CBS SPECIAL ON OIL WASTES-DEC 23-10PM EASTERN
ED BRADLEY--ON ASSIGNMENT--RIPS BARE THE GREED OF OIL COMPANIES IN
DUMPING OIL FIELD WASTES-
GOVERNMENT "SWEETHEART DEALS" WITH BIG OIL TO EXEMPT WASTES FROM LAWS
Be sure to watch or even better get your group, family and friends
together for a house meeting/party to watch it together, use it as an
opportunity to educate your neighbors. This is just one of countless
examples of how big oil and our government abuse the environmental and
human rights of people who live near there operations! The oil industry
enjoys many exemptions from laws that cover other industries. Let' s
mame 1998 the year we turn this around.
Enclosed below is EPA head Browner calling for end to exemption--You can
see from this example that if we work with the media to expose oil
industry abuse, we can make progress.
In the absence of "common sense initiatives" that address the real
problems caused by the oil industry, grassroots action will continue to
The CBS Special on this will be TUESDAY-TOMORROW --on the 23th of Dec.
at 10 pm EASTERN.
EPA administrator wants oil covered by toxic waste law
Associated Press, 12/18/97 20:39
WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress should close a loophole in a 1979 hazardous
waste law that allows the oil industry to dump toxic products without
federal monitoring, the nation's environmental chief said. Tightening
the law would help people living near oil and gas wells learn just what
is coming out of them, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Carol Browner told CBS in an interview.
The oil industry is the only one not required by the government to
monitor its toxic waste or label it as hazardous, she said. ``Big oil
got a sweetheart deal,'' Browner said. ``The effect is that the people
who live near these facilities don't even know with any precision what
has been placed in their community - benzene, toluene, arsenic, lead.''
Browner's comments are scheduled to air Tuesday on ``Ed Bradley on
Assignment: Town Under Siege.'' The program focuses on a battle in Grand
Bois, La., over a waste site that some residents say is making them
Below is the story of Grand Bois, Louisiana as small village in the
Bayou country of Louisiana that had a Oil Field Waste Company move in
next door. By law Oil Field Waste is not TOXIC, this myth is harming
the people of Grand Bois and other all over Louisiana and the United
States. This is what happens when the powerful Oil & Gas Industry work
with Congress to make sure that they are allowed a `special deal' the
people pay the price.
Best of New Orleans; -- Gambit Weekly Cover Story
Grand Bois residents want the state to shut down the oil waste pit
By Christi Daugherty
Photos by Tracie Morris/Donn Young Photography
Just after sunset on Tuesday, Nov. 4, Grand Bois residents Lyes and
Rosemarie Verdin put their children to bed under a cloud of hydrogen
sulfide. In quantities that would be illegal in many states, the gas
wafted on gentle bayou breezes across the 333 feet that separate their
small home in Lafourche
Parish from the U.S. Liquids oil waste treatment facility.
That night, air-quality monitors erected at U.S. Liquids by the state
Department of Environmental Quality registered a steady increase in
hydrogen sulfide. Starting at zero early in the day, the monitor
registered 5 parts per billion by 3 p.m. Five hours later, it was at 10
parts per billion -- the maximum release allowed by law in California
and Michigan. At 9 p.m., the releases had surpassed the legal limits for
Nebraska -- 30 parts per billion and Grand Bois residents began calling
DEQ to complain about the stench.
By the time the Verdins put their 7-year-old daughter, Angel, to bed
around 10 p.m., the DEQ monitor registered 82 parts of hydrogen sulfide
per billion in the air outside their home -- more than the maximum
release allowed in Texas.
Throughout the evening, Angel had been complaining of feeling weak and
dizzy. Just after her family tucked her into bed, the little girl
called for help and became violently ill.
"She had diarrhea so bad it was water," Verdin said several days
later, the worry still palpable through his soft Cajun accent.
Throughout the night, Verdin and his wife hid their own headaches as
theycarried Angel back and forth to the bathroom while her fever climbed
and she lost control of most of her bodily functions. Over-the-counter
medicine was useless against her illness.
DEQ records show the level of hydrogen sulfide remained high in Grand
Bois throughout that night, the following day and the next night. At one
point, it climbed to a high of 94 parts per billion. During that time,
Angel had blood in her urine, nausea, diarrhea and fever. Her symptoms
were the common flu-like
signs of hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and the family's doctor said the
girl showed signs of exposure to environmental toxins. Before
recovering, Angel missed more than a week of school.
Ironically, earlier on the same day that Angel Verdin became ill, her
parents and more than 100 of their neighbors attended a meeting in
nearby Houma with state legislators to discuss the issue. Senate and
House committees are investigating the situation at Grand Bois, whose
300 residents are suing the oil waste treatment facility at the edge of
From the residents' point of view, the meeting had not gone well. DEQ
administrators told legislators that air monitoring at U.S. Liquids had
turnedup nothing that could harm residents. Bob Hannah, DEQ
administrator of air quality and radiation protection, said levels of
lead, benzene and hydrogen sulfide were well below state limits.
But residents, who have been suffering from a variety of otherwise
inexplicable chronic maladies for years, told a different story.
Everything from high levels of lead in the blood of Grand Bois children
to chronic headaches and nausea have been continually reported.
At the meeting that night, Angel's father offered to let the
legislators live in his house for a few weeks while he went to stay in
their homes. "I guarantee you will be begging me to let you come back to
your house after just a couple of days," he said.
It was just as the residents returned home from that legislative
hearing that the stench of hydrogen sulfide first filled the air in
Grand Bois. The gas has a distinctive odor that is frequently likened to
rotten eggs or sulfur.
For residents, Nov. 4 symbolized what they have been fighting against
for the past three years -- not just the oil waste company, but also the
state's lack of interest.
The problem for Grand Bois residents is that, based on the information
available, the company doesn't appear to be breaking any Louisiana laws.
What might be illegal if U.S. Liquids were a chemical company is within
the boundaries of the law for an oilfield waste processing plant.
Most chemicals related to the oil industry are unregulated. The
Environmental Protection Agency doesn't even set limits on the release
of many chemicals related to oilfield waste, even potentially deadly
ones like hydrogen sulfide. States may impose their own controls, but
the regulation of oilfield waste in Louisiana is very limited. Because
the state doesn't take over where EPA leaves off, residents are largely
unprotected from the toxic chemicals commonly found in oil production --
carcinogens such as benzene and toxins
such as lead and hydrogen sulfide.
The Houston Chronicle recently completed an extensive series of
articles on hydrogen sulfide, arguing that the Texas limitation of 80
parts per billion is insufficient. Louisiana doesn't regulate the
release of hydrogen sulfide until the gas reaches 240 parts per billion
and then only if it maintains that average for eight hours.
At Grand Bois on Nov. 4 and 5, the highest average release for an
eight-hour period was 45 parts per billion, Hannah said. That was enough
to make Angel Verdin sick for days, but not enough to spur a DEQ
"I don't have, at this time, any information as to what activity was
going on to cause [the release]," Hannah said. "We didn't immediately
investigate the occurrence because it was fairly low in terms of the
standard. I'm sure it was a nuisance for the folks out there."
Hannah's comments left the residents' attorney, Gladstone Jones, fuming.
"This is what is important: when you see elevated levels of poisons such
as hydrogen sulfide, and it coincides with a 7-year-old girl getting so
sick she has uncontrollable diarrhea and she can't go to school for
seven days. That's important," Jones said. "If someone says that's safe,
there's something wrong with the state government."
Because neither U.S. Liquids nor the state has shown much interest in
the situation, residents said their only option was to file suit. "We
had to sue," resident Clarice Friloux said. "Nobody would listen to us."
Despite repeated requests, officials for U.S. Liquids refused to
comment for this story. Asked if the company would respond to the
residents' allegations, a company secretary said, "No," and hung up.
The lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in May, asks that the
U.S. Liquids site be closed and that residents' receive funding for
Even after the suit was filed, the state seemed disinterested in the
case until 60 Minutes veteran (and frequent Louisiana visitor) Ed
Bradley arrived last summer to investigate the situation for a one-hour
news program. The CBS special is scheduled to air this winter. After
Bradley interviewed him, Gov. Mike Foster visited the community for the
first time and later proposed new state regulations for oilfield waste.
But years of neglect have left Grand Bois a suspicious town. Few
residents are convinced that the state has had a genuine change of heart
about their community.
"We've gotten no support from the state at all," Friloux said. "We feel
we have the EPA on our side in some ways, but as far as the DEQ -- no.
The Office of Conservation -- no. The Department of Health and Hospitals
-- no. We not only have to fight the company, we have to fight the
Grand Bois was founded just after the turn of the century by members of
a tribe of Houma Indians. Most of the people who live there today are
descendants of those settlers.
Although they speak with bayou accents, the residents have the deep-set
brown eyes, sharply angular features and thick, dark hair of their
forefathers. On important occasions in the community, they often perform
complex dances and drum ceremonies that have been passed down through
their families for generations. There is a somber air about them that is
For decades, Grand Bois residents lived in their traditional way:
hunting, fishing and farming. Modern life touched the community, but
only gently, as nearby Houma and Thibodaux grew rapidly. Still, when a
company called Campbell Wells first opened an oil-waste treatment pit at
Grand Bois in 1982, residents didn't worry.
The oil industry has been a part of Lafourche Parish for years; it is
considered a good business. And although the plant emitted a smell from
the beginning, Friloux said, it was not overwhelming.
For 12 years, the company (now called U.S. Liquids) and the small
community shared the swampy area peacefully. But while Grand Bois stayed
about the same size, the company grew steadily. By 1994, U.S. Liquids
had 15 open pits treating massive quantities of oilfield waste. The
smell became problematic for
the residents, who also had begun to report health problems. Then things
In 1994, the company accepted 81 truckloads of pit sludge from an Exxon
site in Alabama. As soon as the 5,000 gallons of waste were poured into
the pits, the air became oppressive and residents of Grand Bois began to
feel ill. Many contacted their doctors; some were hospitalized.
Residents say the health problems that began that day have never ceased
and, in fact, have increased over time.
State Sen. Mike Robichaux, who also is a physician in nearby Raceland,
saw first-hand the change in the health of Grand Bois citizens. What he
saw made him an "environmentalist by default."
Residents developed chronic problems with headaches, nausea and stomach
ailments. The children and the elderly were the most affected. Residents
complained to DEQ and to U.S. Liquids but were told there was nothing at
the site that could hurt them.
Nevertheless, Robichaux contacted Dr. Patricia Williams, director of
outpatient toxicology at LSU Medical Center in Baton Rouge. After
looking at information already gathered by the state, Williams said she
found that more than one-third of a test-group of 27 children from the
area showed signs of possible lead poisoning.
"There is a straight-line connection between lead and loss of IQ,"
Robichaux said. "What we're looking at are children being ignored with
no attempt being made to clean up the contamination."
But Williams' involvement in the Grand Bois dispute has caused
considerable disagreement and rancor both at LSU and in the state Office
of Public Health, which Williams has openly accused of poor work.
For her preliminary Grand Bois study, Williams used information
gathered by the state Office of Public Health (OPH) over the course of
several years as part of its Well Infant Care program. In its own
analysis of that information, OPH found only one case of an elevated
blood lead level among the town's children.
Williams' report -- using the same information on the same 27 children
-- found four with blood lead levels above the 10 micrograms considered
the safe limit by national health standards. Four others showed commonly
accepted indications of possible past lead contamination. Two additional
forms of anemia common among those exposed to toxins.
"That's 10 children I was concerned with out of 27," Williams said.
"That is a very high percentage of screened children. This is
hit-or-miss screening --not intensive medical surveillance -- which made
it even more worrisome to me."
Based on that high percentage and in keeping with national guidelines,
she said, officials "should have swooped into that community and
intensively looked for the source of the problem."
Instead, the state found no health problems among children in Grand
Bois. According to the OPH report, "blood lead levels ... are below
levels that would warrant any public health action. ... None of the
environmental data or the blood lead levels ... suggest possible
exposure to lead from the treatment
facility." Assistant state health officer Dr. Louis Trachtman said he
does not know why Williams' findings were so different from those of his
"From what we can understand, she's using criteria that she has
established herself," he said. "Our data showed there were a certain
number of children tested, and a certain number had elevated [lead]
levels according to U.S. Public Health Service criteria."
Williams answered that "Dr. Trachtman is wrong in his statement."
"Ten cases are exactly the information he had," she said. "I used the
same [federal] Centers for Disease Control requirements they were
required to use." Trachtman and Williams agree on that point, but they
remain far apart on theinterpretation of the data.
"All I can say is we don't understand [the difference between the two
reports]," Trachtman said. "But we don't see it as a problem ... because
every child found with a high blood lead level was identified and
Williams also said that after the Office of Public Health found one
child with high levels of lead, the state sent an inspector to analyze
the child's environment. The subsequent report ruled out lead in paint
or elsewhere in the house, but lead was found in the soil around the
house and in an open cistern. Williams said those are warning signs of
environmental explanations for the lead contamination and that the
nearby U.S. Liquids site could not be ruled out as a cause without
further study. But that information was not included in the final OPH
report. "I think we need to have an explanation as to why those other
children were not included in the report and why the inspector's report
that showed a problem early on was left out of the final report,"
Since Williams' report became public, Gov. Foster has ordered state
fundin for an intensive medical surveillance of 100 Grand Bois children.
Drs. Robichaux and Richard Brook will work with Williams and Dr. Philip
Landrigan, director of occupational and environmental medicine at Mount
Sinai Hospital, as part of the surveillance team. Landrigan is an expert
consultant to EPA on children's environmental health issues. The doctors
will attempt to determine the level of lead contamination among children
in the community and to find the source. Williams said the survey team
will not work with representatives of the Office of Public Health, which
produced the previous Grand Bois study.
In addition to the state's renewed interest in the Grand Bois case,
changes seem imminent. During the last legislative session, Robichaux
introduced bills that would
prevent the operation of hazardous waste treatment facilities within
1,500 feet of a residence. Had such a law been in place in 1982, U.S.
Liquids (then Campbell Wells) never would have opened the Grand Bois
site. Robichaux was continually voted down, which he attributes to the
efforts of the oil and gas lobby.
"Nobody would help me with my bills," he said.
Since the CBS investigation, however, the state has begun developing
guidelines to test oilfield waste. Jack Caldwell, secretary of the state
Department of Natural Resources, said DNR is collecting samples from
oil-related sites around the state Caldwell, who expects the testing
program to be in place sometime next year, denied allegations by Grand
Bois residents that the stringency of the planned testing program was
being watered down in the development process. "Each truck will be
tested when it leaves with a load and again when it arrives at the
treatment facility," Caldwell said. Those testing guidelines were
initially imposed by Gov. Foster, who fired one DNR bureaucrat for
disagreeing with the plan.
But with state levels for allowable chemicals often set relatively high,
even the testing plan is cold comfort to residents living next door to a
legal operation that still seems to be making them all sick.
Despite the positive signs, residents could not help but find the recent
legislative hearings in their community disheartening. They said the
majority of the legislators seemed more interested in the company's
health than the residents' illnesses. During their visit to the area,
legislators canceled a planned tour of the U.S. Liquids site with great
fanfare after company representatives refused to allow news media on the
property. But several legislators did tour the facility, Friloux said.
Residents saw them being driven through the community and on to U.S.
Liquids property by company executives. The residents were not invited.
"They took [legislators] to a recently cleaned pit," Friloux said.
At the hearing, legislators repeatedly suggested that residents should
move, and many in Grand Bois worry that the state would rather see them
leave and the company remain. But Jones, the residents' attorney, said
they will fight to stay right where they are, just as they have fought
the company for the last three years.
"The state government does not have license to rip the heart out of a
community, especially one that is all families who have lived together
for 100 years," he said. "It is insulting that an industry can come in
and force its waste on the residents and then force them to move out."
Friloux said that despite the fact that her children -- ages 7 and 11 --
are chronically ill and that she herself is anemic, she and her
neighbors are not going anywhere.
"[They] can't pay me enough to leave my home," she said. Lyes Verdin is
even more adamant. "I want them shut down," he said. "They came here
after us. They're ... doing wrong. I'm going to fight them all the way."