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Urgent Third Letter to Chuck Clarke, Region X EPA Administrator, Regarding Impending Shipment of FPG Toxic Waste


July 20, 1999

Mr. Chuck Clarke
Regional Administrator
Region X, Environmental Protection Agency
Seattle, Washington

Mr. Mike Bussell
Director, Waste and Chemical Management
Region X, Environmental Protection Agency
Seattle, Washington



Dear Mr. Chuck Clarke and Mr. Mike Bussell:

We are alarmed and very dissappointed to learn that despite assurances to the contrary, your office has failed to notify us as promised of an impending shipment of waste from the Formosa Plastics Company due to sail on July 22 from Taiwan and to arrive in Tacoma on August 5. Even worse, it would seem after a conversation with Dave Bartus, that EPA is not prepared to do anything to stop this shipment which will move in violation of our verbal agreements and indeed in likely violation of US law. The rationale for this reversal of our agreement according to Mr. Bartus is that the waste in question (crushed contaminated barrels) is not a RCRA regulated hazardous waste.

Yet, this rationale overlooks two compelling issues:

1. RCRA -- Claiming that the crushed barrels are not a RCRA waste, pre-supposes one knows the characterization of the former contents of the barrels. It is well known that if acutely toxic waste is found in the barrels then special procedures must apply to the treatment of the barrels. The barrels in question have, to our knowledge, never been sampled and analyzed yet they contain unknown quantities of liquids from their prior use (they were used, uncleaned barrels) and they were contaminated by the waste in question which remains of unknown characterization as well as local soils. The unknown characterization of the entire Formosa Plastics waste was the major purpose and concern of USEPA's working group. It was understood from the start that this was a special case as USEPA was not going to take the word of Formosa Plastics as to the characterization of the waste and that it had de facto authority to refuse the shipment because Taiwan EPA stated that they would not allow any waste shipments unless the USEPA recommended that they be exported. That has been the basis of this whole exercise. Now USEPA is pretending that it has no authority over the waste drums and is reversing itself on presuppositions about the nature of the waste and has reverted to taking the word of private companies as to the nature of the waste. Based on this reversal of the intent of the exercise you have short-circuited the entire exercise you have promised which includes: an intra-agency working group, a public process and full consultation with the NGO community, and then a final determination as to the characterization of the waste before any consent would be given for the import of waste.

2. TSCA -- The Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA) includes an import ban on PCBs. This ban applies to any level above the detection limits. It is very likely that these barrels and indeed the entire shipment of Formosa Plastics waste violates the TSCA PCB import ban. First, the barrels as noted above have never been tested for PCBs or anything else. Second, as used barrels they are known to be contaminated with used oils/solvents which in turn are well known to be routinely contaminated with PCBs. Third, the barrels are known to be contaminated by the greater bulk of their former contents which in turn is known to be contaminated by PCBs. One Arachlor was found as high as 950 ppb in the CLS lab analysis. On the basis of these facts, it is almost certain that the crushed barrels will contain PCBs above the detection limits (known to be in the low parts per trillion range). As such, their import would be banned. Ignorance in this matter cannot be an excuse to violate the ban.

Finally, this matter is of utmost urgency as the containers are due to sail "today" (July 22 in Taiwan is in a matter of hours. Based on the reasons above we feel you have no choice but to do everything you can to halt the loading of these crushed barrels before the ship sails and costs will be incurred. All that is necessary is for you to contact the Taiwan EPA and/or ESSI and tell them to halt the shipment. We are still urgently awaiting a conversation with Mr. Chuck Clarke on this matter. Our colleague Jane Williams will be in Washington in a matter of hours and can possibly meet with Mr. Clarke to discuss the issue in further detail.

Sincerely yours,
Jim Puckett on behalf of:

Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network
Laurie Valeriano, Washington Toxics Coalition
Dave Batker, Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange

cc. Scott Mason, Business Agent, Longshoremen, Tacoma
Dave Bartus, EPA Region X

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