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What did '93 flood leave behind? Greenpeace contends hazardous wastes contaminated waters.

Greenpeace contends hazardous wastes contaminated waters

WASHINGTON -- As the disastrous Midwest floods recede in fact and national memory, a contentious future looms over determining what toxic wastes were carried off or left behind and what those wastes predict for the country's environment-ravaged future:

* The U.S. Geological Survey, in a preliminary report released Aug. 30, reveals "surprisingly high concentrations of agricultural chemicals in the Mississippi and some of its tributaries."

* The Environmental Protection Agency contends there has been little "offsite" chemical contamination.

* Environmental advocacy groups, such as Greenpeace, warn of manufacturers, waste management companies and governmental agencies continuing to ignore the dangers of what they are storing and where.

During the height of the flooding, the conventional wisdom among governmental and environmental groups was that the volume of water was such that any chemical runoffs would be so diluted as to be difficult to detect.

"But this did not turn out to be the case," said USGS hydrologist Philip Cohen. "Instead, Herbicide concentrations were at or near maximum levels -- the daily loads carried by the rivers (during the flood) increased by 50 percent over previous measurements." Of particular concern, he said, was the high concentration of atrazine, the nation's most widely used herbicide -- with 200-300 million pounds applied to crops annually in the Midwest alone. (Atrazine and many classes of pesticides are probable or possible carcinogens, particularly suspect in breast cancer.)

By contrast, the EPA's Kansas City, Kan.,-based regional spokesperson John Horton -- whose region includes Missouri where 12 Superfund sites were under water -- told NCR there was no evidence of major releases from toxic waste sites as such.

Greenpeace contends, however, that the EPA is ignoring the flood-created and flood-alerted problems on several fronts. Greenpeace's Washington-based Niaz Dorry said, "The bottom line here is that all across the country we know that waste facilities and manufacturing plants producing pesticides and herbicides and other hazardous chemicals are sited in similar at-risk locations."

Continued Dorry, "We know from dealing with what's left behind, that in six different areas and just looking at pesticides alone, we have contaminated water.

"We know," she said, "from footage we have of (storage) facilities' smokestacks sticking out of the water, that there are problems. EPA's original comment was that there was no off-site migration. Our concern is that EPA has never notified people about the risks."

Greenpeace, which is investigating further through Freedom of Information Act requests to a variety of governmental agencies, contends that while "there is really no final protection except eliminating these products from our lifestyle," reliance on Army Corps of Engineers' levee work or other engineering solutions to protect hazardous waste sites on flood plains, "has clearly failed."
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Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Sep 17, 1993
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