Connect with us

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The government shutdown has suspended federal cleanups at Superfund sites around the nation and forced the cancellation of public hearings, deepening the mistrust and resentment of surrounding residents who feel people in power long ago abandoned them to live among the toxic residue of the country’s factories and mines.

“We are already hurting, and it’s just adding more fuel to the fire,” says 40-year-old Keisha Brown, whose wood-frame home is in a community nestled among coking plants and other factories on Birmingham’s north side.

The mostly African-American community has been forced to cope with high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in the soil that the Environmental Protection Agency has been scraping up and carting away, house by house.

As President Donald Trump and Congress battle over Trump’s demand for a wall on the southern U.S. border, the nearly 3-week-old partial government shutdown has stopped federal work on Superfund sites except for cases where the administration deems “there is an imminent threat to the safety of human life or to the protection of property.”

EPA’s shutdown plans said the agency would evaluate about 800 Superfund sites to see how many could pose an immediate threat. As an example of that kind of threat, it cited an acid leak from a mine that could threaten the public water supply. That’s the hazard at Northern California’s Iron Mountain mine, where EPA workers help prevent an unending flow of lethally acidic runoff off the Superfund site from spilling into rivers downstream.

Practically speaking, said Bonnie Bellow, a former EPA official who worked on Superfund public outreach at the agency, the impact of the stoppage of work at sites across the nation “wholly depends” on the length of the shutdown.

“Unless there is immediate risk like a storm, a flood, a week or two of slowdowns is not going to very likely affect the cleanup at the site,” Bellow said.

In north Birmingham, Brown said it’s been a couple of weeks since she’s spotted any EPA crews at people’s houses. It wasn’t clear if state workers or contractors were continuing work.

But long before the shutdown began, Brown harbored doubts the cleanup was working anyway. “My main concern is the health of the people out here,” said Brown, who has asthma. “All of us are sick, and we’ve got to function on medicine every day.”

In terms of time, the federal government shutdown is a chronological blip in the long history of the site — which includes ethics charges in a local bribery scandal to block federal cleanup efforts — but adds to the uncertainty in an area where residents feel forgotten and betrayed.

At the EPA, the shutdown has furloughed the bulk of the agency’s roughly 14,000 employees. It also means the EPA isn’t getting most of the daily stream of environmental questions and tips from the public. Routine inspections aren’t happening. State, local and private emails to EPA officials often get automated messages back promising a response when the shutdown ends.

In Montana, for instance, state officials this month found themselves fielding calls from a tribal member worried about drinking water with a funny look to it, said Kristi Ponozzo, public-policy director at that state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The EPA normally provides tribes with technical assistance on water supplies.

With most EPA colleagues idled, Ponozzo said, her agency also had to call off an environmental review meeting for a mining project, potentially delaying the project.

But it’s the agency’s work at Superfund sites — lessening the threat from old nuclear-weapons plants, chemical factories, mines and other entities — that gets much of the attention.

Absent imminent peril, it would be up to state governments or contractors to continue any cleanup during the shutdown “up to the point that additional EPA direction or funding is needed,” the EPA said in a statement.

“Sites where cleanup activities have been stopped or shut down will be secured until cleanup activities are able to commence when the federal government reopens,” the agency said.

For federal Superfund sites in Michigan, the shutdown means there are no EPA colleagues to consult, said Scott Dean, a spokesman for that state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

At Michigan Superfund sites, day-to-day field operations were continuing since private contractors do most of the on-the-ground work, Dean said.

Bellow, the former EPA official, said the cancellation of hearings about Superfund sites posed immediate concerns.

In East Chicago, Indiana, for example, the EPA called off a planned public hearing set for last Wednesday to outline how the agency planned to clean up high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.

The EPA has proposed a seven-month, $26.5 million cleanup that includes treating and removing tainted soil from the area, where a lead smelter previously was located.

During a public meeting Nov. 29, some residents complained that the EPA’s approach would leave too much pollution in place. But others didn’t get a chance to speak and were hoping to do so at the meeting this week, said Debbie Chizewer, a Northwestern University environmental attorney who represents community groups in the low-income area.

The EPA announced the cancellation in an online notice and gave no indication that it would be rescheduled.

Leaders of the East Chicago Calumet Community Advisory Group asked for a new hearing date and an extension of a Jan. 14 public comment deadline in a letter to the EPA’s regional Superfund division.

Calls by The Associated Press to the agency’s regional office in Chicago this week were not answered.

Local critics fear the EPA will use the delay caused by the shutdown as justification for pushing ahead with a cleanup strategy they consider flawed, Chizewer said, even though the agency has designated the affected area as an “environmental justice community” — a low-income community of color that has been disproportionately harmed by pollution.

The EPA has a “special obligation” when dealing with such communities, Chizewer said. “This would be an example of shutting them out for no good reason.”

In North Birmingham, former longtime neighborhood resident Charlie Powell said most of the people living in and around the Superfund site had already “just got tired and fed up.”

Powell left the area but started a group called PANIC, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination. He believes money would be better spent helping residents move away from the pollution.

“Can I say hell?” Powell said when asked what residents have been through.

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics

BBC Question Time LIVE: Fiona Bruce hosts Tobias Ellwood and Nick Thomas-Symonds for show

Published

on

BBC Question Time comes tonight from Belfast where Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood and the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson will be giving their verdict on a seismic week in UK politics.

Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

No deal Brexit CRISIS PLANNING underway in Kent – schools told teachers may become CARERS

Published

on

A BREXIT gridlock threatens to leave pupils in Kent stranded, with the local council warning teachers they may have to pick up the children in their own cars.

Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

U.S. says “door wide open” to more talks with North Korea

Published

on

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — Senior Trump administration officials Thursday said “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea after last month’s high-level talks in Hanoi failed to reach a nuclear agreement.

The officials told reporters that President Trump remains “personally engaged” and also wants contacts to occur on the working level, although they wouldn’t disclose whether any such contacts have occurred since the summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Officials said the U.S. is working to tighten pressure on North Korea to “unprecedented” levels by better enforcing sanctions and other economic measures against the North.

“This is a new approach,” one senior official said. “You’ve had piecemeal sanctions over the years.”

Tougher pressure, combined with Trump’s willingness to sit down with Kim to discuss North Korea’s future, will hopefully lead North Korea to decide to denuclearize, the officials say.

“We’ll give it some time,” said one official.

The officials said there’s no been change to Trump’s diplomatic approach and that any suggestion that the U.S. was open to a phased approach in which some sanctions would be lifted before denuclearization was a “misinterpretation.” But asked about Trump’s own comments in Hanoi that he didn’t want to box himself in on that issue, the officials said that they, too, didn’t want to box the president in.

The U.S. sees an increasing problem with illicit shipping by North Korea in violation of U.S. and U.N. sanction, including ship-to-ship transfers at sea, the disabling of automated ship identification systems, falsification of cargo documentation, and North Korean coal exports that have resumed in the Gulf of Tonkin.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two shipping company for trying to evade North Korea sanctions. These are the first sanctions since Hanoi.

The Treasury today also issued a new advisory warning about these practices.

Additional companies are “at risk” and will be punished if caught, the officials said.

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending