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For Immediate Release: Sep 02, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

BURIED STUDY ON WASHINGTON LANDFILL MERCURY FINALLY SURFACES

Ecology Allowed Landfill Operators to Select Sites for Mercury Testing


Olympia — A long-suppressed Washington Department of Ecology study on the nature and extent of mercury contamination in state landfills is finally seeing the light of day. Released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the 2003 report finds that mercury concentrations are “wide ranging” in sampled sites and calls for additional testing that has never occurred.

“Ecology has been sitting on this report for two years while critical policy decisions about mercury were debated,” stated Washington PEER Director TJ Johnson, noting that the report would have aided the Legislature’s consideration of a mercury switch removal bill and the public comments on Ecology’s Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics strategy. “More disturbingly, Ecology has not followed through on even the timid recommendations made by its own study.”

PEER has been quite critical of Ecology’s mercury study because the agency –

  • Sampled only those sites that volunteered to participate in the study, despite clear legal authority to sample any site suspected of contributing mercury to the environment
  • Made illegal confidentiality agreements with the landfills that volunteered to be sampled. On advice of the state Attorney General, Ecology later retracted the agreements, but the final report does not identify any sampled sites by name; and
  • Participating landfills were offered advance review of the findings, while other parties, including Ecology’s own Mercury Advisory Committee, were not.

Even though Ecology spent approximately $50,000 of taxpayer dollars on the report, it has still, more than two years after its July 2003 completion, yet to be officially released.

Concerned employees from the Department of Ecology contacted Washington PEER to complain that the agency was refusing to create clear guidance as to the circumstances under which it will exclude regulated sites from scientific studies as well as to when confidentiality will be offered to the regulated community. In addition, Ecology scientists are reluctant to raise challenges for fear of being targeted by management.

“In the Department of Ecology, employees cannot voice honest scientific opinions without fear of retribution,” Johnson added. “Transparency in environmental regulation is one area where Ecology has lots of room to improve. How can Ecology ensure the protection of public health when their best scientists are not given the opportunity to weigh in on important public policy issues?”

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Read the July 20, 2005 Washington PEER letter critiquing the study

See the Department of Ecology response to Washington PEER

View the July 2003 report, entitled Determination of Total Dimethyl Mercury in Raw Landfill Gas with Site Screening for Elemental Mercury at Eight Washington State Landfills for the Washington State Department of Ecology