The recent discovery of a toxic plume of pollution in the ground water at the Raytheon Plant in the Azalea neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Florida is not the first time Raytheon has been a bad neighbor. In 1986 the Raytheon plant in Mountainview, California was the subject of an EPA order to clean up contaminated ground water around that plant. The contamination of the ground water at the Mountainview site was believed to be from leaking underground chemical storage tanks. In that case Raytheon installed three wells to pump and treat ground water to contain the contaminated plume.
Raytheon certainly had the knowledge about these types of chemical leaks over twenty years ago based upon this California case. Apparently, Raytheon chose not to spend the money in St. Petersburg to pump and treat the polluted water but rather decided that “natural attenuation” was the best choice and cheapest choice for them. By doing this Raytheon has caused substantial damage to the real estate values and likely the health of the residents in the Azalea neighborhood of St. Petersburg.
I have heard from three real estate agents in the last week who have called me to report sales contracts on homes in the Azalea area that have fallen through because the buyers backed out for fear of the pollution of the ground water. The class action lawsuits that have been filed in Pinellas County are seeking damages for the residents for their loss of the value of their homes.
In what has only been mentioned in whispers has now come into the light of day during Congressional testimony-the heparin that led to 81 deaths in the United States may have been contaminated deliberately. The FDA has been considering this possibility for months but now the whispers have become public in testimony given to to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
David G. Strunce, chief executive of Scientific Protein Laboratories, the company that supplied contaminated heparin material to Baxter International, which manufactured and distributed the finished drug, described the contamination as “an insidious act” that “seems to us an intentional act upstream in the supply chain.”
The F.D.A. has identified Changzhou SPL, a Chinese subsidiary of Scientific Protein Laboratories, as the source of the contaminated heparin. A Congressional investigator said the contaminant, oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, cost $9 a pound compared with $900 a pound for heparin.
Mr. Strunce said that his company tried to find the original source of the contamination but was stopped by the Chinese authorities
A firm hired by Raytheon Corporation has found that at least six wells in the Azalea neighborhood have been contaminated by high level contaminants coming from the Raytheon plant in St. Petersburg. The tainted wells are scattered to the south as far as Eighth Avenue and to the east of the Raytheon site on 72nd Street. The results have prompted the following response from the DEP, “We are asking them until further notice to not use their irrigation wells and to please use municipal water for irrigation purposes until further notice.” This is a far cry from the initial response by DEP and Raytheon when both stated that there was no danger to the health of pets or humans. The investigation will continue and evidence will be gathered in the case. One thing is certain-Raytheon has not been a good neighbor to the residents of the Azalea neighbohood who knew nothing of this contaminaiton until the media uncovered the problem a few weeks ago.
In an article published in today’s St. Petersburg Times, the cost and length of the cleanup of Raytheon groundwater contamination will likely be lengthy and expensive. According to the article, environmental consultants determine that the process offici won’t even begin the process until it is first determined the extent and nature of the plume. This obviously increases the burden and suffering of Azalea residents who are left to worry and wonder what will become of their health and their property values.
As we know, the original problem began in 1991 when the plant that caused the spill was owned by E Systems. However, Raytheon inherited the problem as well as the responsibility for it after it merged with E Systems in April 1995. While Raytheon and the DEP continue to insist the chemicals trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane are not hazardous to human health, other environmental experts disagree. According to the Times, “a DEP document shows that wells tested in March 2007 at Azalea Park, 72nd Street N, the Brandywine Apartments, 70th Street N and Stone’s Throw Condominiums show levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane and other toxic chemicals well above levels considered potentially hazardous to human health.”
No matter how you look at it this is a tragic situation for the good people of the Azalea neighborhood of St. Petersburg. It also demonstrates the consequences of corporate bad behavior.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis has announced that its blood thinning injection drug Lovenox has been found to be slightly tainted with the same contaminant that was linked to 81 US deaths-over-sulfated chondroitin sulfate. However, Sanofi-s contaminated heparin has not been linked to any adverse health reactions and probably will not cause any since the size of the contaminant is relatively small.
Sanofi’s revelation comes in the wake of Baxter’s heparin problem which was linked to contaminated heparin from Chinese plants. The furor over the contamination has caused problems between China and US and has led to Congressional inquiries over the safety of Chinese imports. Regulators inspecting the Chinese plants faulted them for quality control issues as well as plant safety problems.
The heparin recall that was linked to China has now spread to 11 countries and has been definitively linked to the serious health effects of numerous people as well as 81 deaths in the United States.
A high ranking Chinese embassy official has disputed the findings and is pushing for inspections of US plants where the finished heparin product was manufactured. The news belies a growing tension between the two countries regarding the safety and quality of Chinese exports including toys, drugs, and raw materials.
The F.D.A. sent a warning letter on Monday to Changzhou SPL, the Chinese plant identified as the source of contaminated heparin made by Baxter International in the United States. It warned that the plant used unclean tanks to make heparin, that it accepted raw materials from an unacceptable vendor and that it had no adequate way to remove impurities.
Heparin is made from the mucous membranes of the intestines of slaughtered pigs that, in China, are often cooked in unregulated family workshops. The contaminant, identified as oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, a cheaper substance, slipped through the usual testing and was recognized only after more sophisticated tests were used.
The F.D.A. has identified 12 Chinese companies that have supplied contaminated heparin to 11 countries — Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States. Deborah Autor, director of compliance at the F.D.A.’s drug center, said the agency did not know the original source of all the contamination or the points in the supply chain at which it was added.
I spent the weekend talking with the concerned residents of the Azalea neighborhood in St. Petersburg. These are hard working, good people whose lives have been turned upside down by the reckless and careless disregard of their corporate neighbor Raytheon. Raytheon never bothered to tell Azalea residents about a toxic plume spilling from their plant in St. Petersburg that has contaminated the local groundwater.
The decrease in property values is not their only concern. The Azalea residents spoke to me about concern for their children’s health and welfare. They had questions about their pets who may have been exposed to the toxic chemicals Raytheon let seep into the groundater. This is a very difficult time for these good people who wake up every morning what the future holds in store for them.
Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell if there will be any long term health consequences linked to this contamination. We also don’t know when the contamination will be cleaned up or if property values will return to previous valuations. The anxiety and worry caused by the bad behavior of Raytheon has wrecked havoc in the daily lives of these residents.
When Cardinal Levada met with journalists in the Time building in New York this past Friday and was reported to have said that the church is considering making it easier for survivors of priest abuse to come forward, there was the feeling that possibly the Catholic Church was about to change.
Now, Reuters is reporting that Levada, Benedict’s successor as chief official in charge of dealing with priests who abuse, is saying he didn’t say that change in church law was imminent. He went further to say that he didn’t believe bishops had aided and abetted molesting priests. This is the same Levada who as archbishop of San Francisco, had the chairman of a panel formed to help the archdiocese review abuse claims resign in protest, accusing church leaders of “deception” for blocking the panel’s findings. Now, he’s defending bishops like Cardinal Law who resigned in disgrace after church documents revealed the extent of his involvement in the church sex abuse coverup.
This is a very disturbing development in light of the Pope’s comments and actions this week. The Pope himself had chastised the American bishops when he told them that the abuse scandal had not been handled well. Now, the Pope has one of his top lieutenants in Levada, siding with bishops who have been exposed as hiding and covering up for abusive priests.
Fr. Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon law expert, reacted to Levada’s comments by stating that he personally remembers briefing then Auxiliary Bishop Levada in 1985 about the priest abuse crisis. Doyle states that Levada is either lying or has such a restrictively narrow view of reality that allows him to deny the bishops’ knowlege of the extent of the priest abuse crisis. Doyle, an expert in the abuse crisis, has reviewed thousands of documents dating back to the 1940’s that show the bishops knew about abusive priests and hid them or transferred them to other parishes where they were free to abuse again. Doyle sees Levada’s comments as more of the “pass the buck” mentality that Benedict condemned and has permeated the bishops’ actions in mishandling the abuse issue.
The real problem is the lack of accountability of the US bishops, none of whom have been successfully charged criminally for their actions in this regard. The Pope must continue to hold the bishops accountable if he is going to have any credibility with survivors of sexual abuse as well as the Catholic faithful who look to him for straight talk and pastoral leadership.
Azalea neighborhood homeowners and business owners in St. Petersburg have spent years paying on mortgages hoping to see increases in value in their properties. Now their corporate neighbor Raytheon has damaged property values in the neighborhood by failing to properly clean up toxic chemicals that have leached into the ground water and formed a toxic plume under azalea park and under azalea homes and businesses. Raytheon apparently made the decision that the company could save money by not cleaning up its mess and hoping its dangerous chemicals just go away on their own. Raytheon called its clean up plan “natural attenuation” In other words, dump it on your neighbors.
The contamination of the neighborhood ground water will make it more difficult to sell homes in the area and will reduce property values, perhaps substantially. My expert real estate appraiser who has been surveying the area today advises me that banks may be unwilling or hesitant to give mortgage loans on property that may be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Furthermore, even properties that are not contaminated will be devalued by being in an area with the stigma of toxic pollution. The lower priced sales of the contaminated properties in the area will also reduce the amount that banks will lend on nearby non-contaminated properties thus reducing the market value of those properties. Azalea property owners do have a right to bring individual or class action lawsuits recover for loss of property value as well as for injury to their health if that can be connected to the chemical exposure. The law is on the property owners side in the dispute. Raytheon should pay.
I think most people involved in this movement-whether they be survivors, doctors, advocates, lawyers, priests, or bishops don’t know where Pope Benedict’s actions this week will lead. On the one hand, his words and actions could be a slick PR maneuver designed to put this crisis to bed without doing anything for survivors. On the other hand, Benedict may have said and done some significant first things for survivors and their advocates. If the former is the case, let it be known that those of us advocating on behalf of these courageous survivors will not give up and will not be silenced. We will continue to fight for justice in the courts. If the former, Benedict has surely underestimated our resolve and determination.
However, if the latter is the case we’re in unchartered waters. Could it be that Benedict has given the US bishops a new mandate to deal with survivors in a truly just and pastoral fashion? In his Washington speech to the US bishops he seemed to indicate that he now rejects the old “duck and cover” routine of the bishops. The “blame the media” campaign waged for so long by the US bishops seems to have run its course. Even William Cardinal Levada, Benedict’s replacement as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and chief overseer of priest molesters, said this week that church officials were considering changing church law as to how abuse cases are handled. Levada did not give specifics but it is thought that he may consider opening up the canonical statute of limitations for abuse cases. If you consider how slowly church law changes (once in the last century), this could be a remarkable development.
We don’t know how or if the US bishops will respond to the Pope’s actions or his statments. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, those of us working on behalf of survivors will press on. We’ll continue to demand access to the secret files, we’ll continue to expose priest perpetrators and fight for survivors’ rights. In the end, it’s not just the only thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.