by Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D……..
In 1940, my father-in-law, George Findlay Willison, created and edited, Let’s Write a Play (Harper), a compendium of plays written by children attending the Hessian Hills School that he Co-Directed (1929-1935). A private progressive school located in New York State’s Croton-on-Hudson, designed in the spirit of John Dewey and other progressive educators, was fertile soil for eliciting the best from youthful minds. In 2016, I am transforming George’s work and his collaborative spirit into a project of ‘interactive journalism’: Will you cooperate with me in creating a play about the economics, science, and politics of death?
This article on shallow well injection of potentially deadly chemicals, may not right now, but can over time produce a collaborative play, “Fifteen Lethal Acts of Shame,” about how economics, science, and politics enhance environmental disasters and promote deaths. Besides making Key West a better place, our ‘interactive journalism’ could encourage making news for print and visual media more democratic. And hey, maybe “Key West Fringe” will be interested in producing our play.
Scientific and Political Questions
- Could Key West and Stock Island become dangerously water-polluted like Flint, Michigan—a city now declared a ‘federal disaster area’ for its lead-contaminated water that citizens have been using, then paying for non-use for over a year now?
- Could Key West’s and Stock Island’s water end up like “94 water systems across 27 states,” whose water, soil, and air are polluted by “perfluorooctanoic acid”–a chemical product used for hundreds of products, including Teflon, some Scotchguard products, and the foam that extinguishes fires? (DuPont’s version of this deadly chemical, ‘C-8,’ is estimated to be in the blood of 99 percent of all Americans—and it never will completely break down.)
- Have our local naval bases and the adults and children who live and visit there been contaminated by ground residues from the “Aqueous film forming [fire fighting] foams (AFFF) that contain… perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)…or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)? (The former chemical substance is what DuPont Chemicals calls C-8.)
If a Chemical is Not Found Does it Not Exist?
No such chemicals contamination has been reported at our Southernmost military bases, you say. That’s very true, I’ve looked at the annual reports for surrounding areas and there is no mention of what in this article I’ll call FPSs. But do our Southernmost military bases even get tested by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the Navy for these chemicals? Answer: The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) do not require testing for FPSs —for example, in the Lower Keys shallow or deep water injection wells and the Stock Island landfill. There is no federal, state, County, or local government mandate that such testing be done, even though there is now firm evidence–and there has been for some years, including by the very chemical companies producing these dangerous chemicals— that FPS chemicals enter human and other animals’ bodies through water and land contamination. Once injected into shallow or deep water wells, the contaminated effluent containing partially treated FPS ‘poop’ and ‘pee’ and other household wastewater becomes a secondary source for spreading contamination to other humans, animals, and to plant, land, and marine life.
- If deadly water and land pollution is found to have resulted from government and corporate actions–such as from lies and cover-ups—and/or from inaction—as in failures to heed experts’ warnings–should Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA), and Key West City Government be held responsible for environmental and human devastation?
- Is it sufficient for these entities to claim that ‘there was no federal or state mandate to test for FPSs’?
The Back Story
This week the Key West Citizen reported (1/16/2016) that Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) Judge Cathy Sellers had ruled that “Key West Resort Utilities can use two shallow injection wells to handle…treated effluent on Stock Island…” Rationale: It’s cheaper to do that than build a more costly and more effective deep-water injection well. It is common knowledge among engineering and scientific communities that when liquids, such as wastewater ‘effluents,’ are injected into shallow wells in the Florida Keys the human waste quickly seeps through the porous rock and spills into the surrounding environment. Back-ups are also reportedly common with strong and persistent rains, like the Lower Keys have seen recently. One hears that this occurs after big rains at the Monroe County Jail, when the detention facility’s own effluent well–as one cleaner reports—belches up ‘human waste sewage all over the place.’
When What You Don’t Know Kills You
Sharon Lerner, reporting for The Intercept, points out that “Until recently, few people had heard much about chemicals like C8. One of tens of thousands of unregulated industrial chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — also called C8 because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone — had gone unnoticed for most of its eight or so decades on earth, even as it helped cement the success of one of the world’s largest corporations”—DuPont Chemicals. Some of the very negative health effects of the C8 version of DuPont’s PFS chemical, included in Lerner’s scientifically validated short list of health problems are: ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer. The effects of PFS contamination in humans also includes high incidence of neonatal deaths, immune system damage, and liver and endocrine system impairment. Scientists’ findings, “published in more than three dozen peer-reviewed articles, were striking, because the chemical’s effects were so widespread throughout the body and because even very low exposure levels were associated with health effects.”
C8 is in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as in newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood. A growing group of scientists have been tracking the chemical’s spread through the environment, documenting its presence in a wide range of wildlife, including Loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, polar bears, caribou, walruses, bald eagles, lions, tigers, and arctic birds.
Knowing that shallow injection wells are contra-indicated as methods for dispatching human effluents, Dr. Henry Briceño, a scientist at Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center, informed a May 2015 meeting of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) that, “We know that if we inject water in those shallow wells it will boomerang back to the surface” and pollute what is around the well and beyond. The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Bergh went on to argue at the same meeting, according to The Blue Paper’s coverage (5/22/15), that “based on these studies the AWT [partially treated effluent] is going to come up….There will be an impact on the environment. [So let’s] go for now with the devil that we do know and…not inject wastewater into these shallow wells.”
But, I’m talking about a devil we don’t know: the strong probability of there being PFS water contamination in our marine water, drinking water, and at the Stock Island landfill. Of course, such pollution will surely increase with shallow wells belching up the effluvium injected in them. How so? As a recent Florida State graphic by Taro Gomi remind us:
We poop and pee. PFSs are excreted from our bodies through our poop and pee. Even after advanced wastewater treatment the effluent will contain harmful nutrients, viruses, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals such as PFSs. These contaminants are now officially allowed to be —according to DOAH Judge Cathy Sellers’ recent ruling–fast-driven into shallow injection wells. Predictably this sewage effluent will make its way through the porous rock into the groundwater and surface waters that surround such wells.
And what about the Stock Island landfill that is regularly burrowed into by Iguanas (the County has hired a company to get rid of them periodically); which allows potentially contaminated leachates — “any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component”–to flow (especially after landfill-eroding rains) onto the topsoil below.
What PFS products might have gotten into Stock Island’s landfill? For example, Teflon-coated cookware, 3M’s original Scotchguard, Stainmaster fabric protection, Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing, coatings for eye glasses and tennis rackets, stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture, fire-fighting foam, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, bicycle lubricants, satellite components, ski wax, communications cables, and pizza boxes.
To put this personally, every time wastewater effluent (made from poop and pee) gets propelled out by shallow water well injection and ends up in surrounding water or soil, or when it rains hard and Stock Island’s landfill leaks from Iguana burrowing into the landfill, our water and soil are compromised– even if you don’t live on Stock Island itself.
Some leachate content apparently is tested at Stock Island by landfill inspectors, but they do not yet test for PFS. Obviously, most of us are not pooping and peeing at Stock Island’s landfill, but birds and Iguanas and other wild life do poop and pee PFSs on the Landfill, contaminating it in the process.
PFSs Will Out Live US and Cannot be Eliminated by Chemical Treatment
PFSs are bio-resistant and so do not break down of their own accord. They will still be on the Earth when we are long gone. And PFS cannot be treated away chemically. Monroe County and Florida’s Judge Sellers may be insuring that Lower Keys waters and soil make a fast and furious contribution to the enduring presence of PFS contamination in southernmost Florida.
However, with the EPA maybe about to move toward requiring soil and water testing for PFS, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has published, in 2013, a document listing six chemicals found in Florida waters of “emerging concern” to the department.
Among these, Sucralose—“non-nutritive sweeteners” that pass “through waste water treatment systems with virtually no degradation, [and are] unaffected by chlorination and tertiary grade treatment”–were given greatest attention, in part as a ‘detector’ for other such chemicals. At the beginning and end of the FDEP’s list of ‘emerging’ pollutants in Florida waters, were (#1) Brominated fire retardants (almost always containing PFS) and (#6) “Perfluorinated Compounds” (PFS). The former were described by the FDEP as, “Bioaccumulative, endocrine disrupting, toxic, persistent; the latter was designated, “Bioaccumulative, [and] Endocrine disrupting.”
Well, now we know that as of 2013, the FDEP formally knew of the severe health consequences of FPS pollution and recognized its presence in Florida waterways. Still, no evidence of testing for its presence, however.
Chemicals Kill, Especially When Collusion Hides Their Lethalness
But this and my next week’s article will show, hopefully along with your insights, that what kills is not merely just the presence of unknown chemicals but especially the potentially criminal acts of corporate executives, their high-paid in-house lawyers, and the government regulators who often work together with them and who either fail to test for chemicals known to be dangerous or test for them and then hide test results.
- Power and Death. Would our Monroe County and City officials use their power to deny or even to actively hide water and/or landfill pollution that could permanently damage the lives of constituents?
- The Play’s the Thing. The known actions of corporate chemical producers and government officials and their agents are the subjects of our play, “Fifteen Lethal Acts of Shame.”
- The script for corporate and government officials’ doing these things has been put together and routinely performed for at least 125 years and consistently ignored by those of us who are victims of their well-worn and lethal script.
So let’s try ‘interactive journalism’ and develop with facts the following script for all to see and hear. You can share what you know and I will do the same, while requesting that research and media colleagues participate.
Scripting Environmental Disaster: Flesh Out Each Scene with Examples and Actors
- Save Money/Enhance Profits: Cost-saving/-cutting decisions are made with respect to a potential environmental and human threat.
- Government Transparency Claims: ‘The landfill chemicals are monitored annually’; ‘chemical findings are on-line’; ‘government committees have been established to hear complaints’; ‘everything is under control and operating according to law.’
- Experts Prevail. Chemical facts understandable only by government insiders or chemical experts.
Stock Island Chemicals:
- Evidence Contrary to Corporation’s and/or Government’s Scripts are Ignored/Stifled. Using cherry-picked “science” or cost-saving promises, backed by a chemical corporation’s and/or government’s in-house ‘science’ experts, and the power of these entities to silence alternative “scientific” evidence.
- Citizens on their own Collect Evidence of Environmental Dangers and their Lethal Consequences, with this evidence discredited–until it cannot be…. Lois Gibbs, Love Canal, www.imdb.com/title/tt0084262/; Flint, MI: Mona Hanna-Attisha, www.democracynow.org/2016/1/15/flint_doctor_mona_hanna_attisha_on
- Whistle-blowers, Citizen Activists, and the Free Press warn public but their evidence is discredited by the powers that be. The city’s free press gets wind of the environmental danger and looks into it, with its exposés initially ignored, dismissed, and discredited.
- Truth Discovered and Hidden. Corporate officials learn early—sometimes decades before the public–that their chemical product has lethal consequences, yet they continue to produce and dump it. Monsanto: http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2985458/monsanto_knew_all_along_secret_studies_reveal_the_truth_of_roundup_toxicity.html; DuPont and C-8: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html
- People Are Sick and Dying. Too many people get sick, and too much environmental destruction becomes obvious for a corporation or government to be able to continue asserting that ‘all is well, scientifically.’
- Citizen pressure on government intensifies to explain the environmental conditions that are damaging or could be impairing human and animal health and the environment (See Flint Michigan today)
- Lawsuits are filed by environmentalists and for those sickened by a denied and covered up environmental danger
- Small Bits of Corporate Money Thrown at Victims to buy off their charges and negative publicity
- A Government Investigative Commission is established to ‘learn the truth.’
- Lawsuits continue with most awardees gaining little from these payouts, even though most of us assume such lawsuits ‘pay off big time.’
- Call for criminal penalties for the corporations and/or government officials involved who knew of the environmental/human problems and covered them up. Civil penalties are, at most, the norm, with culpable corporations settling and stipulating ‘no criminal acts have been committed.’ Government officials–covered by ‘Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance purchased by taxpayer money—suffer no real financial consequences.
- Remediating Environmental Contamination Ends Up Costing Taxpayers More Than the Original Allegedly Too Expensive Fix.
Stay tuned for Next Week’s posting. I’ll develop these scenes, hopefully with your examples and mine. Think: Johns-Manville (Asbestos cover-up), Monsanto (Agent Orange; RoundUp), Hooker Chemical (Love Canal), Flint, Michigan (Lead in water), DuPont Chemical (C-8 chemical cover-up), and the lower keys shallow well injection legal decision and its possible outcomes.
Nathaniel Rich, “The Lawyer who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” 1/17/2016
“Chemicals used on military sites appear to be a major part of the problem. “Water testing done in or near military bases, which isn’t yet complete, has already shown that the chemicals spread into public drinking water systems around Willow Grove, Pease, and a third base — Eielson, in Alaska,” the report said.” See http://www.wateronline.com/doc/military-bases-linked-to-drinking-water-contamination-0001; http://www.13newsnow.com/story/news/military/2016/01/20/fentress-drinking-water-contaminated/79083224/
The Citizen, 1/16/2016. Pp. 1, 10A
The bio-persistent chemicals, that are labeled PFSs in this article, include “perfluorooctanoic acid,” known by DuPont Chemicals as ‘C-8’ and also labeled “PFOA” (perfluorooctanoic acid), as well as the “PFOS” chemicals (perfluorooctane sulfonate).
Ibid, reference ‘vii’
“FDEP Pilot Study on the Occurrence of Emerging Substances of Concern (ESOCs) in Florida’s Flowing Waters,” https://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/bioassess/docs/bcpost/2013/ESOC-Presentation-Oct2013.pdf
“A leachate is any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component of the material through which it has passed.
Ibid, reference ‘vii’
Ibid, reference ix
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