on G.E.'s mind
PCB mess on the Coosa River --
Any wonder that Sam Nunn is on G.E.'s board?
by William H. Brooks
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2001
Thought y'all should know that G.E. has left Rome,
Georgia and the local Coosa River basin wrecked as well.
Just call me a distressed North Georgia native. I lived by General
Electric Company's poisoned Rome plant for a time while finishing
college. Now, after years of seeing relatively nothing done about
the local contamination, I am moved to action.
Sharing information and the same corporate adversaries
The rural South rarely gets much national media attention, but I prepared
this article after reading in The New York Times a recent series
by Kirk Johnson chronicling G.E.'s PCB contamination of the Hudson River.
The sharing of information can only be beneficial and good for all, especially
in these matters of mutual interest wherein we all face the same corporate
The health effects on people in this region appear quite serious, particularly
when you read in the local press about high rates of Cancer, and about
the physical and mental impairments plaguing children in the area's schools.
My work carries me to these local cities and towns. This G.E. and
Monsanto inspired contamination foisted upon the city of Rome and the Coosa
River basin is unfortunately as timely, and dangerous, as the situation
facing upstate New York communities and the Hudson River valley.
It is hoped that New York residents will find all the following information
to be worthy and valuable in your own dealings with G.E. and with PCB contamination.
read: 'How We Got Here -- The History of
Chlorinated Diphenyl (PCB's)', Click
G.E.'s Rome plant contaminated with PCB's
Twenty-five years ago while attending Berry College, I was a resident
of Rome, a city located in Georgia's northwest corner. It was there
that I was taking an Organic Chemistry course. I was actually sitting
in class one afternoon when the professor announced that PCB's had just
been outlawed by the U.S. Congress. Within months, the PCB contamination
at G.E.'s Rome plant, a block away from my duplex, was made public.
Coosa River basin contaminated; waters flow to Gulf of Mexico
During that same period, G.E. also admitted to contaminating the Coosa
River basin, the area in which Rome is situated, and through which the
river flows westward into Alabama and then southerly as it becomes
the Alabama River. The Alabama empties ultimately into Mobile
Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Though I do not live in Rome today,
I have followed the peer reviewed science of these chemicals ever since,
and also watched developments concerning the contamination because it affects
the whole region. That these situations are essentially the same
now as then, amazes me.
Georgia's former Senator Sam Nunn on G.E.'s board
G.E. plants in Rome, GA and upstate NY share similarities
Only from HudsonWatch.net did I recently learn that our
former US Senator Sam Nunn is a G.E. board member! For me,
that explains why there has been so little action by the State of Georgia
in these matters. Our state's Environmental Protection Division
(EPD) will not even maintain PCB warning signs about the contaminated fish.
Mr. Nunn served as the longtime chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
and G.E. has a very strong presence in The Peach State, having recently
moved yet another of its divisions to the Atlanta area.
With many similarities to the Hudson River and to the two contaminated
G.E. plant sites in upstate New York, the Rome situation differs only in
that transformers (Medium transformers, two to a railcar, holding hundreds
of gallons of oil each) were manufactured here from about 1953 till approximately
last year. Until 1977, the oil mix used to insulate and cool them
included both Pyranol and chlorobenzenes.
Dioxins form when transformers burn
It is well documented in the chemistry literature that chlorobenzenes
and PCB's will create dioxins when transformers overheat or 'burn'.
When G.E. energized and maximum load-tested its assembled transformers,
those that ‘failed' did so by 'burning' -- electrically arcing inside.
Copper acts as a catalyst
It is also well documented in the chemistry literature that copper,
in the presence of these chemicals, serves as a catalyst in the production
of dioxins when transformers arc, or when 'fires' occur from overloading,
lightning strikes, etc.. Sure enough, dioxins are found here in Rome,
but not much testing has occurred, and G.E. has not being forthright in
telling just how much their recent ‘6 tests' inside the plant have shown.
Lax enforcement by Georgia environmental officials
Georgia's EPD, like its brethren 'enviro' agencies in the neighboring
southern states, is notorious for lax enforcement. When the PCB contamination
was first made public, EPD did not even post fish advisories. EPD
still does not post many signs today nor maintain the ones they have.
Those that get torn down are rarely replaced, even though the fish are
heavily contaminated and serve as one of the routes of exposure for people
away from direct contamination.
(A few miles downriver, and to the west of Rome, just across the Alabama
line, Lake Weiss still hosts state-licensed commercial fishing,
sending tainted fish -- especially catfish (a bottom feeder) -- to tables
all over the region.)
PCB contamination upriver from Rome
Noteworthy is that EPD has a fish advisory on its Web site. It
recommends limited fish consumption even from fishing areas miles upriver
from Rome, due to the presence of PCB's. The upriver contamination
is probably due to the fact that the blackened oil from failed transformers
was often given to workers to take home to exterminate termites, treat
fence posts, use to knock down dust on the backroads, etc..
Contaminated sludge used as fertilizer
In the mid-1960's, G.E.'s plant tied in to Rome's sewer system.
G.E.'s illegal discharges of oils into the system concentrated in sewage
sludge, and until the 1970's that sludge was given to farmers to use as
a fertilizer -- again widely dispersed, and put right on local and regional
tables in beef, dairy products, vegetables, etc..
PCB's in Rome's drinking water; dioxin a concern
The dioxin component of these spread contaminants makes this especially
threatening to people's health. Limited testing has shown alarmingly
high levels of PCB's in Rome's drinking water -- the city's water intake
is located just below the outfall of the natural basin in which the G.E.
plant is situated. The results of testing for dioxin, finally conducted
last year, have yet to be made public.
Rome -- politically a 'captive' of G.E.'s 3300 jobs
The public health side of this issue cries out for attention here in
the largely-unregulated South. On the business side, you will find
that the City of Rome has always been captive to the 3300 jobs G.E. provided.
Now though, the city and Floyd County are image conscious, even
to the point of not allowing fish advisory signs in the city park where
the two rivers downtown form the Coosa, and where locals still fish --
below the plant outfall.
Floyd County also is concerned that G.E.'s plan for the site is just
to cap it and leave it, effectively rendering the largest developed industrial
parcel in the county forever empty -- a permanent 'brownfield'.
The county operates the old ‘Lock and Dam', below Rome, as a public
fishing site and boat launch on the Coosa. The lock has been inoperable
since the days of the cotton barges, and the fish warning signs were torn
down long ago. This section is believed to contain some of the most
heavily contaminated sediments in the river. However, the bustle
of activity around a place called Mayo's Bar is such that the county
has plans to restore the lock to allow boat traffic and fishermen from
Lake Weiss to have easier access to downtown Rome. The plan is dependent
upon G.E. paying for cost overruns resulting from clean up of the PCB contamination,
its containment and disposal.
Floyd County badly contaminated
Chemical pollution around other parts of Floyd County is apparently
so bad, that according to a recent state and federal profile of polluted
creeks and tributaries, 22 of the 23 area creeks are contaminated with
PCB's. Fishing in them is cautioned against (if you can find the
warning signs to heed).
G.E. does not want to pay to clean up its mess
G.E.'s contentiousness in dealing with the PCB contamination in Rome
and the Coosa River basin has gotten a lot of ink in the local press.
found in G.E. landfill' -- G.E.'s testing finds dioxins at its
Rome plant's landfill. The Company only releases data showing the
'minimum' levels of contamination measured.
draws the line' -- G.E. says it will not clean up its plant
site, the largest industrial site in the county, and located in the heart
experts to meet public' -- Medical researchers, affiliated with
G.E., address the local concerned populace.
doctor to answer PCB health questions' -- Medical researcher, not
affiliated with G.E., addresses the local concerned populace not satisfied
with the quality of answers received at earlier meeting with medical researchers
affiliated with G.E..
OK's lock project' -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues provisional
permit for lock restoration. Plans must provide for PCB containment
and disposal. A key element is that G.E. must pay for any cost overruns
resulting from clean up of PCB contamination. Viability of the project
hinges on G.E.'s participation in dealing with its contaminants.
Monsanto Superfund site in nearby Anniston
Yet another contaminated area close to Rome is in Anniston, Alabama,
an hour or so southwest, and downriver. Anniston, located in Calhoun
County, is home to the now-closed Fort McClellan, and also home
to the nation's newest nerve gas incinerator, under construction at the
Army's Chemical Weapons Depot. The incinerator plant starts testing
this summer, and the locals are watching as sirens are being installed
in the five county area. Municipalities are being asked to plan evacuation
Anniston used to be home to one of the earliest Swann Chemical Company
plants manufacturing PCB's starting in 1929. Swann, its plants and
patents were purchased by Monsanto Chemical Company in 1935.
The Anniston plant is now owned and operated by Solutia, Inc., a
firm created in 1997 when Monsanto spun off its chemical businesses.
Monsanto's manufacturing activities and careless production habits left
parts of the city a
Superfund site with US-EPA as the lead agency
in charge of cleanup.
Monsanto claims PCB's do no harm
Apparently, US-EPA was invited in by Monsanto when the class action
lawsuits started last fall. A few thousand residents have signed-on
to join these actions. Monsanto still claims that PCB's do
Though Monsanto claims ‘Problem?, What problem?', the Company
recently dug up all the baseball fields at the local park, and put the
tainted soil under tarp, promising to have the fields re-sod in time for
the Spring season. The contaminated ball fields have been in continuous
use by the neighborhood kids for more than 20 years:
to open in March'
Monsanto in court
The failure of the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management
(ADEM) to do anything about PCB contamination for the last quarter century
has meant a lot of local grief. Monsanto is presently before the
Alabama Supreme Court fighting a request by a group of local plaintiffs
to do health testing, arguing that ‘harm' must first be proven:
seeks new trial venue'
monitoring case heads to top court'
US-EPA does not test people
Also frightening for the residents is the fact that US-EPA's soil testing
for PCB's found not only PCB's, but also massive lead contamination.
(Something I recently discovered is that US-EPA and its Superfund
program are not chartered to test people for chemical contaminants.
The Agency does gather data though, like reports of Cancer-clusters and
mortality studies, to use as statistical canaries to guide the Agency to
possible sources of pollution.)
Blood serum tests for PCB's were conducted on an undisclosed number
of persons by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR). The results were publicly released. They showed highly-elevated
PCB levels in the sampling. In the case of ten unfortunate individuals
in that sampling, dioxins were found at dangerous levels:
citizens and PCB's'
ATSDR did a sampling last August testing blood serum for lead.
The full results have yet to be released. The findings may show high
levels of lead flowing in local bloodstreams. Also, there was recent
testing of soil samples for lead:
begins more lead sampling'
Highest Cancer rates in Alabama
Calhoun County leads the state in incidence of Cancer. That statistic,
and the PCB and lead contaminations, along with the apparent indifference
of local officials, have stirred anger amongst many private citizens:
disrupt PCB meeting'
The Web site of The Anniston Star, the local newspaper, has a
great deal more material on local contamination, particularly this listing
of last year's PCB stories:
Called 'a witch hunt'
Anniston's city fathers along with Calhoun County officials seem to
side with the local chamber of commerce, which calls the contamination
investigations by US-EPA and ATSDR "a witch hunt to squeeze industries":
researches effects of industry on Anniston'
Oxford mayor still eats the fish
Responses by other area and state officials have been just as reckless.
The mayor of nearby Oxford, Alabama says he has no problem with
PCB's and still eats the fish. In 1996, ADEM even denied a
request by Alabama's Dept. of Public Health for further testing.
More local views and links to more stories:
- Where do we stand?'
Recently, Dr. John Peterson Myers, director of the W. Alton Jones
Foundation in Charlottesville, VA, and co-author of the book, 'Our
Stolen Future', was invited to write an op-ed piece in The Anniston
PCB's to be here a long time - The damage spreads beyond our borders'
Also, The Star has a detailed article about the history of PCB's
in Anniston. Anniston has the dubious honor of being home to an original
1929 Swann Chemical Company PCB production plant:
Evolution of Anniston's 72 year PCB history'
Solutia's 'official' history of the former Monsanto Anniston plant can
be viewed at:
William H. Brooks heads Brooks Technical Services, a private
consulting firm with expertise in energy management, utilities and controls.
His work is not related to the above health, contamination and environmental
issues. He holds a B.S. from Berry College, 1977, Rome, Georgia,
with a double major in Chemistry and Physics. He resides in Cumming,
Georgia. For further information about any of the above, Mr. Brooks
may be contacted via E-mail at: email@example.com