July 6, 2021
The Honorable Paul D. Tonko
Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change
19 Dove St., Unit 302
Albany, NY 12210
Dear Mr. Tonko:
We are writing to let you know we are glad to learn the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change is taking up the question of reinstating the Superfund tax. We write as members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency community advisory group for three Superfund sites in the Pine River watershed in central Michigan, including the most expensive fund-lead site in the Midwest Region 5 of EPA. After Fruit of the Loom, the parent firm for our polluter, Velsicol Chemical, declared bankruptcy in 1999, all payments coming from the responsible party ceased. General revenue is paying for the costs of remediation, with current agency estimates being that the site will costs at least another $300 million, in addition to the $200 million already spent.
However, the costs to the public from contamination originated at the sites in this community are much more than these hundreds of millions of dollars. The contamination produced here has contaminated literally millions of people and even more millions of farm animals. That mass contamination resulted from Velsicol Chemical’s St. Louis factory causing the worst food contamination accident in U.S. history in 1973. Through carelessness, the firm accidentally shipped large quantities (perhaps up to 19 tons) of a fire retardant composed of polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) to an animal feed supply facility in place of an animal feed supplement. Introduced into the food chain of the upper Midwest, at least eight million people in the Upper Midwest consumed some PBB.
To this day, we are tracking the intergenerational consequences of exposures to that PBB. In this work we have received invaluable assistance from one of your constituents, David O. Carpenter, M.D. from the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. Four members of the executive committee of our Task Force serve as members of the PBB Leadership Team that advises health researchers. We also work to provide continuing human health responses for the thousands of people who come forward to this day because of either being directly exposed to the PBB or exposed in utero.
Rather than attempt to describe more of the voluminous history of the three Superfund sites in our community, I would urge you and your staff to read one or more of the published books and some of the many EPA reports on our sites and the peer-reviewed human health studies examining the consequences of exposures to contaminates from the Velsicol Superfund sites in our community. Many of these studies are identified under the ‘Resources’ section of our website: www.pinerivercag.org. We would also urge you and staff to review the ‘Lessons’ section of the website.
We write rather to urge two specific actions that our sites’ legacies make clear are needed:
1. Restore the Superfund tax on petrochemicals to assure there is sufficient revenue in a restored Superfund trust find to pay remediation costs. Even if opponents of the tax argue it simply will be passed on to consumers, we know adding a cost to use of potential contaminants is a disincentive to their use.
2. Increase Superfund budget authorizations for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to allow it to fund applied human health research related to contamination at Superfund sites, and where needed because of documented adverse human health consequences of exposures, including direct funding of all needed clinical responses for exposed persons.
Thank you for your review of our recommendations. We would be glad, upon request, to provide more information to you, your staff, or committee staff.
Copies to Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton