Letter to the Environmental Protection Agency

Page - August 30, 2005
August 30, 2005 Stephen L. Johnson, Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Mr. Johnson,

As hurricane Katrina continues to move through the United States adversely affecting everyone in its path, Greenpeace would like to express its concern over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) emergency response to all impacted areas.   As you know, Louisiana, Mississippi and the other states in EPA Regions 4, 5 and 6 devastated by hurricane Katrina are also home to hundreds of petro-chemical plants that manufacture, store and use tons of highly dangerous substances ranging from gasoline to chlorine and vinyl chloride.

Beyond a normal release of pollutants, a major storm such as Katrina can trigger additional hazards posed by these facilities.  This is especially troubling as many facilities are located adjacent to residential communities, farms, rivers, lakes and drinking water sources.  These hazards may include:

  • planned or unplanned release of toxic effluent from settling ponds and lagoons where chemical waste is stored;
  • fires, explosions and other unplanned releases caused by extreme weather conditions;
  • contamination of surface water (rivers, lakes and streams), ground water and drinking water from flooding and other effluent releases;
  • open burning of debris and waste following a storm clean up that will release unregulated pollutants into the atmosphere and create large volumes of contaminated ash;
  • leaks from thousands of underground storage tanks containing gasoline and heating oil;
  • derailments and leaks from rail cars and other storage vessels containing highly volatile substances such as chlorine, propane, ammonia and hydrogen fluoride, which poses catastrophic risks under normal circumstances - storms and flooding can undermine track beds and foundations rendering them even more vulnerable to disastrous releases of deadly chemicals.

Under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act (112r), Superfund (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, these facilities are required to prevent hazardous releases.  Furthermore, under the Clean Water Act regulated facilities are required to have a spill prevention plan and under the Clean Air Act they are required to have a plan to prevent a catastrophic release of chemicals.  

Although EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard Greene announced yesterday that EPA and FEMA preparedness experts are currently poised to monitor and respond to oil and chemical spills as a result of hurricane Katrina, Greenpeace has serious public health concerns for everyone affected by this devastating storm.  On behalf of our members and the victims of hurricane Katrina, please respond to the following inquiries concerning the EPA's emergency response and preparedness:

1.  In your capacity as administrator, please describe EPA collective actions prior to Katrina to ensure that there were no unregulated releases of hazardous substances from the petro-chemical industry located in the hurricane's path.

2.  Did the EPA consider or issue any waivers and/or agreements to allow releases of regulated pollutants into the environment from these plants either before or during hurricane Katrina's arrival?  Furthermore, please describe in detail any communications from petro-chemical facilities requesting permission to release regulated pollutants into the environment.

3.  Please describe EPA rules and procedures regarding the open burning of debris or structures damaged during the hurricane.  In particular, please outline EPA plans to monitor the release of dangerous pollutants, such as dioxins and furans from such unregulated burning.

4.  As you know, the EPA currently suggests that people clean their homes and boil water before drinking following a flood or hurricane.  Subsequently, please explain EPA plans to conduct comprehensive testing of local drinking water (private wells and public drinking water systems) for toxic chemical contamination as well as EPA plans for testing the soil of communities and flood waters that will likely contaminate soil, ground and surface water.

In the interest of public health, we would appreciate a response to this request as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Rick Hind, Legislative Director

Greenpeace Toxics Campaign

cc:

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Senator James Jeffords (I-VT)

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

Senator David Vitter (R-LA)

Representative John Dingell (D-MI)

Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

United States Coast Guard

Federal Emergency Management Agency