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Another flaw, according to Burke: Superfund law prohibits the ATSDR from getting a "total picture" of chemical exposures to a neighborhood. The law does not allow the ATSDR to factor in health risks caused by a high-tech plant's "permitted" chemical releases, even if those releases are in violation of environmental regulations. Therefore, many toxins released into air and wastewater cannot be counted as health risks.
The May 1988 ATSDR health assessment of the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund site, although not specifically mentioned in the GAO report, is one of the 785 assessments that have been so severely criticized by the GAO scientists.
The ATSDR concluded, without visiting the site, that the plume of contaminated groundwater might "pose a health threat to local residents in the future," because the contamination might infect drinking-water supplies. Nevertheless, the ATSDR wrote that "no follow-up health study is indicated at this time."
"There are no indications in the information and data reviewed for this health assessment that human exposure is actually occurring at the present time, or has occurred in the past," the agency wrote.
But the information upon which the ATSDR based its conclusions was far from complete, New Times has learned.
ùThe ATSDR did not mention the Turnage well, a private well on 46th Street southwest of the Motorola plant. The well had provided drinking water to an entire apartment building for more than 30 years. The water in that well was in 1986 found to be contaminated with TCE at a concentration that exceeded federal health levels by 450 times. However, the ATSDR in its health assessment ignored the highly contaminated well, saying "groundwater samples collected from off-site private wells indicated that at the date of sampling, contamination did not exceed drinking-water standards." The Turnage well also fed "Emerald Pool," a swimming pool that was owned by the Turnage family and was open to the public. The pool was the site of numerous social functions, such as graduation swim parties and Fraternal Order of Police galas. The Turnages, upon learning of the TCE in their well in 1984, sold their water rights to Motorola, which permanently locked the well. "Obviously, that is the kind of information that you'd like to have there to put before the people making public health determinations," says Burke, the GAO panelist and Johns Hopkins professor.
ùThe ATSDR did not take into account Motorola's air emissions, which, in 1990 alone, were estimated by the company itself to reach 1.6 million pounds, according to a state DEQ report. "This estimated annual discharge rate . . . could have been ongoing for previous years," the state said. Because the chemicals in the air were "permitted" and "legal," the ATSDR could not assess their impact on neighborhood health.
ù The ATSDR did not take into account the fact that neighborhoods in the 52nd Street area may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water from the Indian Bend Wash wells, which sometimes fed the City of Phoenix reservoir on Thomas Road. City records show that the reservoir was contaminated with unhealthy levels of TCE in 1981. The reservoir furnished water to the 52nd Street area. (All drinking water is now safe, city health officials say.)
ùThe ATSDR did not take into account the Motorola 52nd Street plant's releases of industrial chemicals, including solvents, into the city sewer. City of Phoenix records show that several homes had been flooded with chemical discharge from the plant when the sewers backed up, and the city itself warned of serious health effects. But because the wastewater emissions were "permitted" and "legal," the ATSDR could not assess their impact on human health.
After the GAO report was released, the ATSDR redesigned its health studies to include site visits and face-to-face discussions with the public, says Harvey Rogers, an ATSDR scientist.
Rogers says ATSDR may revisit the Motorola 52nd Street plant to "look into the past, present and future conditions" that may have had an impact on people's health.
"Now we do indeed address that," says Rogers.
"We sometimes meet with the community and get their health concerns. We aggressively seek input. Sometimes we get an insight into what [health effects] to look for."
@body:But residents living near the Motorola Scottsdale plant may not have a second ATSDR health assessment. This is troubling, since the agency's 1989 health assessment of the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site raises far more questions than it answers. The report was written prior to the GAO's investigation of the agency.
Without visiting south Scottsdale, the ATSDR in 1989 evaluated environmental data provided by the EPA and concluded what the Durkins have known for years--that residents were probably exposed to TCE and other solvents in drinking water and the ponds in the park system. The ATSDR did not evaluate air emissions from the Motorola Scottsdale plant and smaller high-tech plants because such emissions were "permitted" and "legal."
The agency's conclusion was nonetheless alarming: "Since human exposure to site contaminants may have occurred in the past, and may currently be occurring (in some lakes in the parks) this site is being considered for follow-up health studies."
Three years after the ATSDR report was published, and ten years after the contamination was discovered in Scottsdale, the ATSDR has failed to conduct follow-up health studies.
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