[Pharmwaste] Chemicals come from everywhere, everyone

DeBiasi,Deborah Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Mon Dec 21 11:00:43 EST 2009


Chemicals come from everywhere, everyone
By Guest Columnist 

December 20, 2009, 9:20AM

Dick Pedersen is director of the Oregon Department of Environmental

In The Sunday Oregonian, reporter Les Zaitz delved into the complexities
of regulating one toxic chemical -- mercury ("Oregon dropped the ball on
mercury," Dec. 13). The article correctly stated that, until a few years
ago, neither the federal nor the state government were aware of the
scale of mercury emissions at the Ash Grove Cement Co. plant in Durkee.
Although the effects of mercury are well known, no one has assessed the
health of residents or the local environment near the plant. 

While Zaitz's article aims a spotlight on mercury, it raises concerns
that apply to other toxics and their effects. He outlines how
ineffective the regulatory construct is and can be. And he highlights
how the actions of dedicated public servants, such as Patty Jacobs and
Bruce Hope of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, can change
how a state does business. 

The current weak federal regulations to keep the mercury emissions of
cement factories in check do not require any reductions from the Ash
Grove plant. While the Environmental Protection Agency moved quickly
under the current administration to propose more stringent requirements,
this issue has languished for the past two decades. But in proposing new
rules, the EPA has created new questions because its proposed mercury
limits can't be met at the Durkee plant by any known pollution-control
technology. Oregon DEQ asked the EPA to carefully consider the net
environmental benefit of the decision if it results in closing the
Durkee plant. Will closing that facility be the best overall outcome for
the environment? 

The mercury emissions from the Ash Grove plant highlights a much bigger
problem for all Oregonians: toxics in the environment. Recently DEQ
conducted a preliminary assessment of toxics in the Willamette Basin.
Our scientists found a mix of chemicals -- mostly in trace amounts, yet
present nonetheless -- including chemicals from pharmaceuticals, from
perfumes in personal care products like shampoo, from insecticides and
pesticides, and, yes, long-term environmental villains like DDT, PCBs
and mercury. Not one fish tested was mercury-free. Indications are that
toxics in the environment come from virtually everywhere and everyone. 

Across the state, neighbors close to emission sources are asking
questions, and rightly so: Is the mix of chemicals from these sources
toxic for them and their children? What is safe? Are land-use decisions
that promote dense residential neighborhoods near industrial facilities
and highways consistent with maintaining healthy air and water quality?
Do Oregon's air quality regulations protect neighborhoods from
manganese, lead and other emissions, even if these emissions are well
below DEQ permit requirements? 

Toxic pollutants in the environment are just now getting the attention
and focus they deserve -- a problem that local, state and federal
environmental and health officials, and the public, must work together
to address. DEQ recently held a toxics reduction workshop in which
nearly 200 government officials, environmentalists, industry
representative and private Oregonians met to begin discussing ways to
mitigate toxics in our environment. Last month I joined 12 other states
in signing a statement of principles calling for reform and
strengthening of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The
Environmental Quality Commission, DEQ's rule-making board, is
reconsidering the amount of toxic pollution allowed in Oregon's waters,
knowing that the current limits are woefully inadequate to protect
consumers of fish caught in Oregon's rivers and streams. 

The Oregonian's article on mercury showed how painfully slow progress
can be. It can take 10 or more years from identifying a problem to
addressing it adequately -- a frustration for DEQ and the public. I want
to speed that process, but I need Oregonians' help. Industry,
environmental advocates, state and local governments, neighbors and
citizens must work together to address our environmental problems. DEQ
welcomes this involvement. It is powerful. And it is these combined
forces that will protect Oregonian's public health and environment. 

Dick Pedersen is director of the Oregon Department of Environmental

Deborah L. DeBiasi 
Email:   Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov (NEW!)
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov 
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality 
Office of Water Permit Programs 
Industrial Pretreatment/Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) Program 
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219 
PH:         804-698-4028 
FAX:      804-698-4032 

More information about the Pharmwaste mailing list