AIR PRESSURE

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) , July 26, 1995

Last week the St. Louis County Counselor's office
continued efforts to hold the responsible parties in the
Times Beach dioxin cleanup to their word. Not an easy
task, considering they keep talking out of both sides of
their mouths. 
     At issue is the county's right to mandate its own
air-quality standards as spelled out in the 1990 consent
decree.
     As a part of that pact, Syntex, the company liable
for the $118 million-plus cleanup of Times Beach and 26
other dioxin-contaminated sites in Eastern Missouri,
agreed to "apply to the St. Louis County Health
Department ... for a construction and operating permit
governing air emissions from the TTU (thermal treatment
unit)." A thermal-treatment unit is an incinerator.
     In a motion filed on May 11, however, Syntex asked
the U.S. District Court here to turn aside the county's
air-quality ordinance enacted Feb. 8. Syntex contends
the local law exceeds federal standards set forth in the
consent decree signed with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), and the Missouri Department of
Natural Resources (DNR). Syntex is supported in its move
by the EPA. 
     On July 18, the county responded by submitting its
own motion to the court, which challenges both Syntex
and the EPA's opposition to its air-quality standards.
The county ordinance requires the Times Beach
incinerator to emit no more dioxin than the level
specified in the EPA's own health-risk assessment
published in November 1994. That amount of allowable
emissions, which the EPA determined to be a worst-case
scenario, is still more than the EPA's original goal of
99.9999 percent destruction removal efficiency.
     For Martha Steincamp, the chief counsel for Region
VII of the EPA, the impasse is based on the subtle
differences between "administrative" and "substantive"
EPA guidelines. Administrative rules or "paperwork" as
Steincamp refers to them, carry little weight and are
simply a formality. Substantively, the EPA and
responsible parties in a Superfund cleanup are not bound
by any local, state or federal permit, Steincamp says.
In the case of Times Beach, the air-quality standards
that were in place in 1988 -- at the time of the federal
court's record of decision -- are the only laws relevant
to the argument, Steincamp contends. Of course, St.
Louis County didn't have any local air-quality standard
at that time. The fact that the subsequent 1990 consent
decree mandates a local emissions permit is of no
consequence, according to Steincamp. "In my opinion we
are abiding by the law," the EPA lawyer says.
     County Counselor John Ross sees a contradiction in
Syntex and the EPA" position. "At other times, they've
said that their incinerator would exceed our standards,"
says Ross.
     Edward L Noel, the attorney for Syntex, referred
all questions on the latest legal maneuvers to his
client Gary Pendergrass, the Times Beach project
coordinator. Pendergrass could not be reached for
comment at press time on Monday. At the Jan. 26 County
Council meeting, NOel was less reticent ( "Emission
Control," RFT, Feb. 1). The corporate lawyer then
threatened the county with litigation, which could
result in $500,000 in monthly penalties. He also
compared the potential health risks posed by the
incinerator to a traffic problem. "I don't know that
there is any difference in putting one extra truck on
the highway," said Noel, a member of the prestigious law
firm of Armstrong, Teasdale, Schlafly and Davis.
     Despite NOel's opinion, the EPA has seen fit to
award a $50,000 technical-assistance grant to the Times
Beach Environmental Task Force. The money will be used
by the community group over the next two years to hire a
technical advisor, who will review emissions data from
the incinerator to see whether it is operating safely.
     Meanwhile, there is a growing number of opponents
to the incinerator who are still intent upon stopping it
before it begins operating -- perhaps as soon as next
year. A coalition of anti-incinerator forces has
scheduled a rally for this Thursday at 1:00 p.m. at the
EPA's site office on Lewis Road of I-44.

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