Tuesday, February 24, 2009

EPA: River polluted

EPA: River polluted

Paper plant flushing illegal amount of deadly pollutant into water

Publication Date: 02/24/09

Wastewater flushed into Rice Creek and the St. Johns River from Georgia-Pacific's paper plant in Palatka contains several times more dioxin, a deadly pollutant, than federal law allows, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report said Monday.

The EPA report said the maximum permitted level is 0.014 parts per quadrillion, but one sample contained 0.077, five times the maximum permitted level, and the second 0.042 parts per quadrillion, three times the maximum permitted level.

However, Jeremy Alexander, spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, said the test was done using an "experimental technique not validated by any scientific community. Fish samples in Rice Creek and the St. Johns River are well below thresholds for any state. It doesn't pose a health risk."

The EPA was asked to do the testing by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection because the state is reviewing the company's permit for its 40 million gallons per day wastewater treatment plant, which empties into Rice Creek.

Alexander said Rice Creek's levels of dioxin are "not much different" from other parts of the St. Johns River.

The significantly higher levels of dioxin were registered when DEP used a new test that uses more effluent -- about 1,000 liters -- then adds the amount of dioxin found in the water with the amount found in particles suspended in the water.

Tests had previously been done using one liter of discharge with particulates strained out. Only the water went to the laboratory.

But Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida in Tallahassee, said the new test is more reliable and uses 1,000 liters and particulates.

"Dioxin is hydrophobic, which means it attaches itself to carbon molecules. For example, in Vietnam, it attached to the plants or your skin. If you just tested the water, you wouldn't find very much dioxin."

There are a lot of solids in paper mill waste and much of it settles on the creek or river bottom, she said.

"There is no safe level of dioxin," Young said. "It is a carcinogen in the smallest possible consequences."

Robert F. "Mike" McGhee of Atlanta, an environmental consultant hired by Georgia-Pacific, quoted dioxin risks that seemed much more acceptable.

"There is dioxin produced naturally, such as during forest fires or from diesel truck engines," he said. "A man would have to eat several pounds of (St. Johns River) fish every day for 70 years to raise his cancer risk by one in a million."

St. Johns Riverkeeper Neal Armingeon examined the report Monday and said, "Am I surprised about this? No. My question is: What is the DEP willing to do about this?"

Armingeon and the Riverkeeper's office have long opposed Georgia-Pacific's long-range plan to build a $40 million pipeline to dump its effluent into the St. Johns directly and skip Rice Creek.

"That's not going to clean the problem up," Armingeon said. "We need a series of ideas, treatments or processes that will allow Georgia-Pacific to reach water quality standards."

Dioxin is released into the environment by sources other than paper bleaching. About 80 percent comes from coal-fired utilities, municipal waste incinerators, metal smelting, land application of sewage, burning treated wood and burning trash in barrels.

McGhee said the Palatka plant has invested millions of dollars to change to a bleaching system that's significantly reduced dioxin production over the years.

Young said that McGhee, a retired 30-year EPA employee, was "an apologist for the pulp and paper industry when he was at EPA and now he's a consultant for them. He has no credibility. To get anything done, we had to go over his head to Washington."

She said that when dioxin levels in Rice Creek were noted by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia-Pacific went to the governor's office and soon the threshold level of dioxin was lowered.

"That's with no public hearing, no public notice," Young said. "The state of Florida is trying to lead the nation in undermining the Clean Water Act."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

What is dioxin?

Publication Date: 02/24/09

Dioxins, short for polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, are a family of manmade organic chemical compounds that are highly toxic and are produced as byproducts of some industrial processes and waste incineration.

That definition from Slate Magazine came from a 2004 story about the deliberate dioxin poisoning of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who, after somehow ingesting dioxin, experienced ulcers in his stomach and intestines, problems with his liver and spleen, and disfiguring facial cysts.

That is an extreme case.

Otherwise, the Slate story said, dioxin poisoning can cause organ disease, an increased risk of cancer and heart attacks, a suppressed immune system, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, menstrual problems, increased hair growth, weight loss and, most obviously, the facial cysts known as chloracne.

Dioxins also tend to bioaccumulate, meaning it builds up in fatty tissues over time.

Dioxin effects in children -- birth defects, genetic diseases, tumors and failure to thrive -- are still seen in southern Vietnam 60 years after U.S. forces sprayed millions of pounds of dioxin called Agent Orange as a tactical herbicide to eradicate the jungle canopy that often hid enemy troops.

Tens of thousands of birth defects there have been reported. As many as 1 million Vietnamese were exposed to it.

In addition, exposure caused a rainbow of health problems to U.S. troops, who were sprayed while on patrol or drank water contaminated with dioxin.

Linda Young of the Tallahassee-based Clean Water Network of Florida called dioxin an "endocrine disrupter," meaning it gets into the body's endocrine system and mimics hormones.

"It can turn boy fish into girl fish and girl fish into boy fish," she said.

According to the web site www.dioxinfacts.org,, "Dioxins have never been manufactured for commercial use. They are trace by-products of combustion and manufacturing. Over the past few decades, industry and government have worked together to reduce industrial dioxin emissions to the environment. As a result, dioxin emissions, as monitored by the EPA, have plummeted by 92 percent since 1987."

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

No comments: