Tallahassee — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency closed an investigation despite worker and citizen eyewitness accounts of illegal toxic dumping without performing a single soil or water sample, according to a review of the agency’s enforcement file released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Without explanation, the agency declined to investigate reports of fouled well water, un-permitted discharge pipes into streams and a growing cancer cluster in a rural Georgia town.
PEER is asking EPA’s Office of Inspector General to reopen the case. In addition, because the affected streams feed into Florida’s Suwannee River, and because the potential exists to contaminate the Floridan Aquifer, which supplies North Florida’s drinking water, PEER has also asked the Florida Department of Environmental to monitor effects on state waters.
Over the past several years, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division has cited Coggins Farm Supply in south-central Georgia for solid waste violations, but, until recently, has failed to demand compliance with wastewater and hazardous waste regulations. Indeed, the EPD has conducted only one water sample at the site—and that sample showed evidence of PCBs. None of the violations that were found ever triggered even a dime in fines by the EPD. Meanwhile, the EPD continues to “study” the situation. EPA has done nothing.
Both state and federal environmental agencies closed their files despite knowing that –
- More than 30 of the fewer than 750 residents living within four miles of the facility have some form of cancer, with bladder cancer being most prominent;
- Residents repeatedly reported seeing milky, foul smelling liquids in the ditches surrounding the facility. Many residents report that they can no longer drink the local well water; and
- Wholesale dumping and burning of plastic bales contaminated with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides have been evident even to causal observers.
“I have never seen a more lackadaisical investigation,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney with Florida DEP. “The Coggins case files read like the tale of Two Blind Mice.”
One striking aspect of the Coggins case is the steady stream of employees and residents giving consistent, reinforcing accounts of the same events. Both agencies’ failure to take any soil samples and only one water sample is inexplicable as samples would be required to prove that any pollution offenses occurred.
“Heaven help us if this case is at all representative of how pollution investigations are now conducted at the state and federal levels,” Phillips added. “These cases were shut down before they rounded first base.”