Order amid Chaos

The Fight Against On-Site Incineration, Lock Haven, PA

The Drake Chemical Company operated their factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania for over 30 years, producing specialty chemicals for dyes pharmaceuticals, pesticides and herbicides. The plant is in the center of the city of Lock Haven, across the street from homes and a park. Drake Chemical closed the plant, leaving behind nine acres of contaminated soil. Contaminants included beta-Naphthylamine, a potent bladder carcinogen; volatile organic compounds; and several other chlorinated chemicals. The chemicals were found to be leaking into groundwater and a local creek, leading to the inclusion of the site on the Superfund cleanup list in 1982. The EPA cleanup involved moving drums, sludges and liquids, containing the substances leaking from the site, and fencing the property. The last phase of the project is to dispose of more than 300,000 tons of contaminated soil. In 1995, EPA announced how it proposed to do that. Their choice was an on-site incinerator.

Arrest the Incinerator Remediation (AIR) has been fighting this "remedy" since it was proposed. We don't want to be forced to live with the consequences of this dangerous technology. We know that the incineration will expose Lock Haven residents to dioxin and that any amount of dioxin exposure is too much. We also know that temporary, "on-site" incinerators have lots of problems with leaks and emissions. We are not asking EPA not to clean up the site. We are asking them not to burden us with any more pollution as part of their cleanup. Incineration of contaminated soil is a "solution" that is as bad or worse than the problem it is supposed to solve.

AIR has fought for more than three years to stop the incineration at Drake. We have challenged the EPA's decision in the federal courts, only to be told that citizens don't have the right to sue the federal government, even if there is evidence of irreparable harm, until a project is complete and the damage is done. The court would not consider our case on the merits of incineration.

AIR has found our own experts to challenge the "risk assessment" EPA did for the incineration. Our "Real Review" of EPA's peer reviewed risk assessment document showed that EPA was not truly interested in the environmental and public health impacts of incineration. Their assessment was designed to minimize the risks, so that the incineration remedy they had already chosen would not hit any roadblocks.

AIR has worked with EPA's Ombudsman, Bob Martin, to expose the problems in the process of selecting the cleanup remedy. But EPA was in such a hurry to get the incinerator operating that they ignored their own Ombudsman's recommendations, along with years of community protests. They couldn't even be bothered to wait for their own peer reviewers to finish with the risk assessment, before they announced when the incineration would begin.

The incineration at Drake Chemical started on March 4th, 1998. Since that time, our fears about its safety have been realized. The "thermal release vents" have opened nine times, sometimes for as long as several hours. These openings release smoke, soot, and other pollutants into the air. People in Lock Haven are realizing that the incineration is a threat to their health and they don't want to be the victims of EPA's devotion to incineration. AIR plans to keep on fighting this EPA "cleanup" plan that is doing so much harm to our health and environment.