Thursday, July 19, 2007

Developers' Dreams and Our Toxic Nightmares

The Northwest Arkansas Times had an editorial yesterday that contained unquestioned assumptions that need to be addressed. The nut of the editor’s argument was that the former site of R&P Electroplating on Pump Station Road could best be used for business space instead of green space or a city park for residents of south Fayetteville, the neglected stepchild of concern by public officials, the Chamber, and the local newspapers. “The dirty truth, friends, is that sometimes creating space for private enterprise is a smart move that can’t be ignored,” opined the Hussman corporate media scribe.

No doubt the city officials, the Chamber, and the local media thought it was a smart move that could not be ignored when they bragged about the opening of R&P Electroplating in 1977. That was the year they grew the tax base by adding the toxic polluter to foul the land and water of our community--not the year it ceased operation as the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial falsely states and would have you believe. No doubt Fred Hanna thought it was a wise move when he successfully urged the Planning Commission to approve an expansion of the plant in 1989.

Thanks to the fine independent journalism of Richard Drake, we know now that this valued member of the business community was a major polluter and left behind a toxic nightmare for others to clean up after they reaped the profits and ruined the land and contaminated the creek that flows into the White River and Beaver Lake. Contaminants from the facility include an assortment of heavy metals, vinyl chlorides, and other solvents. Specifically, the business left us with significant amounts of 1,1,1 trichloroethane; 1,1 dichloroethene; vinyl chloride; methylene chloride; arsenic; chromium; and lead. For example, in 1994-1995, R&P Electroplating produced or used 12 tons of 1,1,1 trichlorethane and removed less than 2 tons of it from the site for destruction.

The business closed in 1997, after 20 years of quick profits and polluting our community, and the next year we discovered that they left behind 42,081 gallons of liquid waste and 410,200 pounds of solids and sludge for the citizens of Fayetteville to enjoy. In 2001, it was still listed in the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database, along with other Fayetteville businesses such as Elkhart Products, Kearney, Marshalltown Tools, and Superior Industries.

Why is it left to someone else to clean up their mess? Why does our Chamber recruit polluters? How much did the business owners Frank and Arthur Pummill, the potentially responsible parties, spend to protect the public from their hazardous wastes? What is Vernon Meek doing these days? Who will pay the $44,000 in back property taxes? Who will pay for the $21,000 in damage to Fayetteville's sewage treatment plant caused by R&P intentionally dumping high concentrations of cyanide and heavy metals? Who will pay to clean up their previous business site, also still contaminated, on South School Street? How much is this going to cost taxpayers to protect our children and our drinking water from irresponsible businesses? The dirty truth, friends, is that sometimes creating space for private enterprise is a bad move that can’t be ignored.

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