Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ashtabula - A Sacrifice Zone to Greed


Ashtabula, Ohio, is facing problems which could overload their already struggling social welfare services. Across America more people are being forced onto food stamps or facing starvation. Some of these have lost their jobs. Others can no longer work because of disabilities which can be accounted for in other ways.

This appears to be especially true, and becoming more so, in Ashtabula, a small town of 29,000 inhabitants which sits at the epicenter of four superfund sites, one of the most in any county in Ohio today.

While many of the companies responsible for the toxic waste have packed up and moved operations to third world countries, others have moved in, continuing the same practices. From the perspective of such companies, for instance Millennium, the attractions of the area include the history of previous pollution. Although the impact on the people and environment, calculated monetarily, would be enormous the company has routinely paid a tiny stipend, frequently around $50,000 a year in fines to the EPA.

Diseases and conditions which, two generations ago, were barely known, now account for a significant number of the individuals now requiring aid. Among these conditions are Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis, both neurological in origin, both becoming far more common in Ashtabula.

From multiple directions and sources indications now affirm something has changed. Tracking the incidence of these devastating diseases could result in nothing but more rapid action to identify the conditions which are increasing their incidence in Americans. Yet legislation which would accomplish this is stalled in Congress. In 2010, the House passed H.R. 1362, a act similar to the stalled Senate bill, S. 425: National Neurological Diseases Surveillance System Act of 2011.

The House bill passed with 206 cosponsors. The nearly identical Senate bill has 14 cosponsors, nine Democrats and five Republicans.. Both would provide for the establishment of permanent national surveillance systems for multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological diseases and disorders. But until both pass and are signed into law, this cannot happen.

Having information freely available not only enables better choices for all of us, today it may well spell the difference between life and death for many Americans. Not knowing forces us to struggle in ignorance of facts essential for our health and well-being. And since these facts widely include information collected and retained by those in public service, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, this calls into question the motives of those working for government.

In Steve Lerner's book, “Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States,” we see the unstated policy of ignoring corporate impact in specific areas for reasons which are never stated, also applied to the lives of the people who live there. The section of the Lerner book, which outlines the impact of Manganese poisoning in Marietta, Ohio, could well have been written about Ashtabula.

By so doing, the joining of corporate interests with the power of the state to externalize their costs and so augment their profits. In a rational world destroying the present value of resources which are common to all of us as the life-spans, intellectual and health of people are diminished and destroyed would be automatically treated as crimes.

Evading the consequences of these crimes by using the institutions of government smacks of a violation under color of law. Now, we must ask ourselves if the present compilation of policies is random, or planned.

A“National Sacrifice Zone” is defined as an area so contaminated or depleted of its resources as to have little or no future use. The term has been applied to areas which are badly polluted through previous corporate abuse of resources which go far beyond any right of ownership which can, rationally, be claimed by those responsible. Of the enormous number of examples presently in the forefront of public consciousness are fracking and manganese poisoning.

But the 'sacrifice zones' go beyond land, air, water, and the environment of which these are elements. It also includes people. In Ashtabula, and across both Ohio and Indiana, the sacrifice made to corporate prosperity included people's health, their lives, and an additional cost has been paid in the slow, but inevitable shock suffered as they individually discovered the institutions, for which we pay, were actually working against them.

As you read Lerner's book you hear the words of ordinary Americans, struggling to understand what is happening to them and why their lives and well being do not matter.

“We thought we had the American dream,” says Lesley Kuhl, who since 2002 has lived with her husband and two young children on a quiet, leafy street in Marietta, Ohio.

Mrs. Kuhl is a Republican, who considered herself conservative, when the threat to her children forced her into action along with both environmental activists and others in her town, like Caroline Beidler, who could no longer ignore the visible impact of pollutants on the health of their families.

Caroline Beidler and her husband, Keith Bailey, a carpenter, had built their “dream home,” in Marietta, Ohio. At the time they were unaware that their little piece of heaven was only four miles, as the crow flies, from the French-owned ferroalloy plant of Eramet Marietta, Inc.

According to Steve Lerner, author of “Sacrifice Zones,” “Eramet (which uses manganese, cadmium, and lead, among other feedstocks, to strengthen steel and purify chromium) releases tons of heavy metal dust into the air. It is one of the county’s top polluters.”

Their efforts transitioned from an informal club which logged the ugly odors carried by the breeze from the plant to increasingly organized efforts to stop the emissions. These struggles began in 2002. They continue today.

Tetrachloroethylene, “a chemical that can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, unconsciousness, and even death.,” was only one of the pollutants being emitted. Tetrachloroethylene was not even on the long list of chemicals that Eramet admitting having released. In 2004, the company did, “emit 15,000 pounds of chromium compounds into the air and 75,000 pounds into the river and 500,000 pounds of airborne manganese.”

Manganese is a known neurotoxin. Manganese poisoning mimics Parkinson's Disease, among many other conditions.

At first, Beidler was reluctant to make trouble. Over time she realized just how many road blocks existed between the safety of her children. Little help was forthcoming from state regulatory officials.

They discovered how many ways accountability could be evaded by companies which routinely spend money to influence government but never enough to solve the problems they create. Fingers were pointed in every possible direction but little changed.

According to Lerner, “Total releases of toxic chemicals by Eramet reported to federal officials were radically cut from about 12 million pounds when the company was purchased in 2000 to about 6 million pounds of TRI releases in 2004.”

In December 2005 a report by David Pace of the Associated Press listed Eramet as the top factory nationwide “whose emissions created the most potential health risk for residents in the surrounding community.” Washington County was ranked number one for the “highest health risk from industrial pollution in 2000.”

This was the year Lesley Kuhl really confronted the problem.

The group which formed around Beidler and Kuhl, “began to collect information about air quality in their region and make their network of members aware of key regulatory developments, scientific studies, health studies, and emissions at Eramet.”

The bottom-line motive was the continuing threat to children, their children. In December 2005 Mrs. Kuhl read an article in the local newspaper on the impact of elevated levels of air-borne heavy metals their possible impact on the development of the brains of very young children. The Kuhl children had suffered numerous sinus infections that had to be treated with antibiotics, and one of whom was diagnosed with a developmental disorder. Loss of IQ points was also listed as a possibility.

Further research revealed older people could experience mood and movement problems from exposure. Suggestions for a 'study,' to take three years, was not a solution.

Also, the families realized even moving was no guarantee of a safe haven. How could they know where was safe? Their children began to be tested for manganese exposure.

The Kuhls and others continued to be shocked at the disregard for the health and well being of their children. Their knowledge of the problem, and how long it had been known, increased.

Dick Wittberg, another resident, who heads the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, had carried out a pilot study in the late 1990s. The study compared the ability of children in Marietta to perform physical tasks and answer academic questions. These were compared the results from Marietta with, “a control sample of children from a similar-sized town in Athens, Ohio, located forty-five miles away.”

A battery of 13 tests were administered to fourth-graders in both cities. The children were matched, “for age, sex, and parental education. The tests measured such things as educational proficiency, balance, visual contrast sensitivity, and short-term memory.”

The results were disturbing: “across the board: the Marietta youngsters scored significantly lower on the tests than did those from Athens.” In his opinion, “the study points to some neurological differences and one has to suspect manganese. Nobody knows, for kids, how much [exposure] is too much.”

The stalling tactics continue from Aramet.

Protocols for handling potential pollutants, thus eliminating the danger of impact exist today.  This is not rocket science.  The only impact to be felt if such procedures become standard is to end a threat to public health, the need  for clean-up, all too often paid for by taxpayers, and awaken corporate balance sheets to the reality of a real free market.  There is no inherent freedom to cause harm to others. 

It is time to get specific about what protocols must be applied and on the issue of liability.

This is how a free market is applied. You can tell if it is a free market because if government can intervene to limit liability or allow acts which are, by their nature criminal, what you are seeing is corporate fascism.

As bad as the situation is in Marietta, what is facing Ashtabula could be far worse. The toxic releases of Manganese are double what is present in Marietta, the source of pollution, Millennium, is far closer to population centers, and a clock, of which we have only recently become aware, is ticking toward a point of no return for many people.

A study, Parkinsonism Induced by Chronic Manganese Intoxication– An Experience in Taiwan, by Chin-Chang Huang, MD, includes the troubling facts, “Excessive manganese exposure may induce a neurological syndrome called manganism, which is similar to Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, close observation of patients with manganism reveals a clinical disease entity different from PD, not only in the clinical manifestations, but also in therapeutic responses. “ “...after long-term follow-up studies, patients with manganism showed prominent deterioration in the parkinsonian symptoms during the initial 5-10 years, followed by a plateau during the following 10 years.”

The summary, in large part quoted above, ends with, “Although typical patients with manganism are different from patients with PD, the potential risk of inhaling welding fumes, which may accelerate the onset of PD or even induce PD, has been raised during recent years. This controversial topic requires further investigation.

The results of this study should be considered along with this graph showing money spent on lobbying by the American Chemical Council. Source: Open Secrets While it is nearly impossible to know how the money was spent the timing is telling.

Also available to influence legislators are the many corporations who readily donate to non-profits which, people believe, are working solely to protect them. These include, “3M, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Motors, Occidental Petroleum, Philip Morris, Proctor & Gamble and W.R. Grace,” according to Integrity in Science, who routinely tracks such relationships.

The people of Ashtabula are not inhaling fumes from working as welding. They are getting it directly and it is time action was taken to establish real standards backed up by real disincentives as those impacted are compensated. In so doing, Ashtabula can begin the process of returning America to a nation of law and justice.

For more information contact Ashtabula Renewal – The Clean-Up ashtabulanenewal.org
Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, Organizing Director, Dave Lincoln, Technical Director

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