WASHINGTON - January 10 - Private firms licensed by Massachusetts to oversee toxic clean-ups are failing state audits by an overwhelming and increasing rate, according to figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Three out of every four private clean-ups failed to pass state audits; nearly one in ten were so deficient that they were completely invalidated and retracted.
Unlike other states where public agencies oversee hazardous waste removals, Massachusetts allows landowners to use private consultants, called Licensed Site Professionals, to supervise work and certify sites as clean. For example, LSP’s were responsible for more than 18,000 toxic spill clean-ups throughout the Commonwealth during the past decade.
“The Romney administration should stop outsourcing public health protection,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA biologist. “When far more of these privatized clean-ups fail than pass muster, it is time to go back to the drawing board.”
Audits of the privatized clean-ups are conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. DEP figures for full audits (as opposed to partial audits or paper record reviews) during Fiscal Year 2005 show that –
- Only 25% of audited private clean-ups passed;
- Two of the leading reasons for flunking audits were failure by the consultants to properly assess the type or level of toxic concentrations or the inability to properly trace the migratory pathways for contamination in the groundwater, surface water, air, soil and food chain; and
- Nearly three-out of four (71%) of private clean-ups will require some sort of follow-up work, such as retesting or additional soil removal, while nearly one in ten (9%) were so bad that the private clean-up plan had to be retracted in its entirety.
The serious failure rates for private clean-ups have almost doubled during the Romney years. In the six year period of FY 1994-2000, less than half of the audited clean-ups required additional work while only one in twenty (5%) had to be withdrawn altogether.
One town affected by a recent audit is Berkley, Massachusetts where a state audit has thrown new development plans into doubt more than six years after a particularly notorious toxic hot-spot, named Bog’s Landing, was declared clean. The town is now considering whether to approve a large residential development right next to the contaminated site.
“Is it too much to ask that toxic clean-ups be done right the first time?” Bennett asked. “It is not just the time and money but it is also people’s health and their peace of mind that is at stake.”