Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

EPA Raids JeffCo Sewer Board for CWA Violations

(Click title for story)
Finally the EPA starts showing some backbone; Houston, Texas, West Virginia and now Jefferson County, Alabama. Shelby County, Alabama needs to be next on their list with all the continued violations and complete lack of oversight from the ADEM and the county.

Perhaps some files and a long list of numerous violations will help that along. This county has no business issuing a single SWM permit to a mud puddle with its current non-compliant status let alone a massive quarry like Vincent Hills.

They don't care about anything but more money rolling in, to hell with the environment and federal requirements. 

Comrade Dudchock stated in a story from 2009 regarding the EPA audit of the county; "We have had some good conversations with the EPA. They like what we are doing and what we are going to do."

Really? Which part of the flaunting of EPA requirements exactly do they like?

That is not what their audit said in any shape or form and he knows it.

One inspector was so indifferent that the EPA auditor noted that he did not even get out of his vehicle with the EPA enforcement officer right there with him.

Question; How do you properly inspect a site from your car?

Answer; You don't.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Business Alliance for Responsible Development is an Oxymoron June 2010

 A recent example of what Stephen Bradley and BARD do to communities. Scott Phillips, on the Environmental Management Commission (oversees ADEM), walked away with a half a million dollar contract in the Jefferson County SWMA fiasco. The deal was brokered by Malcolm Pirnie and most assuredly BARD had their usual heavy hand in that one.

Will the Town of Vincent, Alabama continue to turn a blind eye to what is right in front of them?  Most likely they will.

Birmingham News (AL)
June 12, 2010

If ADEM won't stand up to BARD and protect watersheds, EPA should.

The Business Alliance for Responsible Development is an oxymoron.

The word ''responsible'' has to be questioned. To whom or for what is BARD responsible?

If one reads the material on the BARD website, it comes across loud and clear that the overriding goal of BARD is growth at any cost. In particular. the goal appears almost singularly to be to keep development costs down, even if the cost of environmental degradation and infrastructure damage is passed onto citizens and their communities.

If BARD were for responsible growth, it would be for a requirement for ''maximum extent practicable'' measures for stormwater control. Instead of employing lawyers to gut a somewhat better Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposal for the Phase II stormwater permit, a responsible BARD would work for regulations and a permit that requires MEP.

BARD would also support inclusion of ''low impact development'' requirements in stormwater permits. A federal court in Washington state recently ruled stormwater measures must employ ''all known and reasonable technologies'' in order to comply with MEP requirements of the stormwater rule in the state. ''All known and reasonable technologies'' include low-impact development.

While not as devastating and dramatic as the BP disaster, which was in part caused by shortcuts taken to save time and money, if BARD's efforts to gut improvements in Alabama's stormwater permits stand, they will likewise cause severe water-quality degradation and lasting, and likely permanent, ecological damage.

By responding to BARD's comments on the initial draft of the stormwater permit for smaller cities by largely gutting the permit it had drafted, ADEM is a facilitator of this environmental crime against nature and the people of Alabama.

ADEM should grow some backbone and redraft a permit that includes a clear requirement for MEP and ''all known and reasonable technologies,'' including low-impact development.

If ADEM won't write a permit that protects urban and suburban watersheds, Region 4 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should insist on a protective permit.

Michael William Mullen
Executive director/riverkeeper
Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper Inc.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This Land Is Their Mine I Rock miners are prepared to dig near the Everglades

Thursday, Jan 3 2008
By Francisco Alavarado and Janine Zeitlin and Tamara Lush

Get ready for some major, and maybe environmentally lethal, limestone excavation near the Everglades. To the dismay of homeowner and eco-activists, five rock mining companies have filed for permits with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to extract limestone from more than 7,500 acres of protected wetlands. "It's like the return of Jason and Freddie Krueger" says Miami Lakes Councilman Michael Pizzi, a longtime opponent of the rock mining industry. "I find it terrifying."

The companies seeking permission to dig are Florida Rock Industries, Kendall Properties and Investments, Tarmac America,, Rinker Materials of Florida, and White Rock Quarries, all of which promise to pay the state to create wetlands elsewhere in the county to replace the land lost to mining.

The permit requests come at a time when the U S Army Corps of Engineers is seeking public input for its study on the impact of rock mining on Miami-Dade's drinking water. If the rock miners' plans are approved by state regulators, they would carve out lake craters totaling nearly 12 square miles, almost the size of Coral Gables.

Earlier this summer, Miami-based U S Judge William Hoeveler ruled in favor of three environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, which had sued the Corps, the Miami-Dade Limestone Association, and seven companies to halt excavation on 5,400 acres of wetlands. Hoeveler found the proposed mining to be a threat to the drinking water supply for one million Miami-Dade residents and that it would destroy thousands of acres of irreplaceable Everglades wildlife habitat.

Kerri Barsch, a spokeswoman for White Rock and Tarmac, disputes Pizzi's assertion that more rock mining would have a disastrous impact on the community. She also says there is no guarantee the environmental protection department would approve every new permit. "The regulatory agencies will evaluate all the information and make the determination to what extent more mining is in the public interest."

"We haven't even begun to study the impact of rock mining on our water supply,"
says Pizzi. 

"The rock miners are undaunted in their pursuit of making money." — Francisco Alavarado
#           #           #

Now that is a ringing endorsement of "good neighbors": "It's like the return of Jason and Freddy Krueger."
Kind of reminds us of another terrible twosome involved in the Vincent Hills project....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's Missing From the Geology/Hydrology Reports For WRQ

White Rock quarries has hired a number of "experts" to substantiate their proposal for the Vincent Hills quarry. From what we read there is more missing from their reports than is included in them, and the Town of Vincent and Shelby County have either failed to realize this or they don't want to; the latter of these two may be why they really continually resist an independent geologic and risk assessment study.
(Many thanks to our geologist friend for his contribution)
Some points we would like to address:
  •  The Tom Joiner and Associates Report is a “virtual” hydrological assessment, and does not include field investigation, other than minimal monitoring well assessment; 13 wells over 886 acres is inadequate to fully assess groundwater fluctuations to adjacent areas under varying seasonal conditions.
  • No attempt was made to determine the actual subsurface in the land area other than reliance on previous geologic studies and less than 17 reported borings, or to determine its significance and/or impact to the Subject Site and surrounding properties. GPR and Electric Resistivity Tomography (ERT) have not been used to accurately map what is under the soil. (The complete analytical results of these borings has yet to be released despite numerous requests)
  •  No effort was expended to groundwater modeling to the local or regional aquifer, other than to cite references from previously published literature. No on-site dye tracing and analysis has been performed.
  •  Information detailed in the hydrology/geology which was stated as “fact” is either conjectural and/or goes beyond the available evidence which is minimal; there is no existing statistical model in Vincent to compare it to.
In summary, these reports are deficient, and seek to minimize or negate the impacts to human health and the environment that the quarry’s development may pose. 
Based on the "evidence" presented in the WRQ reports and documents, we do not believe the report is adequate to address the expressed concerns.

What should be demanded:
In order for the Vincent Hills quarry to proceed in a manner which will minimize impacts, approval should be delayed until the following data can be provided and reviewed:

1. An accurate groundwater elevation map should be developed using available static water level elevations from the new (need to be established) and existing monitoring and water supply wells in the area.

This should encompass an area not less than 2 miles surrounding the proposed permit area, and any future areas intended for quarry development.

2. The means by which water management will be handled at the Site should be described in more detail. Monitoring wells should be accessible to the EPA for testing with no requisite restrictions or notification and test results should be beyond PH and turbidity, and include testing for high risk chemical contaminants such as benzene and petroleum by products. These reports should be made readily available to the public without censure and delay and not remain solely in the Vincent Water Board's control to disseminate when they deem appropriate.

3. Peak flow measurements should be made for the tributaries draining into Spring Creek both near the site and adjacent properties. These measurements will aid in developing a stormwater and sediment and erosion management plan that is based on site specific data, rather than conjecture or extrapolation.

4. Turbidity measurements should be made of all the Spring Creek tributaries that originate on and very near the WRQ site, including the unnamed tributaries that flow into Spring Creek. (ADEM recognizes that these exist.)

5. A dewatering test should be conducted to determine the effect of quarry dewatering on surrounding springs and wells. This test should include the installation of a sufficient number of extraction wells, capable of lowering the local water table to the proposed depth of quarrying.
Once a stable draw-down at the level of the quarry excavation is reached, the pumping should be continued at the appropriate rate for a minimum of 72 hours. All accessible wells and springs on the WRQ property, and within the 2 mile radius should be monitored for changes in water level, turbidity and flow.

6. A dye trace should be conducted to determine these tributaries of Spring Creek and the base flow conditions during the draw-down when water levels are at their lowest.  

If the WRQ quarrying activities are not carefully controlled and managed, a steady flow of sediment-laden water may be directed towards Spring Creek and its tributaries, particularly during storm events and subsequent flooding that may accompany heavy/prolonged rain events.

(**This has been a problem with Chemical Lime and Carmeuse lime production facilities ancillary to quarrying in Shelby County according to the ADEM files)

Even under conservative stormwater and sediment and erosion controls, turbid water is expected to flow to Spring Creek via its tributaries and the underground karst conduits. If Spring Creek is dried out by the quarry, then this source of water will recharge from the Coosa and bring the known contaminants of the river into the groundwater supplies.  This river has experienced a heavy PCB contamination.

To compound matters, it is doubtful that the settling and detention ponds planned for the WRQ Site will be able to retain more than a two-year storm, which we understand is the standard of practice design for SWM structures. 

Thus, if a 10-, 100-, or 500-year storm event occurs (at least two of which have occurred within the last 15 years regionally), and the impoundments overflow or their dikes are breached, these ponds may disgorge their sediment load into the tributaries feeding Spring Creek and the groundwater. 

This sediment would then clog the tributary channels, foul the Spring Creek bed near the tributary confluence, and increase turbidity to levels that may severely impact the entire stream’s environment. In addition, this sediment may also be swallowed into the epikarst, and find its way to whatever conduits drain the creek bed.

The overburden risk on the known karst terrain from the settlement ponds has not been addressed at all. Should failure occur, the contents of the sediment ponds will be rapidly drawn through the karst conduits and risk contaminating the entire water supply. These ponds are represented as "clean" when in fact they contain the quarry tailings; which are by-products of the mining operations.

Representation had been made that the quarry water "is so pure that many communities rely on the quarries for their community water supply." We have addressed that claim in a previous post and file this outlandish claim in the lies and damn lies pile along with most of what has been submitted as "rock solid facts" from WRQ.

Robert Fousek, yet another geologist "expert" who is really an industry insider, stated that Jim Hurley told him "to spare no expense in determining that this operation was safe to the community" in the last public meeting.

Put your money where your mouth is Mr. Hurley and do what you and your "experts" are well aware of and really should be done, NOW, not "once the quarry is operational."

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Devil is Usually in the Details, But Sometimes He Holds a Press Conference

In the world of corporate "gotcha" dirty tricks are the norm rather than the exception. Environmental violations railed up by White Rock Quarries (WRQ) and Mr. Bradley against EBSCO have been used in the local press and submitted to the aggregate industry online articles to embarrass them. The problem with this, is that when one corporation is held to a different standard than the representatives for the competing business in the same arena of who did what, it creates a "selective wrongdoing atmosphere" and does not tell the whole story.

Such is the case with a "hit piece" from November of 2009 orchestrated by Stephen Bradley, the subject of our previous posting.

On November 11, 2009, the largest local employer in the Vincent area took a stand publicly in the county newspaper,  the Shelby County Reporter (SCR) against the Vincent Hills (WRQ) quarry, citing damage to their building and their worker's safety based on geological experts reports. They were right to be genuinely concerned for both.

On November 19, 2009, WRQ and Bradley came back with a press conference, complete with multiple cameras flashing from news outlets, large visual exhibits of their "evidence" and the ADEM files supporting their claims of what EBSCO had done from 1969-1985.

They were truthful that the incident had occurred, we will not dispute that as it is part of the official state records and in the public arena, but that is where the truth ends and propaganda begins.

During this press conference, Mr. Bradley took center stage accompanied by Mr. Fowler. The video is online form the local NBC News affiliate in the Birmingham area, we will not give them any face time and invite the reader to view the video for themselves.

Mr. Fowler seemed nervous and not self-assured in his body language and was stumbling during some his verbiage. We can understand why as he admitted during the press conference that their own testing revealed no traces of the "cancer causing chemicals under the ground in the area."

He went on to say that "it was there and may be isolated" and "would probably come to the quarry" when they begin operations.

Which is it Mr. Fowler? Is "it" there, which your own tests revealed "it" was not, or is this an attempt to lay the groundwork for someone else being the culprit when future tests reveal contamination due to the quarry?

We suspect it is the latter.

He also continued to parrot the line of "White Rock has never had a water violation of any kind."

That issue was covered in the "Poison Wells" story and linked to on this blog. The US District Court and Judge Hoeveler in Florida very much disagrees and court record transcripts state there was clear evidence of the benzene contamination that was not in the public arena, but was presented to the court.

Two things changed the final outcome of the case; the Florida environmental agency DERM closed the investigation and the US Army Corp of Engineers agreed to give the miners even more acreage in the Everglades to destroy.

It wasn't the first time the Corps made a very bad decision and Judge Hoeveler ripped them apart in a scathing 176 page opinion that can be found online; some of it is linked to on the right side under the "Poison Wells" link. The EPA reports also linked to on the right, show clearly the lack of inspections and reporting by WRQ to the EPA and the state findings boxes show inspections, but the results fields are blank.

So, it begs the question of did the inspections really occur or were they "rubber stamped"? This has also been written about on the "Eye On Miami" blog.

Mr. Bradley has no room to take anyone to to task for environmental violations and not informing the public of risks based on toxic chemical exposure from those violations. His history was revealed in the subsequent post and he has nothing to be proud of on this front. One would think he would avoid direct involvement of this nature because of his past, but the lure of attack was probably just too inviting to pass up. 

BARD is well-known for being overly aggressive and has been quoted in the press (Bham News) as an entity that will "crush any opposition that stands in the way of their client's interests."

This is business as usual in the powerful rock mining world, and it is no different in small town Alabama, particularly if WRQ, Bradley and Fowler are involved based on their public history; dirty tricks and the game of  "gotcha" are their SOP.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stephen Bradley President of Waste Management Toxic Landfill Emelle, Alabama

Stephen "Steve" E. Bradley of Bradley & Associates

Thanks to a fellow environmental warrior for contributing some of this information on the story of Emelle, Alabama and what happened to the community when Waste Management's Chemical Waste toxic dump came to Sumter County, Alabama.
*Editors note-- some stories are presented in their entirety due to their archive status, which requires a fee to access. 

What happened to the largely minority community of Emelle, Alabama because of Chemical Waste's reprehensible actions from the 1970's to the 1990's was an environmental crime of historic proportions-- those effects are still reverberating through the area today. 

The incident did not occur in a vacuum. It was fostered by the surreptitious motives of the Department of Energy through Martin Marietta, ADEM and a cadre of willing accomplices who saw profit before prudence. and willfully set out to take advantage of a lax state regulatory system and the lack of sophistication of a poor community.

It is a story of greed and corruption by big business and government that continues to play out in similar communities even today.

It's a story that should never be forgotten, nor should the individuals who were complicit in this crime against humanity. Especially one individual in particular: Stephen E. Bradley.

Document #1
Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) files on the Emelle illegal radioactive waste receiving and dumping:
If there's an"environmental vampire" moniker that's well deserved Mr. Bradley fits that to a tee.

Generally speaking, we are judged by the company we keep. The same holds true for businesses who are judged by their corporate philosophies, and their employee's behavior as representatives of the company in management positions and in public relations.

White Rock Quarries (WRQ) a controversial company itself, has employed Mr. Bradley as their PR agent in Vincent, Alabama (pop. 2000) for a proposed 1000 acre limestone quarry. He's been their representative long enough for WRQ to know what type of individual they have chosen to align themselves with. Therefore, they too should be judged by the company they are keeping, in addition to their past history in south Florida.

Mr. Bradley's own past is of his activities at Chemical Waste was written about extensively in the press at the time of the Emelle incident. What he did there is inexcusable, but it's only one incident in a long documented list of his toxic activities. Controversy follows him as closely as his own shadow.

Document #2
1978 when Bradley was at Alabama Power (APCO):
The charges did not stick on a "technicality" (not on a legal ruling of "not guilty"), but  years later when BARD was formed Walter Johnsey was named their Chairman of the Board. Alabama Power and Drummond are both BARD members. Joe Fine is one half of the powerful lobbying firm Fine and Geddie. After Johnsey's "early retirement" Bradley stepped into his position at APCO.
2009 when Synagro was finally ousted from Colbert County whose residents were outraged at having NY City human excrement spread over their county:
Senate Bills 462 and 463 would amend the Alabama Constitution to severely regulate or prohibit the application of treated human waste or biosolids on farm fields as fertilizer or soil supplement if the public votes against its use.
"What we're trying to do is get rid of the New York waste that's being spread on the cropland of Alabama," Senator Roger Bedford said.
Steve Bradley, a spokesman for Synagro in Alabama, did not address the legislation specifically, but said the company is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and also falls under the oversight of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Synagro also has developed management guidelines for its product with assistance from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
"We recognize that this issue has drawn a lot of attention," Bradley said. "We know it's an emotional issue; we understand that."
He said the company has a history of cooperating with any organization scrutinizing its practices and has been responsive to community concerns.
"It's a fact of life that this material is produced," he said. "You can either incinerate it, landfill it or you can make productive use out of it through the production of biosolids."
More on this story:
Synagro South LLC, Biological Processors of Alabama and Dyneon LLC also are defendants in the county lawsuits.
From 1996 until November, DU contracted with Synagro to spread the biosolids on area farms as fertilizer. The practice ended in November because the EPA discovered alarming accumulations of the chemicals it calls “unregulated contaminants” in the soil of farms that received the biosolids. 
The Case of Emelle, Alabama
The following articles from the Birmingham News seem to suggest Mr. Bradley "mourning" the loss of more toxic waste to be dumped on the community where the landfill is located.

While Bradley is not responsible for establishing Emelle (in the 1970's), it was a well-known fact that Emelle was intentionally located in a high minority poor community, a practice known as environmental discrimination (i.e, impose pollution, environmental harm on low-income, and mostly black, communities because they lack the funds to defend themselves.)

The citizens were told that it was going to be a "brick plant" and kept entirely in the dark about the real purpose of the project until "everything was in place." They were also promised that the company would bring in "good paying jobs" and help the community "grow and prosper."

The promised "prosperity" resulted in the decimation of the town with only 26 residents still living in Emelle. Cancer rates soared in the community and wiped out almost the entire population. Some sources Emelle "died" because Chemical Waste was shut down and revenue stopped, but the company did so much damage to the community that few companies wanted to locate there after the contamination.

How could a person of conscience accept a management position at a company that he knew maintained a toxic landfill filled with illegally received radioactive wastes, PCBs, etc.? Maybe because that was what was attractive to Mr. Bradley-- it was profitable and nefarious-- two elements he's built his reputation on.

Chemical Waste was actively engaged in fraud for years until 1992, when royalty payments withheld for that year, to the owners of the land, triggered an investigation in 1996 resulting in a $91,000,000 million dollar judgment, accompanied by a scathing rebuke of "deliberate and willful wrongdoing and intentional fraud" from the Judge in his final opinion.

Is a waste facility good for the local economy? 
Kaye Kiker from Emelle, AL, explains that, in 1978 before Waste Management, Inc., came to town, the county's unemployment was 5.8%; in 1986, unemployment had climbed to 21.1%.

"Our water is polluted here,"
she explains "and it's just not the kind of place where you want to raise your family. We'll never site industry here again. I believe we've lost it. This is a dying county," she says. 
From Dr. Robert Bullard of the Center for Environmental Justice:
The largest landfill, hazardous waste dump, the Cadillac of dumps, is located in Alabama.
It's located in Emelle, Alabama, Sumter County. Seventy-five percent black county, 95% black community of Emelle.
A lot of the waste that's cleaned up all over the country is shipped, brought in to Emelle, Alabama. How did Emelle become a dump? George Wallace's son-in-law got the land, smoothed through with Waste Management, and they built this dump in the middle of this black belt community.
Right now, it's the largest employer in the county. The county is dependent upon Waste Management for revenue. And any industry that used to be there, a lot of it left. And you can't attract anything else. 
Who wants to be the neighbor of a toxic waste dump? This is the landfill itself.
For you geologists, this is called a Selma chalk formation. Selma chalk is supposed to be impermeable. When they did the statement and the report, they said this Selma chalk formation is impermeable, it will last 1,000 years. It leaked in TEN.
From the bio on Stephen Bradley & Associates website: 
Mr. Bradley also served as the first president of the Alabama Power Foundation, Inc. from 1989-1990. He was named president of Waste Management, Inc. of Alabama in 1990, where he was responsible for public relations, strategic planning and public affairs coordination for the family of Waste Management companies in Alabama until late 1993.

Birmingham News (AL)
June 15, 1993
MONTGOMERY - Burying toxic waste isn't a growth industry near Emelle any more
And that's making some environmentalists smile even as some state lawmakers worry about falling tax collections. Chemical Waste Management Inc.'s landfill near Emelle, which covers five square miles of north Sumter County, once took in more poisonous, flammable, cancer causing and other hazardous waste than any other commercial landfill in America.
But burials at the landfill _which more than doubled in volume between 1985 and 1989 - have slipped to their lowest levels in years.
ChemWaste officials blame the state's 1990 increase in its fee for dumping toxic waste. A state environment official, however, blames the weak economy, greater efforts by companies to reduce pollutants and a slowdown in federal cleanup of so-called Superfund sites.
Kaye Kiker, an environmental activist in York who has kept an eye on Emelle for years, said the drop in waste burials pleased her.
"That's great. We want it to continue to decrease so that place will shut down and Alabama won't be the dumping ground any more," Mrs. Kiker said.
"As long as there are places like this, this country is not going to address the real question and the real solutions of dealing with hazardous wastes such as recycling." she said.
Alabama lawmakers raised state and local fees from $22 per ton of waste buried at Emelle to $40 per ton of waste from Alabama and $112 per ton of waste from everywhere else. Emelle gets about 85 percent of its toxic waste from out-of-state.
Burials at Emelle tumbled from a peak of 790,716 tons in 1989 to 290,194 tons in 1991 and 285,242 tons in 1992.
The fees for most waste fell on Oct. 1, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama couldn't charge higher fees on hazardous waste just because it came from other states.
Alabama lawmakers could have obeyed the ruling by setting the fee at $112 per ton for both in-state and out-of-state waste.
But hundreds of factories in Alabama have buried waste at Emelle, including Schlumberger in Tallassee, which makes water meters, National Standard in Columbiana, which makes steel wire, and Sanders Lead in Troy, which recycles lead from batteries.
The Business Council of Alabama joined ChemWaste last fall to lobby for a fee of $51 per ton on most waste buried at Emelle, whether from Alabama or elsewhere. Fees would be higher for some extremely toxic waste and lower for non-toxic garbage.
Most lawmakers and then-Gov. Guy Hunt went along, and the lower fee for most hazardous waste took effect Oct. 1.
Hazardous-waste burials at Emelle haven't jumped back with the lower fee, however.
From January through April, the last month for which the state has records, Emelle buried 88,038 tons of waste, almost 10,000 tons less than in those four months last year.
Most of the money from toxic waste fees goes to the state General Fund, which pays the salaries of many state employees.
Net toxic-waste tax collections for the fund peaked at $35 million in the 1990-91 budget year that ended September 1991, and dropped to $21 million in 1991-92, which ended Sept. 30, state records show.
If toxic-waste burials stay at current rates even with the lower fee, the General Fund this year will collect about $16 million.
(**state profits from this practice)
"The revenue's not coming in," said state Rep. Taylor Harper-D, Grand Bay.
Steve Bradley, president of Waste Management Inc. of Alabama, blamed high fees for much of the drop in burials at Emelle

Bradley said many out-of-state factories shipped their toxic waste elsewhere after Alabama raised fees to $112 per ton in July 1990.
"It drove away a considerable amount of our business," he said. "When that happens, it's very difficult to get that business back."

He said Alabama's $51-per-ton fee on most hazardous waste is higher than the fee in any other state, including Louisiana and California, which also lowered their fees recently.
Sue Robertson, chief of the land division that oversees Emelle for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said toxic waste burials have dropped nationwide, not just at Emelle
A slow-growth economy has slowed production of both goods and toxic byproducts from America's factories, she said.
Mrs. Robertson also said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in recent years has supervised fewer cleanups of Superfund sites polluted by toxic wastes.
And at the sites it does clean up, EPA more and more is incinerating or chemically treating polluted soil and burying it at the clean-up sites instead of digging up the dirt and shipping it to Emelle or other landfills, she said.
America's factories also are recycling chemicals more, using fewer poisonous materials to make products and treating toxic byproducts at their factory sites, she said.
Mrs. Robertson said she doubts Emelle will ever again bury as much waste in one year as it did in 1989, unless the EPA boosts the number of old-style Superfund cleanups that ship contaminated dirt to landfills.
Mrs. Robertson said the Emelle landfill, which sits atop 700 feet of chalk, "is one of the most environmentally sound places" to bury toxic waste.
(**See Robert Bullard above; "It leaked in ten years")
But she applauded the shift by factories away from toxic-waste burials and toward incineration, chemical treatment, recycling and the use of fewer toxic materials in manufacturing.
"I think less is best," said Mrs. Robertson. "You don't want to continue putting large volumes of waste in a hole in the ground if there are other alternatives."
Document #3
This case was argued before the US Supreme Court, Chem Waste won the case, but the dissent of Chief Justice Rehnquist (which appears at the end of the case description) is compelling:
"The Court errs in substantial measure because it refuses to acknowledge that a safe and attractive environment is the commodity really at issue in cases such as this. 
See Fort Gratiot, post, at 369, n. (REHNQUIST, C.J., dissenting).
"The result is that the Court today gets it exactly backward when it suggests that Alabama is attempting to "isolate itself from a problem common to the several States." Ante, at 339. "To the contrary, it is the 34 States that have no hazardous waste facility whatsoever, not to mention the remaining 15 States with facilities all smaller than Emelle, that have isolated themselves"

Enter Balch and Bingham:
(Mr. Fowler, another WRQ representative and lobbyist, was not with the firm at this time, but the story shows that this law firm seems to contribute to the heavy-handed, anti-environmental culture inherent in certain Alabama firms legal practices) 
Birmingham News (AL)
May 13, 1993
MONTGOMERY - A company that has shipped radioactive wastes to Alabama from other states has asked a federal court to block Attorney General Jimmy Evans from prosecuting its officials on criminal charges.
Martin Marietta Energy Systems Inc. of Maryland, which manages the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and other nuclear waste generating facilities, said Evans for more than a year has led a grand jury investigation into the company's waste shipments to a toxic-waste landfill in Emelle.
A state prosecutor has alleged the company may have illegally shipped radioactive waste, which Emelle is not permitted to accept, and may have tried to conceal the content of the shipments.
By threatening to prosecute company officials, Evans has violated the company's rights, lawyers for the company told the federal court.
Any nuclear wastes shipped by Martin Marietta to Emelle had only trace amounts of radioactive material and were "absolutely no hazard to any person or to the environment,'' they said.
Any worker receiving maximum exposure to the radioactive wastes would have received no more than a tiny fraction of the radiation a person would get from the natural background radiation in the United States, the lawyers said.
Martin Marietta Energy Systems Inc. is seeking an injunction blocking Evans from taking action against the company.
"They're blowing smoke,'' Deputy Attorney General Robert E. Morrow said Wednesday.
"They haven't been charged with exposing workers or damaging the environment,'' Morrow said. ""They have falsified records they are required to file with the state saying the materials they shipped to Emelle are not radioactive.''
He called the federal suit "the newest defense tactic for the criminal defense.''
The law firm that filed the suit for Martin Marietta, Balch and Bingham, last year asked the federal court to block Evans from prosecuting an ethics case against former Gov. Guy Hunt. The court refused to halt that prosecution.
Morrow wrote Martin Marietta officials last Dec. 4 that the grand jury were checking whether the company concealed through "subterfuge'' the content of its shipments.
Company lawyers said the U.S. Department of Transportation permits interstate shipment of radioactive wastes but does not require it to be labeled as ""radioactive'' if it contains less than 2,000 picocuries of radiation per gram.
Martin Marietta's waste shipments had an average of 6.7 picocuries per gram, while "radioactivity at the level of 3.2 picocuries per gram is completely harmless,'' they said.
In a March 15 letter to company lawyer Jay A. Brozost, Morrow claimed the company violated three provisions of state law:
The company falsely told the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that its shipments contained no radioactive material.
The company violated an ADEM regulation requiring a detailed description and approval of wastes to be disposed of.
The company shipped radioactive waste to Emelle, which is not permitted to accept it.
More on Emelle and the next threat to Alabama; Landfills: 
"Alabama receives 19 million tons per year from outside of the state; 5 times more than is generated in the state annually."
Various groups fighting landfills in other Southern states say waste companies are taking advantage of dire economic circumstances in poor, sparsely populated rural counties. Landfill fees are lower in the South than anywhere else in the country, according to a national survey by Waste Age magazine. And Alabama landfills charge less than any other Southern state, according to a 2005 analysis by the state of Georgia.
"We're starting to see a trend with these mega-landfills," said Adam Snyder, with Conservation Alabama. "We're supplying space for garbage from the rest of the country."
Snyder said Alabama's permitting process is part of the attraction. ADEM leaves most of the decisions about whether to allow a landfill to local governments, and the siren song of a quick and steady income source has proven attractive to county commissions and city councils statewide. Alabama is home to nine landfills that accept garbage from more than one state.
Document #4
(1992 Federal investigation into Martin Marietta Energy disposing of radioactive waste at Emelle)

Associated Press
Florence Times Daily April 8, 1992
Montgomery--A shipment of radioactive dirt from a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee has attracted the scrutiny of Alabama’s Chief prosecutor.
A Grand Jury is trying to determine whether manifests on the shipments from Martin Marietta Energy Systems Inc. to the Chemical Waste’s Management landfill in West Alabama complied with state law.
Environmental officials have said shipping documents did not indicate the dirt contained uranium before it was disposed at the Emelle landfill.
"There have been public allegations both in the United Sates Congress and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, that Martin Marietta transported nuclear waste to Alabama at the Chem Waste facility in Sumter County.” Attorney General Jimmy Evans said.
The President of Martin Marietta told a U. S. House committee in February that his company shipped 13 million pounds of wastes to disposal facilities that were not licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to handle radioactive material.  
The company said the wastes only contained dirt and debris contaminated with uranium at one-tenth the level considered dangerous under NRC regulations.
The NRC, however, requires radioactive waste of any kind to be sent to a licensed facility.
Chem Waste spokesman Steve Bradley said the soil was tested for radioactivity for arrival at Emelle because it came from a Department of Energy facility that normally handles radioactive materials.
None of the tests by Chem Waste and Alabama Department of Environmental Management found radioactivity levels above that normally would be found in soil in Sumter County he said.
“I don’t know anything about Martin Marietta” Bradley said. All I can tell you is that Chemical Waste Management acted properly in every respect with regard to all federal and state regulations and that the company absolutely, unequivocally violated no laws or regulations in accepting that waste.”
The NRC rules are clear: radioactive wastes can only be sent to an approved facility, no exceptions. It appears the arbitrary decision was made to accept this radioactive waste based on Mr. Bradley's "decision" of what an "acceptable level" is by his quoted position from the news story. Furthermore, since Bradley knew the waste was radioactive, why didn't he and/or Chem Waste alert the NRC that the Martin Marietta shipment manifests were wrong when they reflected zero for radioactive waste?

Maybe because that would have cut into the company's bottom line, held Martin-Marietta and the US Department of Energy accountable, and helped to protect the citizens and environment of Emelle. No one was interested in doing the right thing when there was huge profits to gleaned from bad behavior.

Regulatory agencies are in place for a reason: companies screw up and make bad decisions in pursuit of higher profits and they don't always follow the rules. Environmental adherence and worker safety are not profitable margins for most companies, and they'll choose the wrong thing over the right way if they believe they can get away with it.

The case of Emelle is a prime example of why there should be regulations, but it also illustrates how things can horribly go wrong when it is left up to some businesses to 'police themselves.' (Mr. Bradley went on to a future reward for 'covering' for Martin Marietta at Emelle and became their lobbyist years later.)

After the first discovery of illegal radioactive waste disposal occured, a second incident occured between 1992-1994 involving hundreds of containers of improperly disposed of PCB waste happened again at Emelle.

Document #5
The Demographics of Emelle, Alabama 2008: 
93% black
The median income for a household in the town was $5,833, and the median income for a family was $5,000.
Males had a median income of $36,250 versus $23,333 for females.
The per capita income for the town was $10,738.
There were 66.7% of families and 61.9% of the population living below the poverty line, including 100.0% of under eighteens and none of those over 64.

This illustrates the ongoing question with environmental justice debates-- should the health and quality of life be sacrificed for jobs and economic security?

Which begs the question: should Mr. Bradley be judged by his past business dealings, long-standing controversial decisions, economic relationships and what he has chosen to surround himself with for decades?

The answer, we believe, is unequivocally YES.

*Update-- From a confidential, upper level Alabama Power source on Bradley's tenure at APCO: "We wish he had never been here."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Danger Beneath Our Feet-- Benzene Contamination Decatur, Alabama

This article from 2005 in the Decatur Daily (Decatur, Alabama) is an older article that we will refresh readers about because of the role of ADEM in this story: they did not tell the public what they knew about the benzene contamination which may have resulted in a 4 year old girl becoming ill with Leukemia.

Florida did not tell the public about the benzene in their water supply, they protected WRQ and Florida Rock from legal actions, and the state department (DERM) went out of their way to close the investigation.

Texas' lead agency TCEQ did not tell the public about their benzene contamination.

Three state "environmental" agencies, the lead agencies for protecting the environment and the citizens, and they refused to tell the public until they were found out and pressured to reveal what they already knew.

What is wrong with this picture? Why does this continue to happen? What if this were your child?

Haley Terry

From the story: Danger Beneath Our Feet
By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Staff Writer

What angers Dykes, Harris and Sengstacke is something else they have in common. ADEM never told them the benzene was encroaching on their property.
That fact also angers Harry Terry.
His 5-year-old daughter, Haley, has leukemia, which is among the cancers linked to benzene exposure. 

ADEM first told him in late 2004, after his daughter was diagnosed, that the chemical had seeped into his underground soil. ADEM discovered the leak in 1999, the year Haley Terry was born.
No one knows whether benzene caused Haley Terry's leukemia. Scientists do know that benzene is so toxic that even the small amounts that rise from groundwater into the air and surface soil can be deadly. Gaps in foundations and above crawl spaces permit benzene gas to accumulate in buildings.
Also known: Despite its knowledge of the risk posed by benzene-tainted groundwater, ADEM's practice is to notify only those nearby residents who obtain their drinking water from a well.
"We don't want to unduly alarm people," said Sonja Massey, chief of the groundwater branch of ADEM's water division.
That explanation does not satisfy Harry Terry.
"They don't have to put up yellow tape around a house saying 'Caution: Benzene.' I understand that," he said. "Just send me a letter or put a note on my door."

The health risks benzene poses are frightening.

The extent of benzene's toxicity is reflected in drinking water standards set by the EPA. Above the level of five parts benzene to a billion parts water, benzene poses a health risk.
Imagine an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with drinking water. Five teaspoons of benzene would make the entire pool toxic.
Benzene that makes its way to groundwater is not always content to stay underground. Some of it enters the surface soil. Some enters the air. Because skin and lung tissue absorb benzene, small amounts can be deadly.

The public has a right to know about danger under their feet, no excuses ADEM. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Insider May 26, 2010 The Problem With TCEQ

The problems with the lead environmental agency in Texas from this recent news story are the same problems with Alabama's Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), and their oversight agency; the Environmental Management Commission (EMC).
(**Kudos to the Texas Observer's Forest Wilder for his excellent investigative reporting!)

From the story: (click title for full coverage)
In his six years as a TCEQ commissioner, from 2003 to 2009, Larry Soward got a rare insider’s view of how the agency functions—and how it doesn’t.

“The mindset of the agency is we gotta issue permits, that’s our job, we issue permits,” he said during a recent interview in Houston. “Over the years the culture has been developed to be very friendly to industry and that is the culture the agency lives with every day.”

Commissioners, he says, are routinely lobbied by industry, and company lawyers or industry groups frequently draft rules for the commissioners to consider.

“I refer to it as the mariachi band approach,” Soward says. “You’d have three or four of the lawyers or consultants. They would set up meetings and go office to office with their spiel.”
Three hours after a fire broke out at Citgo's Corpus Christi refinery on July 19, 2009 releasing dangerous chemicals, the TCEQs regional head emailed a colleague; "Apparently there is a fire at Citgo. I'm walking into the Harry Potter movie."

An additional link on the agency's problems with an audio interview and PDF file emails:

Texas just saw the federal government come in and take control of some of their air monitoring permitting because of the complete failure of the state to protect their citizens, the environment and penalize polluters to the fullest extent posssible to force them to comply with regulations in the Houston/Corpus Christi areas.

As we have reported previously, 14 environmental groups are petitioning the EPA to remove ADEMs water control for also failing to enforce state and federal regulations, inspect properly and basically "do their job."

These failures clearly are not just local problems, and they exist everywhere and show a jurisdictional systemic problem with most state agencies.

In our area, Shelby County, Alabama looks to ADEM to do all the inspecting and enforcement for them, even though the EPA has told them in the 34 page federal audit that was an issuance of non compliance with their SWMP; "Larger counties may not rely on ADEM alone."

The Town of Vincent also keeps referring to ADEM for enforcement and inspections; they will also fall under what the EPA issued for the entire county and may not rely solely on ADEM.

Bravo to the EPA for finally stepping up to the plate and cracking down on this long standing issue. Let us hope that they will do the same for Alabama sooner rather than later.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Miami New Times "Poisoned Well" WRQ and Florida Rock Benzene Contamination

**Editors note: We have this story linked on the page but are going to present it in entirety with important passages highlighted for emphasis. It is a compelling story and deserves to be repeated in light of the current Vincent Hills WRQ project proposed for Vincent, Alabama. The refusal of the local officials to secure a third party independent environmental study, exercise due diligence in a responsible manner and thoroughly weigh the potential problems of  this massive operation from a company with such a controversial past are quite troubling.

Poisoned Well
Thursday, Mar 20 2008

Bill Brant, then-director of Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department, got the news January 4, 2005: Benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, had been detected at a county water treatment facility. It was coming from the Northwest Wellfield, which supplies the majority of the county's drinking water. One of 15 wells there had registered benzene levels five times the limit established by the Environmental Protection Agency. Somewhere, somehow, a dangerous amount of the chemical had entered the water supply. 

Benzene, used in everything from shaving cream to industrial lubricant, became a fuel additive in the Sixties, which released it into the air and occasionally, when it spilled, into the water.

In 1977, after exposure to the chemical was found to increase incidents of leukemia, it was listed by the EPA as a hazardous pollutant.

The legal limit for benzene in drinking water is one part per billion.

Brant's staff had found five parts per billion in the water. 

Brant ordered the contaminated well — and four neighboring wells — shut down until the source was detected. Within a few weeks, samples from a second well — now closed — also registered traces of benzene. By that time, Brant had already called for a full-scale investigation, regardless of cost, which grew to nearly $1 million in a few months. The investigation might have cost the director his job.

A public servant for more than 30 years, Brant was hardly known for heroics. He was a bureaucrat, a bean counter who rose through the ranks of the Water and Sewer Department (WASD) — and, before that, the county's Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) — slowly and unglamorously, one small, steady step at a time. Indeed many environmentalists saw Brant as cautious to a fault, reluctant to rock the boat when county politics and water science were at odds with each other.

Not this time. 

The discovery of benzene in the Northwest Wellfield, Brant would later testify in a court hearing, deeply disturbed him. "Benzene didn't belong in our wellfield," he would say later. "We were very alarmed."

Had Brant had any inkling of what was to come, he might have been even more alarmed. The investigation, which would consume the rest of his career in Miami, would never be completed. The contamination continued for years and wasn't brought to the public's attention by the county.

Instead, facts brought to light in later testimony — as well as new findings by New Times — suggest the mystery of benzene was never meant to be solved. Questions about what caused the carcinogen to enter the water supply — and whether it could happen again — remain unanswered.

South Florida depends on one source for all of its potable water: the vast underground sea of clean, fresh water known as the Biscayne Aquifer. The majority of Miami's water — about 150 million gallons per day — is drawn from the Northwest Wellfield, a roughly 2,000-acre area situated in the muddy, desolate wetlands west of Florida's Turnpike.

The remote, half-wild location was supposed to ensure that Miami-Dade's drinking water would be pumped from a source safe from contamination by development and industry. Until now, it had worked.

The threat was not immediate. The Hialeah water treatment facility is capable of removing benzene at up to about 250 parts per billion from water and releasing it into the air. 

But relying on man-made, and therefore fallible, treatment went against Brant's basic principle of protecting our water at the source. "The approach has always been not to rely on any kind of a water treatment plan, but to look at it as a back-up system and always keep the water supply itself, the groundwater supply itself, pure," he later testified.

The Northwest Wellfield was the last pristine water source left in the county; for Brant, its contamination was a tragedy. More disturbing than the tainting itself was the fact that neither Brant nor anyone else had a clue what the source might be.

Days after the benzene was discovered, Brant assembled a team to investigate. Ana Caveda, who had spent years probing environmental contaminations, toxic spills, and pollution cases, was chosen as its leader.

"[WASD assistant director George Rodriguez] told me to put my hound dog nose to the ground to investigate the benzene," she later testified. "It was an emergency — because our source of potable drinking water was at stake." (None of the WASD employees involved in the investigation could be reached for comment.)

She and the three other members of the team set up base camp — a fold-out canopy and a couple of lawn chairs — in the wellfield next to Production Well 1, where the contamination had first been detected. For the next seven months, Caveda spent nearly every working moment in the wellfield, trying to track down the source of the benzene, most commonly the result of spills from petroleum products.

Caveda explored the area by swamp buggy and by foot. She combed the lonely woods, finding ancient paths and following endless miles of ATV tracks into the remote, swampy muck. She found the remains of old fires, abandoned scrap heaps, and even a half-submerged fuel storage tank and a car that had been dumped in a nearby lake. All were quickly ruled out.

Brant's team had begun exploring the possibility that the benzene was originating from a deeper and more distant source. The chemical, according to Bill Pitt, a professional civil engineer and hydrologist on Brant's team, was being drawn into the wells; it couldn't possibly be coming from nearby, for it would have to flow against the current created by the pumps.

But if it wasn't a spill, what was the cause? There is only one industrial presence in the area: rock mining.

The wellfield is bordered by rock mines owned by White Rock Quarries and Florida Rock.

As Brant's team followed the path of ever-higher concentrations of benzene, it led them south and east — right to the rock mines.

Anyone considering moving to Mars might want to have a look at the White Rock quarry to get a feel for the view.

Situated directly between the communities of western Miami-Dade County and the wellfield that supplies their water, the quarry is a vast, blinding expanse of white — the color of crushed limestone — set against a backdrop of scraggly, grayish-green vegetation.

The quarry sits at the very end of NW 58th Street, past the seemingly endless strip malls, big-box stores, and cookie-cutter subdivisions — all built with Florida limestone — where the road abruptly narrows and appears to end in the bushes. 

It doesn't end, though; behind the brush, it opens onto another world.

Massive earth movers, caked in a gray crust of mud and dust, rumble along the road, hauling piles of crushed limestone. Near the quarry entrance stands a shack, a small cafeteria for the workers, its plastic tables outside turned gray with a coat of limestone powder. To the south is the mining pit — a vast, almost perfectly square lake, its water an unnatural, almost turquoise hue, stretching far into the distance.

It just so happens limestone, the same material that contains and naturally filters all of South Florida's drinking water, makes great concrete. It has been mined in this area since the Fifties. In the late Nineties, the Florida Legislature set aside for mining companies the so-called Lake Belt region, of which the Northwest Wellfield is a part. The "lakes" are the result of blasting and are large enough to be seen from space.

Florida produces and consumes more rock — crushed limestone in particular — than any other state except California. Without the cheap rock coming out of the Everglades, the building of South Florida as we know it today would not have been possible.

Florida's development boom gave the rock miners unprecedented wealth to invest.

They bought political influence, hiring high-profile lobbyists such as Ron Book, Kerri Barsh, former County Manager Sergio Pereira, and Miami megalawyer Miguel De Grandy. In 2004, De Grandy successfully lobbied the county commission to do away with requiring rock miners to hold public hearings in order to obtain permits.

Among the sponsors of that ordinance was Commissioner Natacha Seijas, one of the miners' most loyal allies. In her 2004 re-election campaign, she received at least $2,500 from 13 donors connected to the mining industry, including Barsh and De Grandy. In addition, in 2006, White Rock Quarries and Barsh's law firm contributed a combined $10,000 to a committee fighting Seijas's recall.

Brant's team had begun to suspect the benzene was coming from the rock mines.

For one thing, in an area otherwise devoid of development or industry, it was impossible not to notice the proximity of the mines, whose operations had expanded right up to the edge of the wellfield. Getting to the pumps required a drive through a rock mine.

Early in her investigation, Caveda passed through property leased by Florida Rock to get to a monitoring well. She asked her escort, the environmental manager for the site, how the mining process worked. She learned that as many as 40 four-inch-wide holes were drilled into the ground, filled with explosives, and blown up. 

The holes, Caveda noted with special interest, were drilled 60 feet deep — the same depth at which the highest levels of benzene were being found. She began inquiring about the nature of the fuel the company used and learned that most of the mining firms were using ANFO — ammonium nitrate fuel oil — of which a small constituent is benzene.

The miners denied the blasting could have anything to do with the contamination.

The explosions were very powerful and very hot, they insisted, and consumed any potential waste products such as benzene.

But there was reason to doubt that asssertion.

One day, as Caveda was driving down 41st Street on her way to property leased by Florida Rock, she saw something that made her stop the vehicle. "There was this big cloud of yellow smoke," she explained later in court. "A yellow plume of some sort that floated across the road.... We stopped the car in the middle of the road. I said, 'I'm not driving through that because I don't know what it is.'"

When she got to the mine, Caveda phoned Florida Rock and asked the company's environmental manager about the cloud. He told her it had come from a failed explosion. 

"[He said], "Oh it happens all the time," Caveda testified. "No big deal from their perspective.... So that's when we found out that, okay, well, we are putting diesel fuel in the ground and maybe sometimes we can't explode it, so what happens now?"

On April 13, Bill Brant sent a memo to the head of DERM, John Renfrow. In it Brant described the highest levels of benzene yet recorded coming from a monitoring well near the rock mines. 

He requested that "DERM provide appropriate notification to all affected property owners requiring them to define the source of the contamination found on their land." It was the first time Brant had linked, in the public record, the tainted water with rock mining.

Brant wrote again to Renfrow in May, after Caveda detected a sharp spike in the benzene levels only a few days after blasting took place at the White Rock Quarry.

Brant asked DERM to notify the State of Florida, the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "and all the agencies permitting the rock mining activities in the area of the results of the investigation."

But that didn't happen.

Two days later, Renfrow called Brant's requests "inappropriate and premature ... it is not possible at this time to conclusively identify a source or determine liability for the documented benzene contamination."

At one point, Brant would later testify, Renfrow even suggested terrorists were behind the benzene — again despite the abundant evidence that the carcinogen was coming up through the water supply and not seeping down.

Meanwhile DERM insisted the spike in benzene reported by Caveda represented a different contamination, entirely separate from the benzene readings just more than a mile away.

In a recent interview, DERM pollution control division chief Wilbur Mayorga explained the agency's rationale: "If the two sites represented the same contamination, benzene should be detected at the wells between them, and it wasn't."

But New Times discovered that DERM barely sampled those wells over the next three months, and those that were monitored — in June and July — did, in fact, contain benzene .

Nevertheless, Renfrow used this reasoning — that the contaminated wells were unrelated — to justify DERM's decision not to aggressively sample from around the rock mines.

Brant was flabbergasted at Renfrow's claims. But he would not write any further memoranda about the contamination. Not because he didn't want to, but because he was ordered not to. "I was told not to write any more memos to Joe Ruiz, the assistant county manager," Brant later testified.

Brant was further ordered to hand the investigation over to DERM. And in January 2006, after 27 years of county service, Brant was asked to submit his resignation. 
His replacement: John Renfrow.

This wasn't the first time Renfrow had backed off of enforcing environmental regulations in the face of political clout.

In 1998, a group of Redland residents began calling on DERM to shut down the operations of Thomas Andres Mestre, a politically connected trucking mogul who had hauled more than 200,000 tons of organic waste matter to a nearby lot to be processed and sold as compost.

"It turned out that this stuff contained all kinds of low levels of hazardous waste," recalls resident and activist John Wade, a retired environmental compliance officer for Florida Power and Light (FPL) who helped lead the fight against Mestre. "It contained lead and zinc and mercury and all kinds of stuff. And so we started looking at the DERM records."

Under Renfrow's command, Wade discovered, DERM had been sampling the area and had known about the contamination. 

"They knew about these materials," Wade says. "But DERM didn't care; they wouldn't do anything about it.... Eventually DERM gave [Mestre] extra time to reduce the amount of material on this site — no fines, no anything."

Renfrow, who earns $223,791 a year, did not respond to several attempts by New Times to reach him for comment via telephone and e-mail.

His lackadaisical approach to confronting special interests carried over to rock mining, says Mike Pizzi, a Miami Lakes councilman and attorney who represented the Redland residents.

In 2004, Renfrow spoke in favor of an ordinance that would make it unnecessary for mining companies to hold public hearings before getting permits.

"He was a water boy for the rock miners," Pizzi says. "He didn't monitor their activities, he recommended their expansion, and they could do no wrong. Whatever they wanted to do was fine with him."

In 2000, the Miami Herald reported that DERM, under Renfrow's command, allowed rock mining companies to operate with expired environmental permits, some of them as much as four years out of date.

"Just because they don't have a piece of paper doesn't mean we have been looking the other way," Renfrow told the paper. "We know they don't have the permit."

Says Pizzi: "John Renfrow is completely asleep at the switch. When they discover benzene — a cancer-causing substance — they don't do anything, and they don't tell the public.... Instead Renfrow gets put in charge of the water department, and Brant gets canned — because he was a whistleblower."

Benzene reached the public consciousness through sheer luck, when an environmental activist and Sierra Club member named Barbara Lange made a trip one afternoon in the summer of 2005 to WASD to look at files related to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Natural Resource Defense Council seeking to vacate the mining companies' permits in the area.

"I'm going through this massive stack of papers, and I see all this stuff about benzene," Lange tells New Times. "I had no idea what I had found.... I just brought it back to the lawyers and said, 'Here you go.'"

Tall and pretty, with thick dark hair, Lange has a quirky, unpredictable personality that vacillates easily between earnest environmental passion and a wry, down-to-earth sense of humor. She had been introduced to the rock miners in 1992, when she was appointed to a Lake Belt committee established by the state legislature to assess the environmental impact of rock mining.

The committee, she quickly realized, was composed mostly of lobbyists for the rock miners.

"It was all about how to make the most profit for the rock miners," she recalls. "It was like a rock miner fest!"

In 2002, she helped bring together the environmental groups to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for issuing the permits to the rock companies. Lange struck gold when she found out about the benzene.

"What the benzene did was, it said this isn't a hypothetical risk," explains lawyer Brad Sewell, who represented the plaintiffs in a hearing before U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler. "This isn't just someone's worst-case scenario; this is something that can and has happened. Something has gone from the wellfield — most likely via a mining pit — to the water supply."

On July 13, despite the best efforts of the mining companies to downplay the significance of benzene in the case, Hoeveler ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, vacating the rock miners' permit and ordering the three companies closest to the wells — Florida Rock, White Rock, and Tarmac — to halt mining in the area. 

Benzene figured prominently in his scathing, 176-page written opinion.

"In three decades of federal judicial service, this Court has never seen a federal agency respond so indifferently to clear evidence of significant environmental risks," Hoeveler wrote. "It now appears that even the local governmental agencies have yielded, perhaps as a result of increasing pressure from the mining companies or others."

Brant's testimony in particular distressed the judge, as he noted in a footnote:  
"It is troubling to the Court that William Brant, who had worked for the county for 27 years, may have been forced to resign as Director of WASD soon after he had advocated, in candid memoranda, for a full investigation of the source of the benzene — an investigation which might have exposed mining activities as the source."

And Hoeveler showed little faith in Brant's replacement: "Whatever the county's reasons for removing Brant as Director of WASD may be, the evidence does not suggest that the new leadership will result in any greater protection of the Wellfield."

On a recent afternoon, New Times drove with Lange out to the Northwest Wellfield. At the west end of the quarry, the road was blocked by a rickety electric mesh fence. On the other side was a tiny wooden guard shack. "There's our water," Lange said as she got out of the car, holding a scarf against her face as dust whipped by. "And there," she added, waving an elbow at the lake, "is the mining."

Even if mining resumes, DERM's Mayorga says, there is nothing to worry about. He points out that miners have voluntarily switched to a benzene-free "mineral oil" — a point the newspapers have dutifully repeated. 

But that might not solve the problem.

The underwater blasting process itself will inevitably generate benzene, according to court testimony by Remmy Hennet, an independent geochemist brought in by the plaintiffs. Combustion always produces benzene, he tells New Times, "even if it is olive oil.... That is well-established science."

Meanwhile, in April, just before judge Hoeveler halted the mining, DERM and officials from WASD — now led by John Renfrow — restarted the five production wells Brant had ordered shut down.

In an interview, Mayorga defended the move, saying that when the wells reopened, benzene was not present. "Rock mining was still going on at that time," he said. "Benzene was not detected at that time."

DERM Director Carlos Espinosa said the same in a November 15, 2007 response to questions from county Commissioner Katy Sorenson: "It is worthwhile to note that since the reactivation [of production wells 1 and 2], benzene has not been detected in the raw water."

What they did not mention was that although there was no detectable contamination in the raw water — which is drawn from the entire wellfield — benzene was in fact present in both wells when they reopened in April.

The chemical was also found in June, and in July — when it reached 12 parts per billion, more than twice the amount that originally closed the wells down.

The next samples were taken in November, four months after mining was ordered shut down.

The benzene was gone.

Mayorga dismisses those findings as "residual contamination."

As to the original contamination, DERM officially concluded this past February that it was "unable to identify the source." Espinosa insists DERM did everything it could to find it.

"The very fact that they failed to reach a conclusion shows the quality of the investigation and what the county wanted to come out of it," said Brad Sewell, a lawyer for the environmentalists. "How can you do an investigation into the finding of a carcinogen at above legally accepted levels in the water supply ... and then, a year and a half later, close the books and say, "Oh, we didn't figure out what the problem was?"

Asked why DERM never required the rock miners to account for the benzene that was likely coming from their property, Espinosa said, "If we were going to sit there and argue with the rock miners and their lawyers ... [when] there really wasn't data that you could point to as a smoking gun, what do you do? If we determine that it is the rock miners, then we will go and recover the cost."

With the investigation officially concluded, though, that doesn't seem likely.

Espinosa is undoubtedly right about one thing: Crossing the rock miners, and their lawyers, is no simple task. The mining companies immediately appealed Hoeveler's decision, and the matter is still in litigation. Meanwhile, they've already applied for permits to resume blasting.