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News from the United Steelworkers of America: EPA Ignores Own Research on Health Threats from Asarco Pollution.

DALLAS -- Agency Touts Children's Health Month, Then Defends Polluted Soil

The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) announced today that they have uncovered an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document which concludes that the El Paso soil cleanup level EPA recently proposed will not protect children from lead poisoning. By disregarding state regulations, and ignoring the analyses of both agency staff and independent lead experts, EPA is failing to meet its recently proclaimed commitment to protect children in disadvantaged communities, USWA said.

The document uncovered by USWA is an email sent from an EPA toxicologist to a list of primarily EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) employees. It describes the results of an internal analysis that compares soil lead concentrations with children known to have elevated concentrations of lead in their blood.

The analysis concludes that when the average concentration of lead in soil is higher than 500 parts per million (PPM), a significantly increased number of children are likely to have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies. The analysis is based on over two thousand soil samples taken in El Paso neighborhoods and medical testing of area children under the age of six with blood lead levels exceeding the federal level of concern.

The established state cleanup level for lead in soil is 500 PPM, a level EPA previously recommended. For bare soil in children's play areas, EPA's lead hazard standard is 400 PPM. However, EPA and the TCEQ recently proposed a 640 PPM cleanup level for El Paso.

"The truth is out," stated USWA Environmental Projects Coordinator Diane Heminway. "EPA is ignoring its own internal analysis and standards and publicly advocating a less stringent cleanup that will not protect El Paso children from lead poisoning."

Lead exposure can cause brain damage, kidney damage, developmental learning and behavioral problems and a host of other serious health effects, particularly in young children and the unborn.

(View the EPA email and internal analysis at http://tinyurl.com/3tcqc)

In justifying their recommendation to leave higher levels of lead in residential properties, EPA and TCEQ made extensive reference to analysis using an IEUBK model, which relies on assumptions rather than actual data to predict a child's exposure to lead.

Lead experts have recently criticized the IEUBK model and how it is being used to establish a lead cleanup level for the El Paso cleanup.

"As you know, the IEUBK model is controversial," wrote Bruce Lanphear, MD and Director of the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center, in a May 31, 2004 letter to TCEQ Regional Administrator Richard Greene. "My ultimate concern with the IEUBK model is that it requires multiple assumptions and defaults. Each of these assumptions and defaults adds additional uncertainty to the estimated contribution of various lead sources to children's intake."

Doctor Ian von Lindern of TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering expressed that EPA may be abusing the uncertainty of IEUBK model results to advance a cleanup level less stringent than 500 parts per million.

"I believe these results are equivocal and different conclusions could be drawn with equal scientific validity," said von Lindern about EPA analysis using an IEUBK model of El Paso lead contamination in a June 4, 2004 letter to Andrea Varnell of the Texas State Senate. "I would expect that (EPA) Region VI has reached as far as they can in accommodating a cleanup level higher than 500mg/kg."

"The key question is, why is EPA using a model that relies on assumptions and guesses when they have real human and environmental data on the community?" asked Heminway.

EPA allowing more toxic pollution to remain in El Paso soil also contradicts EPA's recent claims that it is placing a high priority on protecting children in disadvantaged communities from health risks, says the Steelworkers.

"EPA is publicizing October as Children's Health Month and claims that it is celebrating by focusing on protecting children from lead poisoning and doing outreach to Hispanic communities," stated Manuel Armenta, USWA Sub-Director for the Southwestern US. "Lead-contaminated areas of El Paso are predominantly Hispanic. So why is the EPA now backtracking on a thorough cleanup?"

"Likewise, EPA recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Urban League, in which the EPA expressed its concern about protecting children's health and providing clean land for all citizens, including socioeconomically disadvantaged ones," said Armenta. "Well, EPA backtracking on a thorough cleanup suggests that its commitment to upholding this agreement is not worth the paper it's written on."

"It is difficult to believe EPA would ever propose this in a predominantly rich, white community," added Armenta.

The EPA has concluded that Grupo Mexico (Mexico: GMEXICOB.MX) subsidiary Asarco is primarily responsible for lead and arsenic contamination of soil in the El Paso area. While Asarco has long insisted it is not responsible for the contamination, the El Paso Times recently reported that Asarco has entered into negotiations with the EPA over paying for cleanup of contaminated yards.

The United Steelworkers of America has members who live and work in El Paso, including those who were employed at Asarco's copper smelter prior to its closure in 1999.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Oct 25, 2004
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