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Senators Angered With Failure To Report PCB Threat

March 17, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two senators charged Tuesday that federal environmental officials were ″asleep at the wheel″ in failing to warn of potential toxic hazards posed by gas pipelines from Texas to New Jersey.

The lawmakers lodged their criticisms as a federal Evironmental Protection Agency chief acknowledged delays in warnings about the pipelines operated by Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Corp.

The company has reported pouring lubricant liquids laden with hazardous waste into about 100 pits in at least 10 states along the pipelines, according to EPA officials.

Agency officials have admitted the EPA knew about potential pollution since 1985. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said the agency showed ″an unconscionable disregard for public health and safety.″

″We see EPA asleep at the wheel and in disarry,″ said Lautenberg, who chaired a hearing on the issue by the environmental oversight subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sen. John Breaux, D-La., in whose state tests showed the highest level of pollution, added: ″EPA knew about this problem ... there’s got to be something wrong there.″

Texas Eastern has acknowledged dumping liquid coolants laced with polychlorinated biphyenls, or PCBs, a suspected cause of cancer and other maladies.

Jacqueline Nelson, who said she lives 1,000 feet from a dump site in West Amwell, N.J., described herself at the hearing as a ″cancer patient,″ though she did not assert her disease was directly linked to the PCB pollution.

She and other West Amwell residents asked the senators to help provide uncontaminated drinking water and studies of health risks. They also demanded compensation from Texas Eastern for what the residents said was the diminished value of their homes.

Lautenberg said residents have been subjected to an ″emotional roller coaster″ by EPA tests. The tests initially confirmed the presence of PCBs in well water, but a second test released this week did not show any detectable levels of PCBs.

Christopher Daggett, Philadelphia-based regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said he was ″cautiously optimistic″ that faulty equipment caused errors in the initial test results.

Daggett said the EPA plans a third round of tests. Meanwhile, he said, Texas Eastern has agreed to provide bottled water, and will provide permanent filters if needed.

Howard Homeyer, president of Texas Eastern, told the subcommittee the company was committed to cleaning up any environmental damage done by the PCBs, but continues to believe the pipelines pose no health threat. He said the company has spent $20 million on cleanup so far and will continue to work with state and federal officials.

″For more than 10 years, Texas Eastern has worked diligently and steadily to remove the PCBs from its pipeline system,″ the company said in a statement distributed at the hearing.

Lautenberg said EPA was informed about the pit pollution by Texas Eastern in 1985 and that ″bells and whistles should have gone off at that point.″

But, Daggett explained, the information was not shared with his regional office until April 1986.

Louisiana officials told the senators they were never notified of the potential pollution by EPA. Martha Madden, director of the state environmental agency, said staff members learned of the threat in media accounts.