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January 4, 2008

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information contact:
Daniel E. Parshley
Phone:  912-466-0934
E-mail: gec@darientel.net
To receive the EPA's response to Dr. Bull by fax,
contact the Glynn Environmental Coalition. 

EPA Responds to Dr. Bull's Request to Test Altama Elementary

   The EPA has responded to Superintendent of Glynn County Schools Dr. Michael Bull’s letter of October 3, 2007 asking the EPA to re-visit our community's request to test Altama Elementary School for chemical contamination.  Dr. Bull joined the Glynn Environmental Coalition, The Brunswick News, the Altama Elementary School PTA President, and others in requesting the EPA to follow the advice of the EPA Office of Inspector General and resolve the uncertainty caused by the previous erroneous testing for the pesticide toxaphene at the school, which did not report all the toxic chemicals present.

  In the response, the EPA reversed several previous statements and admitted Altama Elementary School is part of the Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund Site and that toxic chemicals were at one time removed from school property.  The EPA also admitted that results of previous testing did not include all toxic chemicals found on school property.

   "Instead of testing Altama Elementary School, the EPA has requested a meeting with Dr. Bull to discuss previous sampling results, which the EPA Office of Inspector General has already determined to be inappropriate," said Bill Owens, Glynn Environmental Coalition President.  

   "We are asking if children are at risk right now," said Owens.  "We hope there is not a problem, but we need facts, and not just hope, to assure the school is free of toxic chemicals.  Our requests to test the school and report all chemicals present are reasonable and are the first step in resolving the situation."

"We are disappointed that the EPA releases incorrect statements and misleading information about Altama Elementary School but welcome the corrections," said Owens.  "The EPA needs to test the school without further delay."

   Toxaphene is a pesticide that is now banned worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, and also called one of the “dirty dozen” or “toxic twelve” chemicals that were so dangerous that they were banned from use through an international agreement developed at the United Nations.  Toxaphene lasts a long time in the environment, resists breakdown, and can travel long distances through the atmosphere.  High levels of toxaphene have been found in fish and other animals in areas where the chemical was never used.

Background

   On July 10th, the Glynn Environmental Coalition went before the Glynn County Board of Education and proposed they become partners with the Coalition in making a joint request to the EPA to retest Altama Elementary School.  The school abuts the Hercules 009 Landfill Site and toxic waste was removed from the school property in the mid-1990s.  The results of the EPA Office of Inspector General investigation cast doubt that all chemicals were removed from the school.

   At the July 17th Facilities Committee meeting, Glynn County Schools asked the GEC to work with Jack Childs, the attorney hired to advise the Board of Education concerning testing Altama Elementary School.  The GEC has had many calls with Mr. Childs, providing him information.  His recommendations, in the form of a draft letter to the EPA, were presented at the October 2nd Glynn Schools Facilities Committee Meeting.

  The EPA Inspector General found that all chemicals were not reported by the method used at the Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund Site and appropriate testing is needed.  Whenever toxic contamination is expected, the first step is to test and report what is present.  If all the chemicals are not reported, an assessment of the risks cannot be completed and a correct conclusion about the safety of the property may not be able to be reached.

   The EPA was extensively quoted in a July 14, 2007, Brunswick News article, “Toxic Site Adjacent to School Still Issue.”  Unfortunately, many of the statements by the EPA were either wrong or misleading.  The Coalition provided the EPA the opportunity to correct their errors, but on October 24th, Laura Niles, EPA External Affairs, who was quoted in the article, contacted the Coalition to say the EPA would not be issuing a clarification.

EPA Quote: While the school itself, at 5505 Altama Ave., Glynn County, was never part of an environmental cleanup site, land adjacent to it was.

Coalition Correction: Altama Elementary School is part of the Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund Site, and toxic wastes were removed from school property during two removal actions.

EPA Quote: The EPA says the tests determined that the levels of toxaphene present are acceptable and not dangerous.

Coalition Correction: The tests the EPA referenced were of water.  Water tests do not determine if toxaphene levels in school soils are safe.  A very misleading statement by the EPA.

EPA Quote: According to the EPA, an acceptable presence of toxaphene at the surface level of a site is three parts per 1 million parts soil.  The 2006 tests show levels well below that, Niles said.

Coalition Correction: The legally mandated cleanup level is 0.25 parts per million, not 3 parts per million.  The 2006 tests tested water, not soil, and are meaningless to protecting school children from soil exposure.

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