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Disclosure issue now surrounds Shintech

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / April 6, 1998

ROMEVILLE – Shintech officials have recently found themselves embroiled over public disclosure of alleged groundwater contamination of their plastics plant site.

A recent release of documents, forced by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, turned up letters which stated the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality purposefully kept knowledge of toxic contamination at the proposed Shintech site from the public.

“The DEQ gave clearance to proceed without determining what it is and how extensive it is,” declared Pat Melancon of St. James Citizens for Jobsand the Environment.

The proposed Shintech site is the site of the old Helvetia Sugar Mill, Melancon added.

In May 1996, Jeffrey Heaton, vice president of Shintech consultant C-K Associates, wrote to DEQ Secretary Dale Givens, enclosing a report of a environmental site assessment.

The survey found contaminants described by Shintech project engineer David Wise as those common to a farm worked by heavy diesel equipment, such as residue from the use of petroleum products.

The contaminants were found near an equipment shed in an area not slated for any construction activity, Wise asserted.

“You’d find that on any sugar cane farm,” St. James Parish President DaleHymel Jr. commented.What raised a red flag in the letter, though, was a request “that the Phase I ESA report not be made publicly available for review at this time because premature disclosure of the contemplated purchase of the property could have a detrimental effect on both the purchase price and community relations.”Elsewhere, the letter notes: “Shintech is currently mapping a formal public relations campaign to inform the local community and various governmental agencies of the planned facility; however, the anticipated time frame for environmental permitting activities requires that the combined Phase II ESA and groundwater quality certification activities be initiated before public announcements are made.”By return post, on July 19, 1996, Givens replied: “Your request for confidentiality of the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment” submitted by letter dated May 8, 1996, on behalf of Shintech Inc. is hereby granted,since this information may be considered proprietary and require nondisclosure under La. RS. 30:2030(A)(1)(b).”Melancon responded, “DEQ is circumventing and even breaking the law to protect Shintech’s economic interests.”Wise said the request for confidentiality was done at the request of Louisiana Power & Light, which owns the site. “Basically, until the landpurchase was final, the landowner asked no disclosure of this,” Wise said.

On Aug. 12, 1996, according to Robert Kuehn of the Tulane EnvironmentalLaw Clinic, Shintech submitted its groundwater assessment report which, he said, showed extensive contamination of the soil and groundwater.

In May 1997, Shintech submitted to DEQ a work plan to assess the extent of contamination and likewise asked for, and received, confidentiality on this. In December 1997, DEQ denied public access to this work plan.Wise said lateral migration of the contaminates was “highly unlikely” and pointed out much of the River Region had been cane farms for generations.

Besides, he continued, the aquafer groundwater sources are hundreds of feet deeper than any contaminants could reach, being at least 200 feet beneath the topsoil.

In addition, the area where the contaminants were found were between the Illinois Central railroad tracks and River Road, while most of the plant will be built beyond the tracks.

Meanwhile, the Shintech permit processing continues to crawl through the various agencies and courts. In May or June, a Baton Rouge court is due toact on Shintech’s coastal zone use permit. And, the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency has yet to act on the pending environmental justice issue.

Wise warned of a “ripple effect” should the EPA find against Shintech, and added a negative decision could have a widespread chilling effect on industrial development in America.

“It’s another scare tactic,” Wise concluded of the law clinic’s charges.

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