Archive for May 27, 2008

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Source: Lisa Sorg – Independent Weekly

The Department of Homeland Security withheld documents about the proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility from congressional members and investigators, prompting a House committee chairman to call its actions “unacceptable and grossly improper.”

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, lambasted the agency, stating “I want to know why DHS thinks it is above the law.”

In addition, testimony revealed that DHS relied on a flawed study to justify moving the proposed federal disease research lab to the mainland United States, raising serious questions about the project’s transparency and accuracy.

DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have proposed building the $450 billion NBAF at one of five U.S. sites, including nearby Butner. The lab would study some of the world’s most deadly animal diseases, including the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease that affects cattle, pigs and sheep. By law, that virus can be studied only at Plum Island Animal Disease Center, off the tip of Long Island, where it has been contained since 1955. However, the recent Farm Bill, which Congress passed, authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to allow the virus to be imported to the mainland United States.

The lab would also study diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Nancy Kingsbury, a research expert with the Government Accountability Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, testified May 22 that DHS refused to turn over documents pertaining to the draft environmental impact studies required from each proposed NBAF site. Those studies are due to be released to the public next month, but the GAO generally has access to such documents before that time. DHS justified their withholding saying they contained “proprietary information.”


“Under our rules of access there is no basis for this,” Kingsbury testified. “I don’t believe they are proprietary.”

She also testified that DHS has failed to quickly provide other documents to the GAO and delayed an investigatory trip to Plum Island for six weeks.

As for the reasoning behind moving the lab to the mainland, Kingsbury told the committee that DHS justified that recommendation based on a flawed 2002 USDA study. “The research was selective in what it considered,” she said, adding it didn’t address how to manage large numbers of infected animals, nor did it consider the history of outbreaks in other countries.

There has not been an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United States since 1929, likely from natural sources, but the virus has been accidentally released from laboratories in the United Kingdom, resulting the destruction of thousands of animals and a ban on meat exports. A Canadian lab conducts research on the virus, but it is located in an urban area, far from farmland.

DHS apparently ignored the study’s conclusion that considering the cost of the environmental cleanup at Plum Island, it made sense to keep the lab there.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said, “The GAO report is troubling to me. There is no study of the safety; it’s mind-boggling. I’m flummoxed as to why this decision has gone on.”

While a release can happen at any laboratory, Kingsbury said additional risks comes from a facility’s proximity to livestock, farms and other populated areas. Plum Island has no livestock, except those being experimented on, and the deer that swim the channel to the island are shot.

“Most experts we interviewed have said the island provides an additional layer of protection,” she said.

In prepared testimony, Jay Cohen, an undersecretary of Homeland Security, said “While there is always a risk of human error … the redundancies built into modern research laboratory designs and the latest biosecurity and containment systems … effectively minimizes these risks.”

U.S. Rep. Charles Pickering Jr., a Republican from Mississippi, one of the proposed sites, and representatives from the Kansas delegation lobbying DHS to locate the lab in their state downplayed the risks posed by the lab.

“Cattlemen and farmers in Mississippi and Louisiana think this can be done safely,” Pickering said.

Digging through the news over the long holiday weekend I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of  my daily reads, Daily Kos got into the NBAF debate with,  “Another Looming Bush Disasterthe comments are a must read. I especially liked.

Bush is an “end times” nutjob.  I think I’ve commented before about how my parents had a brief flirtation with the “Book of Revelation predicts end times soon” crowd, and how many of Bush’s statements perked up my ears because much of what he was saying reminded me of what the books said.

He considers it his God-given task to set it all up.  War in the Middle East, economic dislocations (did anybody else notice that his response to hearing about $4 gas almost seemed pleased?), etc.  An outbreak of F&M from this facility if moved to the mainland (which would be almost inevitable) would be just another step towards the conditions that he believes have to be in place to fulfill the prophecies.

Ahhh sanity but then I find,

A congressional subcommittee held a hearing last week  that explored  whether it is a good idea to work with such contagious pathogens in the heart of cattle country.

The new facility, wherever it is built, will rely on multiple layers for the most advanced technologies to make sure that the diseases being studied never escape the building, said Jerry Jaax, associate vice president for research compliance at Kansas State.

NBAF is an example of what Kansas and, I would say, the region needs to do more,” Thornton said.

That explored? Umm I believe “that exploded” would have been better choice of words, that is if you actually watched the hearing? Do they have cabin in Kansas? 

Problems at plant prompt skepticism

Source: Lisa Sorg- Independent Weekly

The state has fined a southern Granville County wastewater treatment plant more than $27,000 in the last five years, prompting local citizens to question its discharge permit, which is up for renewal.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources levied the fines for several violations including extraordinarily high levels of mercury in water leaving the facility. And in February, the state’s Division of Water Quality sent the Southern Granville Water and Sewer Authority a letter of violation for excessive amounts of antimony in its discharge.

Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, is among many environmental watchdogs concerned the plant won’t be able to handle additional wastewater from the new psychiatric facility, scheduled to open later this year in Butner, or the proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility that also could be sited in Butner.

For NBAF alone, the plant could have to receive and treat an estimated 80,000 gallons of pretreated wastewater.

“We’re concerned about groundwater contamination and well water,” Taylor said, adding she believes local industries aren’t adequately pretreating their water before it arrives at SGWASA. “If there’s nothing to filter it at the upper end, it comes in unfiltered. We see it as a transfer of liability.”

Susan Massengale, spokesperson for the N.C. Division of Water Quality, agrees that the plant’s main problem is its pretreatment system, including working with local industrial customers, such as Hanes Dye & Finishing in Butner, to ensure they are pretreating their own waste before sending it to SGWASA.

“The plant itself is being run pretty well, but we really need them to have the paperwork to back up the monitoring they need to be doing,” Massengale said. “They need to be managing the pretreatment program appropriately.”

When Butner was under state jurisdiction, the treatment plant was run by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. From 2005-2007, the plant was non-compliant with the Clean Water Act in every quarter, according to Environmental Protection Agency documents. In 2005, the plant reported mercury levels in discharged water that exceeded allowable amounts by 7,500 percent.

Treated wastewater from the SGWASA plant flows into Knap of Reeds Creek, a section of which has been listed as impaired by the EPA since at least 2000. According to the EPA, the causes for the impairment are unknown, but the creek, a tributary at the north end of Falls Lake, as been flagged as a high priority. Falls Lake is Raleigh’s primary source of drinking water and a popular fishing spot.

Mercury can be found in fish because when the element enters water it settles in the sediment, where bacteria convert it to methylmercury. Fish absorb methylmercury when they feed on smaller organisms.

After Butner incorporated as its own town last year, it had to form a governing body, the SGWASA, to oversee the plant’s operations. According to the EPA, the plant was in compliance during the fourth quarter of 2007. No data is yet available for early 2008.

The public can send written comments on the draft permit through May 28; submit them to Water Quality Section Chief, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. Be sure to include SGWASA’s permit number, NC0026824.

Verbal comments will also be accepted at a June 19 public hearing in Raleigh, during which several facilities’ permits will be discussed.

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