The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

ECO-BEAT

County commission supports Placitas Open Space

Signpost Staff

On June 5, The Sandoval County Commission unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Placitas Open Space. The open space is 560 acres of open space granted to the City of Albuquerque in 1966 by the Bureau of Land Management in a Recreation and Public Purposes Act patent. The commission’s action is in response to a local BLM plan to revoke this patent. Last November, BLM Albuquerque office assistant field supervisor Steve Anderson told the Signpost that Albuquerque was out of compliance with the conditions of the patent, and that it was the intention of his office that the POS revert back to BLM control.

The resolution reads:

    WHEREAS for the last several years, the Las Placitas Association with the support of many citizens in the Placitas community and Sandoval County has been working cooperatively with the City of Albuquerque Open Space division to protect this area by promoting environmental education programs, water shed improvement projects, improved access for the area and an updated Master Plan; and

    WHEREAS Sandoval County has supported these activities by assisting in access improvements and by writing a letter of support for funding to the New Mexico State Legislature on behalf of the City of Albuquerque in order to enable the City to prepare a Master Plan for the area; and

    WHEREAS, the Placitas Open Space has been designated as a prehistoric and historic site under the Prehistoric and Historic Sites Preservation Act. NMSA 18-8-1 to 18-8-8 (1978);

    and

    WHEREAS, designation as a prehistoric and historic site requires recognition by the State of New Mexico that this site is both rare and unique and holds great value for public interpretation and visitation; and

    WHEREAS, any controversy that may have existed between the Bureau of Land Management and the City of Albuquerque regarding this open space has been resolved by those two (2) entities; and

    WHEREAS, a portion of the open space can be made accessible to any individual suffering from any physical disability, although the terrain of the open space is such that it cannot be available to such persons in totality; and

    WHEREAS, the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department has agreed to provide law enforcement in this area; and

    WHEREAS, it is in the interest of all the citizens of Sandoval County that the land continue to be designated as open space and accessible to the public; and

    WHEREAS, the participation by Sandoval County with the City of Albuquerque in managing this open space provides substantial benefits to all of the citizens of Sandoval County; and

    WHEREAS, Las Placitas Association is willing to assist in this effort by providing educational activities, volunteer labor, and an annual financial contribution, said contribution to be determined on a yearly basis to the best of the ability of the Las Placitas Association.

    NOW, THEREFORE, based upon the foregoing, it is hereby RESOLVED:

    1. The County supports the continued management of the Placitas Open Space by the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division; and

    2. The County will cooperate with the City Open Space Division to identify specific ways that Sandoval County and the Las Placitas Association can develop a formal agreement with the City to provide assistance so that this unique public asset is protected for present and future citizens of Sandoval County; and

    3. The County will cooperate with the City of Albuquerque and the Las Placitas Association to develop definitive tasks to be performed by the City of Albuquerque and the Association and, specifically, to identify the volunteer labor contributions that will be the responsibility of the Las Placitas Association.

County attorney David Mathews said at the meeting that his conversations with the BLM indicated that there is no controversy over keeping the POS.

During a later interview, however, Brian Lloyd of the Albuquerque office of the BLM said that since his office was not consulted about this resolution and did not know the intentions of the commission, he did not know what to say in response, other than that the BLM is working with the city to get their R&PP patents into compliance. He said that his office will consider the master plan for the POS and decide whether it fits with the conditions of the patent.

Judith Hendry, president of the Las Placitas Association, said, "In my view, this resolution shows that concerned parties recognize what a tenuous hold we have on the open space. This is sort of a circling the wagons of City Open Space, Sandoval County, and the Las Placitas Association. We don't think that the BLM will actually revoke the patent, but the resolution sends a clear message that our communities and local governments are together on this."

 

Intel insider charges coverup of toxic emissions into Corrales

Excerpts from the Corrales Comment, May 24, 2003

A senior industrial hygienist at Intel thinks he knows what may be sickening people living near the plant.

Charging a coverup, George Evans, a nine-year Intel employee, said corporate officials have pressured him to conduct air sampling in a way that would not reveal that industrial chemicals are escaping into Corrales neighborhoods.

He’s now convinced that nearby residents’ exposure to industrial chemicals is coming at least in part from the section of the vast Intel complex known as the Central Utility Building. It sits just east of Fab 11, right on the property line and just above the Corrales homes where most health complaints have arisen.

It’s there, Evans said, that Intel is using an unpermitted and inadequate acid-gas scrubber that he thinks is releasing toxins, and where chemical-laden recycled water is routed into the facilities’ cooling towers, which release even more.

He thinks residents are being exposed to chlorine, chloramines, ammonia, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, and other toxins from operations in the CUB’s cooling tower, acid waste neutralizing unit, and acid gas scrubber as well as from the larger cooling towers at the north end of the facility. And, he charges, his superiors have tried to cover it up.

Many of the symptoms that residents near Intel have complained about over the past decade could be explained by exposure to the chemicals Evans has identified. The guide to chemical hazards published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, for example, lists the following symptoms for exposures to ammonia: irritation of eyes, nose, throat, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and pulmonary edema.

Similar symptoms occur with exposure to chlorine, plus tearing, choking, nausea, headache, dizziness, reduced oxygen in the blood, and dermatitis. All of these are conditions that villagers have blamed on Intel’s pollutants over the past decade.

Hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen chloride induce many of the same effects, as well as skin burns, throat spasms, and bone changes.

Confronted with Evans’s assertions, Intel’s regional environmental health and safety manager, Jim Casciano, disputed the charge that the suspected scrubber unit at the CUB is not included within Intel’s current state air pollution permit. In any event, neither Casciano nor New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Jon Goldstein was prepared to say that Evans is wrong about emissions problems from the CUB.

In fact, Casciano admitted May 16 that unexpectedly high levels of ammonia have been detected in the waste stream as a result of changes in the manufacturing process within the new Fab 11-X.

Evans said since the increased levels of ammonia have been detected—although he said he was not permitted to sample for community exposures to it—Intel has decided to install a new ammonia scrubber at the CUB. “What concerned me,” Evans said, “is that we [Intel] have been telling Corrales that we’re not responsible for these things [odors and irritants] and it’s not true. And furthermore, he said, his superiors at Intel seemed determined to make sure the public never found out. Evans said he experienced workplace retaliation since he began insisting that these community exposures be investigated and documented. [He has since resigned.]

In an interview May 16 responding to Evans’ allegations, Casciano admitted that Intel’s water conservation measures may be contributing to the emissions problem identified by Evans. Asked whether he thought the increased ammonia might be causing respiratory problems for people nearby, Casciano replied, “I think we need to look at the levels first, to understand that. Then that information would go to a doctor or toxicologist or medical person to ask ‘can this level cause this health effect?’”

“The north cooling towers get the majority of their water from the acid-waste neutralizer,” Evans said, “so that’s where the bigger problem is.” That might explain the frequently reported “Intel smells” in the vicinity of the now closed Walgreens across Sara Road from the north boundary of the Intel property. People have reported severe choking and respiratory distress from caustic exposures at that location over the years when a breeze comes from the south.

NMED spokesman Goldstein said May 19 that air-quality-bureau regulators are looking at the possibility that the scrubbers may in fact be a source of pollution at Intel.

That question and others may be answered this summer as the Corrales Air Toxics Study funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency moves into its detailed monitoring phase.

One of the nation’s leading authorities on the use of open-path (open air) pollution detection and recording equipment has agreed to work on the Corrales air-monitoring project this summer. Ram Hashmonay, of the environmental consulting firm Arcadis, will be involved in setting up and evaluating results from use of a state-of-the-art Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer here.

And the Corrales Air Toxics project manager at the New Mexico Air Quality Bureau, Mary Uhl, said she has obtained approval from the EPA to have residents themselves collect air samples for analysis when they experience intense but short-lived chemical exposures, or “spikes.”

Results of that sampling, as well as data collected and interpreted by the Arcadis FTIR equipment, are to be analyzed for potential health effects by the end of this year.

 

Environment department requests more info on Intel emissions

Ty Belknap

On June 3 a certified letter from the state Environment Department Air Quality Bureau was delivered to Mindy Koch, site environmental manager at Intel. The letter requests more information on the quarterly testing program for volatile organic-chemical emissions from the recuperative thermal oxidiizer stacks, as well as a number of excess-emission reports. The AQB had questions concerning the frequency, nature, and adequacy of excess-emission reports previously submitted by Intel.

The letter states, “Without VOC emission data during the p.m., the quarterly test results for the RTO’s are not representative of the facility’s emission limits. In addition, the AQB believes that excess emissions during the p.m. cannot be evaluated or excused without information regarding the nature and quantity of VOC emissions and their effect on public health and safety.”

Intel says they will comply with the AQB’s June 30 deadline.

Meanwhile, whistleblower George Evans is without a job. The former senior-level Intel scientist said he was pressured into quitting after charging publicly that Intel had deliberately skewed a monitoring project and misled the public about dangerous air emissions. Concerning the results of his actions, he said “I’m unemployed and my career is ruined, but I think it opened a lot of peoples’ eyes. The environment department is now saying that Intel is violating their permit, and Intel is finally acknowledging that they have some problems. They are working to fix these problems, but I don’t know why they’ve insisted on hiding it from the public. I have Intel documents to support all my allegations.”

Evans has been interviewed on local television several times and expects that the situation will become a national issue.

 

Bill would promote recycled materials in highway construction

U.S. senator Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation aimed at encouraging states to use recycled materials such as glass, old tires, reclaimed pavement, fly ash, and compost in highway construction and maintenance projects.

The bill, called the Recycled Roads Act of 2003, creates two incentive grant programs: one offering grants to states that want to hire a coordinator to promote the use of recyclable material in federally funded highway projects, and another to actually carry out federally funded construction projects.

Bingaman pointed out that New Mexico does use some recycled crumb-rubber product in roads and is currently exploring the use of rubberized asphalt in road construction and the application of compost and mulch as an alternative to reseeding open spaces at the completion of construction. But both New Mexico and the forty-nine other states can all do more.

In 2000, seventy-three million tons of reclaimed asphalt was recycled, saving taxpayers $300 million. If more asphalt was reused, and more of other types of waste could be reclaimed, millions more taxpayer dollars could be saved because there would be less need for processing and transporting new materials.

Using more recyclable material in road construction would also create a new market for communities struggling to find reliable buyers for the materials they collect in their recycling programs.

Bingaman will try to incorporate his measure in the massive six-year reauthorization of the transportation legislation to be considered later this year. The bill has been sent to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

 

Pipeline officials sentenced in pipeline explosion

On June 18, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein sentenced three Olympic Pipeline officials and approved $112 million in fines related to the 1999 explosion that killed three people in Bellingham, Washington. She told the defendants they needed to change their corporate culture of putting profits before safety, and that "if this case isn't taken to heart, then the tragedy is just wasted."

The settlement included $112 in criminal and civil penalties, and it required safety improvements to be implemented by the two companies found liable in the blast, Olympic Pipeline and its former managing partner, Equilon Pipeline. Equilon is owned by Shell Oil Company, the same company that has proposed to renovate a fifty-year old New Mexico pipeline similar to the one that exploded.

 

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