Wanted: A New Regulatory Paradigm
In January of this year, local physician and environmental health advocate Dr. Peter Baddick filed a complaint with the state Department of Environmental Protection over conditions at the facility, where plastic insulation apparently is being stripped from industrial cable and incinerated inside industrial tanks without any emissions controls. Burning plastic can produce dioxin, a known carcinogen that can also damage the body's immune and hormonal systems.
The pile of waste behind American Cable Recyclers.
(Photo by Donald Serfass)
The waste produced by the ACR operation bears a striking resemblance to the material that makes up the so-called "fluff piles" at Hometown's Eastern Diversified Metals Superfund site, where bits of polyvinyl chloride insulation stripped from telephone cable have formed 40-foot-piles over an area as big as a football field. Like EDM, ACR is also dumping the waste on its property (the former Agmet silver refinery), and it's washing into headwaters of the Little Schuylkill River. Baddick and other concerned citizens discovered ACR's mess while trying to track down chemical storage tanks reportedly moved to the property from the nearby McAdoo Associates Superfund site. It appears those may be the very same tanks ACR is using as incinerators, Baddick and others warn.
State Rep. Dave Argall has called on the DEP to investigate. But the fact is, DEP has inspected the ACR site in the past and found no violations.
The agency regulates ACR through its Land Recycling and Waste Management Program under Permit No. 54-18899, issued Aug. 5, 1989 (the same year, incidentally, that the last chemical storage tanks were removed from McAdoo Associates, according to an Environmental Protection Agency factsheet). The DEP's online database reports that the agency inspected ACR on Dec. 10, 2003 and found no violation of its permit.
So apparently what ACR has been doing is just fine with DEP.
Who exactly is behind the company that's getting away with this? According to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's corporations database, ACR was incorporated on Nov. 7, 1994, and its registered president and secretary is Marie DeAngelo of 939 E. Mahanoy St. in Mahanoy City, Pa. Wilkes-Barre Citysearch lists ACR's business address as 1001 W. Centre St. in Mahanoy City.
ACR has local political connections, as DeAngelo has contributed to state Sen. James Rhoades' campaign, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics. She donated $150 to Rhoades on Nov. 24, 1999 and another $100 to him on Aug. 5, 2004. Along with Rhoades, ACR was also one of the sponsors of last year's Great Halloween Grave Dig, a Mahanoy City-based event that bills itself as "a unique adult competitive event, originated with the intent to bring diverse groups of people together for an adventurous mental and physical romp." (Let's hope they're not romping through ACR's toxic mess, or the graves they'll be digging won't be just for laughs.)
That DEP not only allows ACR to do what it does but actively permits it shows that the existing regulatory system is a cruel joke being played on the people. Hometown-area residents are sick and dying from all the toxic pollution in their local environment, yet DEP spends residents' tax dollars enabling companies to dump more poison onto the land and into the air and water.
So what's the solution? Is there another system that can replace the failed one we're currently suffering under?
That will be the topic of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund's day-long workshop scheduled for Frackville, Pa. on Saturday, March 18. Launched in 1995, the Chambersburg, Pa.-based CELDF started out helping rural communities fighting to keep out corporate factory farms and other polluting industries. CELDF's lawyers were good at finding problems with the permits, but the companies would then fix the problems and get the permits after all.
"The fact is, we were doing work for the corporations," says Ben Price, director of CELDF's Corporations and Democracy Program; he will lead the Frackville workshop along with CELDF attorney Tom Linzey. "The problem with fighting in the regulatory system is you get temporary wins but you're not allowed to just say no as a community." While the existing regulatory system regulates the amount of harm that's done to local communities, it does not allow communities to stop the harm altogether, he says.
As a result, the CELDF today takes another approach: It helps communities directly govern corporations through model ordinances. One such ordinance bans corporations with criminal histories. Another revokes corporate privileges altogether.
"It's radical in the sense that the framers of our democratic government were radical," says Price, noting that the Boston Tea Party which sparked the American Revolution was a rebellion against a politically powerful corporation, the British East India Co. "It's challenging a power structure where a minority of powerful people make decisions for the majority. We intend to flip that equation upside-down -- to help communities take over the decision-making process rather than leaving it to regulatory agencies."
Would Hometown-area residents embrace such an revolutionary approach? We shall see. But as the ACR mess makes clear, the current system certainly isn't working to protect the people.
The March 18 workshop is now full, but to learn about other CELDF educational opportunities, contact Price at (717) 258-8122 or e-mail BenGPrice@aol.com.