Occasionally there will be a person who is wiling to take on the powerful special interests and who seems destined to be able to make a real difference. One such person, Mary Gade, has been the administrator for EPA Region 5 since being appointed by President Bush in September 2006. Since then a large portion of her time has been spent negotiating with Dow Chemical in an attempt to clean up the extensive dioxin contamination in and around the company’s headquarters in Midland, Michigan. Last summer Ms. Gade had to invoke emergency powers to order the company to remove three hotspots of dioxin near the headquarters. In November, she demanded more dredging when a Saginaw park registered dioxin levels of 1.6 million parts per trillion, the highest amount ever documented in the United States. Ms. Gade then sought to negotiate a more comprehensive cleanup, which was obviously needed. She ended these negotiations in January, noting that Dow was refusing to take the action necessary to protect public health.
This announcement by Ms. Gade angered Dow and it quickly appealed to certain high-ranking officials in Washington. In April, the powers-that-be in Washington jumped Ms. Gade for sending contractors to test soil in a Saginaw neighborhood where Dow had already reported levels of dioxin six times greater than the national standard. I don’t believe that political pressure should be able to curtail the regulatory activities of any federal agency and certainly not the EPA.
Let’s take a brief look at Dow’s Dioxin record and see what Mary Gade was up against. Dow released dioxin into the waterways for most of the last century, not ceasing until the mid-1980s. Dioxin, measured in trillionths of a gram because it is so toxic, was a manufacturing byproduct of the herbicide Agent Orange and other chlorinated chemicals. Company documents show Dow knew by the mid-1960s that it could make people sick or even kill them. Citing years of independent studies, the EPA says dioxin causes cancer and disrupts the immune and reproductive systems, even at very low levels. As you will likely recall, concerns about dioxin contamination were behind two of the most infamous environmental disasters in U.S. history: the evacuations of the Love Canal neighborhood in upstate New York and the entire town of Times Beach, Mo. Those events received world-wide attention. But in the Saginaw area, cleanup remains stalled, mainly because Dow asserts the contamination does not threaten people or wildlife. Can you believe that?
So we now go back to Ms. Gade, who found herself at the center of the dispute, simply because she was trying to do her job. Ms. Gade, who as a corporate lawyer had represented big companies like Dow against environmental regulators, knew exactly what she was up against. Her aggressive action against Dow, local activists and her Washington bosses put her job at risk. But she still won high marks from EPA officials during her last performance evaluation. The steps Ms. Gade took were influenced in part by her experience as an EPA staffer during the early 1980s, when the agency’s top official in Washington was forced to resign after he allowed Dow to censor an EPA study documenting dioxin’s dangers. Ms. Gade found herself being forced to resign on May 1st. In her resignation, Ms. Gade observed:
We have a responsibility to make sure people are living in a healthy and safe environment. This problem has been out there for more than 30 years, and it’s unconscionable that action hasn’t been taken.
It is truly a shame when people like Mary Gade are forced to resign for simply doing their job – which is to regulate large corporate polluters – and have to fight both the polluters and the politicians in Washington. Just when you think you have seen the worst from the Bush Administration relating to protecting the environment, this sort of thing happens. The Bush crowd continues to punish those in government service who don’t do exactly what corporate America wants and demands. The voting public will have the last say in November and Bush will go back to Texas. He will have plenty of time to reflect on the great damage he has done to America!
Source: Chicago Tribune
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