Page 5


Denver Mayor Wellington Webb at a public hearing on the Shattuck Superfund site. Rebecca McAlpin, The Denver Post artin found the same contempt for the peo ple living around the Shattuck site, situated a few miles from downtown Denver, that he had seen in South Houston a decade earlier. Martin characterized most of the EPA’s poor decisions as bureaucratic mistakes. But in Denver, the EPA held secret meetings with Shattuck’s ownership and agreed to leave tons of radioactive waste in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. Shattuck was one of a dozen Denver Superfund sites where radioactive metals had been processed.Yet it was the only site where the EPA agreed to leave the radioactive waste on site. Martin issued a report, which is the only final action the ombudsman’s office can take, recommending that the material be moved to a radioactive waste disposal site in Utah. As he had done when he forced the agency to do the right thing in Houston, he prevailed. The radioactive waste was moved out of the Overland Park subdivision, a real victory for neighborhood activists. Then Martin began to question Whitman’s possible conflict of interest. From 1972 to 1987, Christine Whitman’s husband, John Whitman, worked for Citigroup, the company that now owns the Shattuck site. According to court filings Martin made in his fight to keep his job \(as well as a related story in the John Whitman still holds as much as $250,000 in Citi stock and works for a venture group spun out of Citigroup Capital. He also received a substantial bonus from Citigroup last year. Citigroup, Martin alleges in Martin v. the EPA et al., is getting a sweet deal on the clean-up.The company will pay $7 million of the estimated $35 million cost to remove soil contaminated by a half-century of processing radium, as well as chemicals that contained uranium, molybdenum, and rhenium. Martin estimates that the cost will be far greater than $35 million. In the suit he filed he alleges that the clean-up agreement the EPA approved could save Citigroup from $30 million to $100 million. Citi’s gain will be the taxpayers’ loss. Before Martin resigned, FBI agents had already visited his office to inquire about the conflict of interest charges. When they finally came to review Martin’s files, it was too late. Whitman had already taken them. “I told them they would have to go to the inspector general’s office and ask for them,” Kaufman said. en years ago a call from Marie Flickinger in Houston dragged a reluctant ombudsman into the hottest sludge pit in the nation’s Bermuda Triangle of Superfund sites. \(Brio is a thirty minute drive from the French Limited Flickinger is a maverick publisher who never quite understood that the function of a small-town weekly is to comfort the comfortable while they afflict the afflicted. When her campaign against the EPA’s plan to clean up the Brio Superfund site was losing momentum and her South Belt-Ellington Leader advertisers were grousing about the “bad publicity” the paper was creating, Flickinger called Bob Martin. She had already struck out with his predecessor and tossed his phone number in the trash. But she arrived at the Leader one morning, and lying in front of the office dumpster was a slip of paper with the EPA ombudsman’s phone number scrawled on it. She decided to give it one more try. Bob Martin answered the phone. Flickinger said that without Martin, on the job for only a few weeks when Flickinger called him, there was no way to stop an . EPA plan to burn vinyl chloride, dioxins, PCBs and a host of other toxins catalogued as “tentatively identified compounds.” There was also mercury, which the agency didn’t know was in the pits until Flickinger put Martin onto a Monsanto paper trail that led to a mercury waste stream. “You can’t burn mercury,” Flickinger said. “You change it to a gas, but you don’t destroy it.” “They were going to do this in the middle of a community of 70,000 people, near a hospital, near schools. We were going to have to close the college [San Jacinto Junior College] down,” Flickinger said. “Waste Management had built an incinerator. And when Bob issued his report, that sucker was ten days from starting to burn waste. And they didn’t even know what was in the waste they were going to burn.” Today, the Brio Site is sealed off behind a 50-foot-deep concrete wall, covered with a gas containment layer, and studded with air-monitoring devices. Standing water is pumped and treated, in an attempt to lower the volume of contaminants in the bodies of fish caught in Clear Creekthe highest trace amounts of volatile substances ever detected in fish tested in the U.S. The incinerator is dismantled. A public school and 677 homes that were also contaminated have been abandoned. “In nine years here, I’ve never heard anyone at the agency say `We screwed up,'” Martin said on the day after he submitted his letter of resignation. “But the record shows that they do. Without judicial review of Superfund decisions, the American people live in a chasm between the EPA’s belief that it can do no wrong and those bad decisions. The ombudsman’s office occupied that chasm. Now, that office is no more.” Former Observer editor Louis Dubose is the author with Molly kills ofShrub:The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. 5/24/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9