Tamaqua, Panther Valley
By Richard W. Funk
The Times News, © 2004

September 23, 2004


West Hazleton resident Phil Kaufman, show the close proximity of the former McAdoo Associates site to the Still Creek Reservior.
Environmentalist believes McAdoo Associates site cleanup was a sham.

A West Hazleton environmental activist isn’t surprised that new cases of rare cancer and other diseases are turning up south of a former toxic waste dump, a[EmSpace]site that was once identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being the worst in Pennsylvania and 28th most severely contaminated place in the nation.

Phil Kaufman predicted the outbreak over 20 years ago and believes that a Plasma-Arc Technology plant proposed for the McAdoo area could prove to be another environmental time-bomb that the area can[EmSpace]live without.

“There are new cancer cases being diagnosed all the time along Ben Titus Road, in Still Creek,” Kaufman said. “That’s less than two miles south of the former McAdoo Associates site.”

Kaufman said that four people in the same area have been diagnosed with polycythemia vera, a rare bone disease that normally hits only one in 200,000 people.

He believes the cleanup of the McAdoo Associates site was a sham[EmSpace]that didn’t even scratch the surface of the problem.

“They may have removed the barrels, but didn’t touch the toxic wastes that were dumped down into the mines,” Kaufman said. “McAdoo Associates was on the mountain above the Still Creek Reservoir … it’s no wonder people are getting sick and dying.”

According to the EPA, McAdoo Associates operated the Kline Township site on the Spring Mountain from March 1978 until April 1979, when a cease and desist order was served on the operators by the Department of Environmental Resources (DER), now the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). At that time, there were approximately 6,800 drums of various chemicals stored on the site.

However, a 1982 report placed the number of drums at 7,132.

Final update

In its final update on the site, the EPA in March 2004 said the McAdoo Associates site was deleted from the National Priorities List of the most hazardous waste sites in the country because, “the cleanup is complete.”

“The agency managed the removal of surface debris and contaminated soil, and clean top soil and a cap have been placed over the area of soil excavation at the McAdoo Associates site,” the update says.

But, Kaufman said the report does not mention the possibility of sub-surface contamination, which he believes had a direct impact on water supplies, including the Still Creek Reservoir.

“The EPA’s so-called cleanup of McAdoo Associates is nothing but a total farce, as they have cleaned up nothing,” he said.

“Cleaning the surface is not where the trouble is, it’s in the mines below the surface.”

In the early 1908s, shortly after the facility was closed, the EPA said the extent of the problem and its impact on the surrounding area “has not been defined.”

“While the actual drum site is the major concern, primarily because of public attention and enforcement actions, the impact the McAdoo Associates operations has on the surrounding environment must also be addressed,” the EPA’s Site Status and Project Scheduling document says. “Therefore, the evaluation of this site has two major concerns: the drum site and the environmental assessment.”

Through the years, many people claimed that tanker trucks pulled up to mine openings, air shafts or bore holes to dump their loads of toxic materials. This rumor is echoed by a “Field Investigation of Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Sites,” prepared by Ecology and Environment, Inc., and presented to the EPA on Oct. 27, 1982.

Like the previous report, it does not say that groundwater had been contaminated, but clearly indicates that the possibility exists.

“In addition to the above ground wastes, allegations have been made that both drums of waste and bulk waste were either buried or dumped down mine shafts in the immediate area,” the report says. “These allegations have not been substantiated to date.”

According to the report, the site is “underlain” with mine shafts and air vents.

“Mining records show that an air vent was located in the central portion of the fenced area, however there is no longer any evidence of it,” the report says. “There is a mine tunnel, the exit of which has been covered with boulders, which serves as a natural outlet for water flowing through the old shafts.”

The report acknowledges that the (surface) wastes have been removed, but also says that residues of spills, “bulk dumping” or buried wastes could still be on the site.

“Sub-surface contamination migration is the key problem remaining at the site,” the report says. “Unfortunately, it is the sub-surface conditions that are mostly unknown at this time.”

The report’s section on remedial investigations also points to sub-surface contamination and moves the possibility of the contamination of groundwater up a few notches.

“The site is cleared of surface sources of contamination, but may contain buried wastes, soils saturated with chemicals or highly contaminated groundwater,” it says.

Groundwater contamination was also an issue in an Oct. 6, 1980 preliminary report, which described conditions at the facility.

“The waste site borders an active strip mining operation,” it says. “This stripping operation involves the use of lagoons to catch runoff and stripping wastewater.”

The report said it appeared that there was no surface runoff from two of the lagoons.

“Water loss appears to be either via evaporation or percolation into the ground,” it says. “All three lagoons are downslope of the site. The third lagoon is indirectly downslope … and it contained a brown, oily appearing substance that did not resemble water.”

This report also hints at the possibility of sub-surface dumping of toxic wastes.

“Adjacent to the drum storage area, but slightly upslope … is a 12-inch diameter borehole and a mine entrance,” it says. “The borehole appeared to be dry at the bottom, but a rotting drum was next to the mine entrance. A 2 [1/2]-inch diameter hose, rotted at one end, was found near this borehole and mine entrance.”

Concerned over the possibility of water contamination, the Borough of Tamaqua on March 14, 1983 wrote to the Honorable William K. Klingaman Sr. and pointed out one significant issue.

“I am sure you are aware of the proximity of Still Creek Reservoir in relationship with the chemical waste disposal site operated by McAdoo Associates,” the letter says. “Several small springs, which originate from this particular area, do indeed enter our reservoir on its northern boundary.”

The letter said the reservoir is a “valuable asset,” supplying water customers in Tamaqua, Rush Township and West Penn Township.

Some of the most compelling evidence that water was contaminated comes through the Aug. 1, 1984 edition of the Harrisburg-based Press and Journal’s Elizabethtown edition. In the article, James E. Leber, a state mine inspector, said he was fired from his position because he “persisted in trying to expose alleged ties between state officials and representatives of organized crime.”

Leber alleged corruption in the DER during a July 1984 hearing before the state Civil Service Commission, where he said he was fired because of his investigations into coal company violations and state environmental and mining regulations.

Represented at the hearing by attorney Robert Ging Jr., Leber said he lost his job because he ignored orders to “ease up” in his investigations of several coal companies, which he believed were violating laws governing toxic waste dumps.

Enter McAdoo Associates

“When DER officials failed to act on his (Leber’s) charges of water pollution at a toxic dump site in McAdoo, Leber filed a complaint with the EPA and the Federal Office of Surface Mining, seeking to have one of those investigate the matter,” the article says.

Kaufman said that all of the evidence points to one thing – a cover-up.

“They know what the problem is down there,” he said. “People are getting sick and dying. There was one person who went for treatment and the first question the doctor asked was if they live near a toxic waste dump. The DEP and Department of Health continues to cover up the cancer deaths. Human life has no value to the corrupters who caused the problem … all they care about is the quest for money.”

Citing what he feels are ongoing issues with the McAdoo Associates site, Kaufman said the proposal to bring a Plasma-Arc Technology facility to the southern section of Hazle Township would just continue to make the area a center for toxic waste disposal.

Plasma-Arc Technology is being hailed as the solution for all waste disposal, ranging from household rubbish to toxic materials and medical waste. The process uses artificial lightning to reduce wastes to a “glassy material.”

“We should have learned our lesson with McAdoo Associates,” he said. “Now, more than 20 years later, people who live nearby are contracting and dying from rare cancers. If we allow that plant to come here, it could be the same thing in another 20 years. We have to stop letting our area be the dumping ground for the entire East Coast.”