The EPA Does It Again

Actually, they did it five months ago. But it has gotten hardly any publicity. Maybe in the wake of the EPA’s Gold King Mine disaster, people will pay attention to what the agency did in Greensboro, Georgia:

In Greensboro, EPA-funded contractors grading a toxic 19th-century cotton mill site struck a water main, sending the deadly sediment into a nearby creek. …

The sediment flows carry dangerous mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium downstream to the Oconee River — home to many federally and state protected species — and toward the tourist destination of Lake Oconee.

Lead in the soil is 20,000 times higher than federal levels established for drinking water, said microbiologist Dave Lewis, who was a top-level scientist during 31 years at the Environmental Protection Agency. …

The mill site contains 34 hazardous chemicals, 30 of which are on the EPA’s list of priority pollutants because of “high toxicity, persistence, lack of degradability, and harmful effects on living organisms,” Lewis wrote.


The EPA has issued conflicting pronouncements about the Georgia project and its role in it:

The agency has offered conflicting statements about its involvement in the project, alternating between knowing nothing, providing only data and guidance, and acknowledging, finally, that it funded cleanup and development at the site through a grant to the state.

Lewis says his former employer, the EPA, never showed any concern in several responses to his ongoing pleas regarding hazards around the old mill.

In letters to Lewis and David Kopp, who represented the residents in their court case, the EPA downplayed toxicity in the land, pointing to low levels in a 2010 sampling. Lewis says he tested his own samples at the University of Georgia, where he worked for a time as a marine biologist. The results staggered him.

But the EPA told him it knew nothing about Mary Leila Cotton Mill.

“There is no federal agency involved with this project at the mill property,” EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney wrote Lewis on Jan. 9. “This property does not warrant federal action at this time.”

Five months later, in a May 28 letter to Lewis, Toney admitted the program was an “EPA brownfields grant-funded project” and that “remediation must be conducted in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment.” The state directed the developer to “maintain the mill property in a manner that protects humans from exposure to hazardous constituents while the property is undergoing corrective action.”

Which, of course, didn’t happen. For some reason, many people believe that government is more capable or more trustworthy than private business. Actually, the opposite is true. Government agencies are usually both less competent and less accountable than private industry. And when they make mistakes, they frequently lack transparency, as the EPA has shown repeatedly.