By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The setup was "atypical" according to an October 1991 letter from Alexis Strauss, an EPA Superfund official, to the state. "Woefully inadequate" is what another EPA official wrote the state after reading a Dames and Moore newsletter.
The letters from EPA notwithstanding, Dames and Moore says the state and EPA asked Motorola to communicate with the citizens. "They instructed Motorola to carry out the program" because this was a common practice, says Marty Rozelle, who directed the public relations campaign for Dames and Moore. The communications plan was preapproved by state and federal regulators, she says.
However, following the EPA's written reprimand, the state took back its communications duties. A spokesman, John Godec, was hired. Godec has mailed two newsletters to residents around the plant. He frequently meets with smaller groups, including a committee of neighborhood leaders.
The state's recent newsletters skirt the controversy over aquifer cleanup, but Godec says he discusses the issue in detail with citizens' groups.
A review of records from 1983 to 1991 reveals that the most disturbing facts were either not presented to the public in context or were camouflaged in scientific jargon. There was no mention of the fact that scientists feared some of the TCE might never be removed from beneath the plant, but might instead continue polluting the groundwater for centuries. There was no mention of the raging national debate over whether TCE and other chemicals can ever be completely purged from many of the nation's aquifers.
Much of the blame for this communications blackout can be laid at the hands of the EPA itself, which allowed the state of Arizona to oversee "cleanup" of pollution caused by Motorola, the state's largest employer, even after it became a federal Superfund site in 1989.
Without sufficient federal scrutiny, DEQ did not always perform routine checks on the quality of the environmental data submitted by Dames and Moore, according to Mike Montgomery, the EPA's new Superfund liaison to the Motorola 52nd Street site. Montgomery says a new generation of state regulators is now carefully checking Motorola's data.
The state also created a clear conflict by allowing Dames and Moore to generate the public information spawned from its own unverified data.
DEQ now says it was a matter of simple economics. "If we tripled our staff, we couldn't get all our work done. One of the things that needs to be done is community relations. And that is costly," says Don Atkinson, DEQ project manager of the site from 1988 to 1991. Atkinson knows both sides of the fence. Before working at DEQ, he had been a hydrologist for a different Motorola consultant assigned to the 52nd Street site.
Once at DEQ, Atkinson approved what Dames and Moore could tell the citizens.
In six years, Motorola's consultants conducted only one public meeting. Both DEQ and Dames and Moore agreed that public meetings were unnecessary "due to the low public concern apparent to date," state records say.
Instead Dames and Moore hung a total of seven newsletters on doorknobs of approximately 5,000 homes, says Rozelle. Response cards were included "to assess community needs," but only 165 people returned the cards to Motorola. Motorola's consultant used the response cards to "gather concerns," says Rozelle.
Some citizens respectfully thanked Motorola for taking care of the pollution problem, for hanging the newsletter on their doors, for giving them the opportunity to be included on a future mailing list.
Others were angry. "I found this packet in the parking lot, not on my door. I was quite upset, as these reports should be delivered more carefully," wrote one resident. Another resident blasted Motorola for hiring a "wino" to deliver the newsletters. "Can't you afford stamps?" the resident asked.
Eventually, Dames and Moore did compile a mailing list of about 450 people. Less than one-third were residents--most on the list were officials and bureaucrats. Newsletters were mailed out to these people.
But the primary method of communicating to citizens continued to be the newsletter door-hangings.
The seven newsletters alluded to the disaster in technical jargon, but switched to simple English when emphasizing that there was no cause for alarm.
One newsletter, in 1988, says that "it is important to remember that the drinking water in this area does not come from the groundwater where these contaminants were found." Easy enough to understand.
Then the same newsletter reports the bad news this way: "The alternative remedies that are included in the draft RAP are designed as the next step in the cleanup of soil and groundwater contamination at Motorola's 52nd Street Plant. This step is considered partial cleanup and is called an operable unit. An operable unit is a term used by EPA to describe remediation that is one component of, but consistent with, a complete solution."
Translation: The final solution (for cleanup) has yet to be decided. Another newsletter reported that 1.4 million parts per billion of TCE was detected in groundwater beneath the Motorola plant. What the newsletter fails to note is that this is one of the highest pollution measurements in the United States. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says the maximum concentrations for TCE nationwide ranged from 900 to 27,000 parts per billion, substantially less than the Motorola reading.