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Senators Say Agency Failed In PCB Warning

March 18, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An Environmental Protection Agency in ″disarray″ failed to tell residents from Texas to New Jersey about health hazards posed by gas pipelines near their homes, say two senators investigating the potential pollution.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., alleged Tuesday that EPA officials were ″asleep at the wheel″ in failing to issue warnings about the pipelines operated by Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Corp.

The words of Lautenberg, head of the Senate Environmental Oversight subcommittee, were echoed by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who said: ″There’s got to be something wrong.″ Tests showed the highest level of pollution in Louisiana.

Texas Eastern has acknowledged dumping liquid coolants laced with polychlorinated biphyenls, or PCBs, a suspected cause of cancer and other maladies, into about 100 pits in at least 10 states along the pipelines.

EPA officials have admitted the agency has known about potential pollution since 1985.

Lautenberg, who chaired a hearing on the pipeline problems, said the agency showed ″an unconscionable disregard for public health and safety.... We see EPA asleep at the wheel and in disarray.″

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 contend her disease was linked directly 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, New York-based regional administrator for the EPA, 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, Texas Eastern has agreed to provide bottled water, and will provide permanent filters if needed, he said.

Texas Eastern President Howard Homeyer 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 working 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 Texas Eastern informed the EPA about the pit pollution in 1985 and that ″bells and whistles should have gone off at that point.″

However, Daggett said the information was not shared with his office until April 1986.

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