1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 25
QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION
Three years ago, actually to this date almost, I published a book on breast cancer and the environment called, Breast Cancer -- Poison, Profits, and Prevention. I am here to tell you unhappily that things have not gotten better. They have gotten worse and, in general, the cancer rates in America are to be one in two by the year 2000, with one in three possibly dying from it. These are affirmed statistics and I would like to bring out a couple of things.
I have rarely missed an IJC meeting. I have been coming here for a long time. I have yet to hear any real discussion again of chlorine and the sunsetting of chlorine. What happened to that, outside of the fact that the Chlorine Chemical Council geared up for action and we now see ads on television telling us how much we need PVCs to save our life. All the while PVCs are creating more dioxin.
Two, when is the EPA going to release its final reassessment of dioxin. Its first draft was already horrible enough. It talked about cancer. It talked about endocrine disruption. It talked about a number of things that we as people need to know about. Instead, I don't see this reassessment being released and I suspect it's because of great industry pressure.
Now is that the same pressure that you guys are now working with industry about in a voluntary way? Because all this great voluntary stuff is wonderful. It's great. Again, where are teeth? I have seen enough public relations work. I have seen enough backdoor stuff work, that while the industry talks about how great it is and how good it is and how it's going to clean up, its job, it's mostly cleaning up its image, as far as I can see. I know the PR people behind who is doing it.
Number 4. Let's just talk about incineration. I have already written about alternatives to incineration of chlorinated substances. One of them was called Ecologic. It's a system out of Canada and some other place. They tried to interest EPA in supporting this. They have already passed Superfund tests. No, no, at least our Region 5, EPA, because I live in Illinois, wasn't even talking to these people and it is destroying dioxins to the six nines without burning. You talk about how long it's going to take to really clean up and remediate some of the mess that has been created. How long does it take to tell hospital waste incinerators, find an alternative or within two years or you're not going to do it at all? Why is our EPA, our local EPA, I am not too sure if it isn't the Illinois EPA. Why are they allowing Robbins municipal incinerator to continue burning unauthourized stuff, to continue malfunctioning, and to continue spewing out into the Great Lakes stuff that no one should have to deal with.
I see a failure, I see a lot of good words, but the cancer rates are going up. I do not see a cessation of the incinerations unless, of course, there is a lack of citizen action. Citizen action will close down one, but I don't see it coming from EPA itself. I am saying, I think the words are beautiful, but you got ask why this group, this hall is so little populated with people. You got ask that question. Why is this particular biennial not as populated as it used to be? I suspect it's because people have given up. They don't see the aggressiveness, the teeth, the accountability. They see cooperation and partnerships and frankly that's good, as long as you got the teeth there too. I don't see the teeth. People aren't coming here any more. Citizen participation isn't happening any more. They are discouraged and I am here to tell you that. I think I am too. I'd love a response.
I can obviously gather from your comments that you clearly are discouraged. Let me just say, as I mentioned earlier, I don't regard partnerships as a bad thing. Perhaps you do from a ...
Nor do I, providing there are teeth in it.
I did mention that the commitment is there and that we will always have a firm enforcement program as a backstop. Perhaps we could talk about priorities where enforcement efforts are stretched thin. Clearly, we can always do more. I would completely agree with you. With respect to the Robbins incinerator, I believe we do have an enforcement action against the Robbins incinerator. They are a permanent facility, so as much as you may not like it, it is legal to operate that facility. They do have a permit. To the extent that there are violations under the operation of that permit, we have taken a regulatory enforcement action. I am not sure about the specifics of your comment there. To my knowledge we are addressing that problem in the appropriate enforcement context.
With respect to the report regarding dioxin, the agency's report, I don't know the specifics of it but I can assure you that when the agency releases a draft report and then undertakes more of a review, the fact that it may go on for a long time, I don't think that we should assume that that means that there are closed door meetings with industry. Carol Browner has gone to great lengths to ensure that there is absolute transparency in all of the agency's actions. I would take issue with the suggestion that in any way there is some sort of a back-door closed-deal negotiation session taking place with industry. You may not believe that but that's the truth.
Is the report finished?
I don't know.
I'm told it is.
Dan Hopkins, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Frank, let me try to take a shot at that. I work with the Binational Strategy, the Binational Toxics Strategy on the U.S. side. A lot of the chemicals that we are working with under the Binational Strategy are related to work that our headquarters is also doing, and dioxin is one of those. I have some familiarity with what is going on the dioxin side of the reassessment and I have an ongoing dialogue with the people that are working there ... (tape change) ... in the end of this year. Now, as you may know, just about every estimate that we've gotten from that is, It will be four more months, it will be four more months. It has been delayed. I agree with you. I think that the reason that is has happened is that as they continue their research and they better their information, more questions come up and feel that they have to dive deeper into the research and answer the questions that they're now finding. People are getting somewhat frustrated with that, not only outside of EPA but, within EPA, there is pressure to complete that work as well. It's not that we are getting a lot of pressure from outside sources, rather it's a desire to be able to answer the scientific questions that's leading to that delay.
I would just add to that. That is a problem that frequently comes up. Obviously we are talking about this specific dioxin report in this context but, really, it's an issue that comes up often, every time the agency publishes a rule. There is always the competing interest between allowing a maximum amount of time for the interested public to comment on a specific rule making or a specific report. There is the interest in doing that versus the competing interest of doing more and doing it quicker. Those, frankly, are difficult issues. Carol Browner mentioned yesterday that the TMDL rule had just been extended for either an additional 30 days or 60 days for public comment. I recognize that there is some opposition to that, because some people feel, frankly, that we ought to push forward with what we have. The decision was made that, in this case, the better course of action would be to extend the comment period to allow more transparency and more public input. This is a competing interest that we see regularly in our agency activities.
Frank, I would like to make just a comment on the last point you made which was citizen engagement which I think absolutely essential. I truly believe that, I truly believe that we are not going to do right things unless citizens are engaged. I must admit, your comment of being discouraged, I took very much to heart. That is something that I personally will need to dialogue a little more to find out a little more about how do we make that engagement more real. It may be words to you but, for me, it is absolutely essential that citizens are engaged in the process of defining the solutions, identifying the problems, and implementing those. It's not just words. It is real in my opinion.
hear the urgency of what you're saying. I might suggest also that the media will not help you much anymore. No one in the Chicago newspapers are willing to cover IJC meetings, even our local national public radios are not willing to cover IJC meetings. So you are really up against a certain amount of blank walls. The Tribune still bleaches with chlorine, creating dioxin. They are not in a great hurry to talk about dioxin as a terrible problem. We are talking about some vested interests here. If you are going to get outreach from citizens, you are going to have to find creative ways of doing it.
I couldn't agree more. We are always looking for additional creative ways where we can involve the public through outreach. Thank you.
Maybe just to, I might add, Vic Shantora, just to chat, talk a little bit about how we on the Canadian side are looking at the issue of dioxins and some other toxins.
Vic Shantora, Environment Canada
Thank you John. Just a point about chlorine and chlorinated substances. We did take a decision, I think, 3 or 4 years ago, a policy a political decision that, as far as chlorine goes, we were going continue to prune the chlorine tree. We have a chlorinated substances action plan that we update regularly. I can't cite you chapter and verse of that here today, but anybody who is interested, I would be happy to share that information with you. Certainly our goal there is absolutely clear and we are tracking significant reductions on chlorinated substances and / or bans, phase-outs, and virtual elimination as we go. With respect to dioxins and furans, we've launched a national initiative related to -- we call it a Canada-wide standards process in Canada. We have an inventory of air releases across the country, and we've laid out an action plan to deal with the top priorities for dioxins. Again, I am happy to discuss that with anybody that would like more information. Thank you.