds in Washington. They go from the Justice Department to the FBI with their petitions, and nothing ever happens.

"I'd love to see this story told on network news, but reality tells me to forget it. WTI burns merrily along. On 12/10/93 WTI malfunctioned, pouring forth unknown, fugitive emissions: 'black clouds of smoke hovered over the smokestack.' Then, WTI took its sweet time in alerting the EPA. The local health officials were appalled by WTI silence. Since that time, Ohio EPA understood WTI might fail another trial burn, so on 12/17/93, in an effort to avoid a possible failure, the Ohio Agency told them not to conduct it. Ohio EPA knew there were sufficient problems and didn't want them to risk it."

In response to a letter by EPA's Bob Sussman (The Nation 12/6/93) criticizing Clorfene-Casten's article for being "fraught with error," she responded "Well, since the EPA itself admitted it violated the law, and since the attorney general of Ohio stated clearly the same in 1993, and since EPA whistleblower Hugh Kaufman officially petitioned Janet Reno for a criminal investigation, specifically citing Val Adamkus of Region V and Sussman, I'm not concerned. The drama continues as does the poison."