Now it’s air pollution in St. Louis

By Linda Gittleman, The Morning Sun

Posted: 09/18/14, 4:52 PM EDT |

 @LindaGittleman on Twitter

Indiana University has conducted the first published air quality study in St. Louis and the results are not a surprise.

The closer you get to the Velsicol plant site, the worse the air pollution is.

Exactly how bad it is, however, is still unknown. More studies are needed, according to Dr. Ronald Hites of Indiana University in Bloomington, who is with the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The staff in his lab conducted the study in July of 2013 and March this year by examining bark from St. Louis trees.

The bark provides a look at atmospheric conditions over a time period of three to five years, the report stated.

PBB or polybrominated biphenyls were found in concentrations of 0.27 parts per billion nearest the plant site, diminishing the further away the samples were taken.

Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, the readings within one kilometer of the plant site were 100 times the readings of trees located 100 to 1,000 kilometers from the site.

DDT or dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane, was reported at 2.9 parts per billion at its highest levels within one kilometer of the plant site, Hite said.

This was apparently at Clapp Park.

Those DDT levels diminish to 0,65 parts per billion and even much less than that, the further away you get from the plant site.

“It’s not the numbers, it’s all relative,” Hite said, noting however, how much higher the levels are near the plant site than elsewhere.

And, he pointed out, “We don’t know what the health affects are. We did not measure the air concentration.”

He suggested an exposure assessment, collecting blood from the people nearest the plant site as the next step.

Hite said St. Louis was chosen because of the PBB contamination, pointing out that he had been teaching the PBB story for years in class.

“Contamination of PBB in Michigan is famous,” he said. “It’s about how a whole industry was affected by a casual mislabeling.”

Fire retardant containing PBB was inadvertently mixed with cattle feed in the 1970s.

His idea was to take a look at the site 40 years after the incident.

Although the impetus was PBB, Hite and his staff were aware of the DDT and did not find the levels of that and other chemicals too surprising.

“It’s a stable compound,” he said.

And his report, published in Environmental Science and Technology, has some suggestions.

“The Velsicol Superfund site is still a point source of this pollution to surrounding areas even after 40 years, and people living with a 10 kilometer radius of the site are still being subject to relatively high levels of PBBs, DDTs (and other chemicals) in the air they breathe.” the report stated.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has focused on the remediation of soil, sediment and water; however, humans can control what they eat and touch but not what they breathe.

“This study suggests that air monitoring around Superfund sites should be continued before, throughout and long after remediation,” the report said.

Members of the Pine River Task Force did not know the study was being done and only learned of it Thursday..

Former Task Force Chair Jane Keon said she is concerned especially, “since the EPA is giving away as firewood the trees that are being cut down in the neighborhood,”

Alma College Geologist Murray Borrello said he wants to see real time monitoring of air quality during the next phase of the clean up.

“Disturbing contaminated soils and trucking them away was problematic when the EPA was doing remediation on the river sediment,” he said. “The community should be vigilant about forcing real-time air monitoring whatever the cost. There should also be extensive education to residents who live near “ground zero” of the ongoing clean up.”

St. Louis City Manager Robert McConkie said he was not surprised by the results of the study.

There have been many references at various meetings to comments from residents in the past about how screen doors disintegrated from supposed airborne chemicals from the plant, though I personally do not know of any authenticity to such reports,” he said.

“As more studies are done...more findings surface about the dangers of past manufacturing practices of not only (Velsicol) but manufacturing in general,” he continued. “This just goes to demonstrate the necessity for more recent regulation imposed on manufacturers for protection of the environment and human health; and why these regulations should not be relaxed without significant scrutiny.”