Order amid Chaos

Superfund: A Citizens Report on Toms River, NJ
By Bill Smedley

Our citizens group, AIR (Arrest the Incinerator Remediation) in Lock Haven PA, has been attempting to stop what we consider to be the dangerous and illegal operation of the EPA contracted Drake Superfund Incinerator for over 4 1/2 years. AIR has filed lawsuits in Federal and State Courts but our attempts to prove the danger have been stalled by judicial decisions that requires citizens to wait until after the fact. . . after the EPA's illegal and dangerous "clean-up" is complete. The burning at Drake is nearing 95% completion as we wait (again) for a precedent setting answer from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on the issue of the jurisdiction of the State Court to hear a nuisance suit. We have networked with many citizens groups and scientists while watchdogging operations at Drake. As the incinerator's work nears an end we have been hearing lots of "rumors" originating from the site workers that the Drake Incinerator owned by OHM Corp (now an IT company) is headed next to Toms River NJ. After learning, the hard way, about how the USEPA and its contractors deal with citizens over Superfund incinerators we decided to contact some folks in Toms River.

We confirmed quickly with the Toms River citizens group, Ocean County Citizens for Clean Water, that a public meeting was scheduled with USEPA Reg. 2 officials on 3/25/99 to discuss the issue of "thermal treatment" of the Superfund Ciba-Geigy waste site in Toms River. The citizens group in Toms River invited AIR representatives to attend the public meeting because of our experiences in dealing with USEPA Reg. 3 and the PA Department of Environmental Protection over Drake operations. I, along with AIR's attorney, Mick Harrison, traveled to Toms River to hear and comment on what the EPA had to say about "thermal treatment" at the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site.

The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn in Toms River NJ on 3/25/99 and was well attended by both the public and Ciba-Geigy employees past and present. Between 100-150 people attended this meeting. Officials present who spoke for USEPA Reg. 2 were Deputy Regional Administrator William J. Muszynski and Project Manager Romona Pezzella. Another major player for EPA Reg. 2 at this meeting was William Troxler, a contractor with Focus Environmental. Unlike the Drake site, ground water remediation was started in Toms River prior to the excavation. Muszynski began the meeting by telling the public that no decisions have been made yet about what type of technology would be used to treat the Ciba Site and that the meeting was informational in nature to present "options" to the public. Two options were presented for discussion at this meeting, on site "Thermal Desorption" and off site Incineration (send it to someone else's town instead!).

The discussion over the on-site "thermal desorption was also separated into two options, "directly heated" or "in-directly heated". The "in-directly heated" discussion was brief and the end result was transportation of captured contaminants off- site for incineration. Intense discussion followed on the "directly heated" unit, with the EPA leaving the option of off- site incineration to wait for another meeting in the future. All EPA officials were very careful not to use the words "incinerator" or "rotary kiln" in their introduction to the "thermal desorption" idea. The public was skeptical from the start and then William Troxler, the Focus contractor, presented the bulk of the information about "thermal desorption" which then led to many good questions from the public. Troxler later admitted to me that he had also worked previously for Focus on the Drake Site. It became evident quickly that a large number of local citizens in the room did not buy the rap on "thermal desorption" and saw instead the truth, the technology being discussed was incineration for all practical purposes. One elderly gentleman said that what he saw in the diagrams of the direct fired unit presented, was a primary combustion chamber which looked to him like a rotary kiln and a secondary combustion chamber, both with fire in them, and that it sure looked to him like an incinerator. Troxler and the Reg.2 folks adamantly denied that this was an incinerator, insisting it was really a "thermal desorption unit". The picture of the "directly heated rotary dryer" did indeed look conspicuously like a "mobile" rotary kiln incinerator. Project Manager, Romona Pezzella, told the audience that this unit was a "thermal desorption unit" because no chemicals are destroyed in the primary chamber at 900 degrees but rather in the "thermal oxidizer" at 1800 degrees. This is exactly the operation of the Drake Superfund Rotary Kiln Incinerator, except the "thermal oxidizer" is really the secondary combustion chamber, a term they obviously did not wish to use at this meeting. They also avoided other common incinerator terms like "trial burns" and "stack testing"

The level of dishonesty which followed in the disinformation, omissions of information and down right denial of facts or answers was truly a disgrace to the USEPA and its contractor, acting as representatives of our government, supposedly in the interest of the people. One citizen wanted to know information about Dioxin toxicity from the USEPA. Reg. 2's Muszynski said that they did not bring a toxicologist and that no one on their panel could comment on the toxicity questions about Dioxin. He did admit finally that Dioxin would indeed be emitted from the unit but would admit nothing else related to the toxicity of Dioxin. The citizen proceeded to read about Dioxin from the EPA's own documents on the ultra-toxicity of these chemicals. The EPA had also omitted Dioxin from their list of potential stack testing parameters. Other citizens expressed concerns about the possibility of fugitive emissions and groundwater contamination. Mick Harrison and I waited until most of the local citizens had a chance to ask questions before we asked ours. No microphone was supplied to the public, only for the EPA, so it was difficult, at times, to hear people's comments.

I stated to the EPA and the citizens that AIR had extensive experience dealing with Superfund operations in Lock Haven PA at Drake and in Times Beach MO from cooperating with the citizens group there. I also stated that the citizens in the room deserved to hear the truth about operations at Drake and Times Beach regarding fugitive emissions from the dirt moving operations and the actual operation of the incinerator. I proceeded to tell them about the smell from Drake and the fugitive emissions which we video taped. I presented videotape to the press documenting fugitive emissions and dump stack releases from Drake and Times Beach. Also on the video tape was documentation of the beer can incident at Drake on 1/27/98 and of the EPA's contractor, George Drumbor with Booze, Allen & Hamilton, who while being confronted with citizens upset with fugitive emissions leaving the site told us "I want to go home and eat my dinner". I challenged the EPA to tell the truth to the citizens or "to point" out the "dump stack" on the system which they conveniently never mentioned to the people and did not show on any of their drawings. Troxler, the Focus contractor, finally asked for the overhead screen which showed the "rotary dryer" and pointed out the "thermal oxidizer", then the location of the dump stack and verified that it would release the contents of the unit without pollution control. He also said that the releases were "treated" by the unit and present no harm, which was the same sham explanation given at Drake. The existence of the dump stack was also omitted from the drawings at Drake and Times Beach in the early days. The public obviously did not like the omission of this important component to the "thermal desorption" unit that has the potential to dump the contents of the secondary combustion chamber directly into their community, bypassing all pollution control devices.

It became clear to us that the EPA was giving the same message to the citizens of Toms River NJ, as they had to the citizens of both Times Beach MO and at Drake in Lock Haven PA: Forget about dioxin emissions and the obvious dangers of incineration, just "Trust us", we will do risk assessments, we will "supervise operations" and protect your community with monitors. I also gave the citizens details about how the EPA not only lost our trust by not being truthful, but also about their bogus risk assessment which was later retracted after the EPA admitted it was flawed in court. About how their spin-doctors denied that the beer cans were "proof of drinking" even after the Drake project manager, Gregg Crystall had told me `yea, we screwed up, we should have just admitted they were probably drinking". Similarities between the sites at Toms River and Drake were also discussed in that many VOC's were present along with dye intermediate compounds and complex benzene compounds. Mick Harrison, attorney for AIR, clearly frustrated with the level of deception by the EPA challenged them to have the courage to tell the public the truth about the whole operation and all of the ramifications for the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site. He also questioned the EPA's Pezzella about why she was calling the flyash from the bag house "dirt" and not being truthful about its true nature as a hazardous by-product. Harrison also suggested safer alternate technology that should be considered to "clean up" the site and asked that better detection monitors be used to protect the community. Harrison pointed out that because we are already overexposed to dioxin, using a dioxin emitting technology would be in violation of Superfund regulation. Harrison explained that the Superfund regulations (40 CFR part 300) require use of a cleanup method that will not create any exposure that will result in any adverse health effects, with an adequate margin of safety. Because current dioxin exposures from existing sources are 10-100 times too high (above the reference dose) for adults and 200-14,000 times to high for infants, adding more dioxin violates Superfund. Answers from the EPA and their contractor were not forthcoming without being pulled from them with specific questions. The USEPA has not yet officially reached a record of decision on the final means of remediation of the massive contamination at the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site. None of us yet know for sure if the Drake incinerator or one like it is going to Toms River NJ. But eyes are now open wide about the EPA, the specter of incineration and its downfalls from a citizen's perspective. A strong bond has also been formed between both citizen groups, who will work together in the future to make sure the mistakes and lessons learned from Drake are not repeated in Toms River. The citizens also knew that the only options presented at this meeting were simply incineration, whether on or off site.

The meeting ended after 3 hours with a roomful of citizens who had seen the EPA spin-doctors in action and then knew that the "thermal desorption" unit was in truth a rotary kiln incinerator, disguised only by twisted words and crafted deceptions from an agency with egg on its face, thrown from the hand of truth and experience, compliments of AIR and our new friends in Toms River NJ.