Government agencies must earn trust

A U.S. Department of Justice official says there is no evidence “of any health effects people are suffering” from the Heritage Thermal Services hazardous waste incinerator up the river in East Liverpool. But some of those at a public meeting where DOJ Senior Counsel Elizabeth Loeb made the comment are skeptical.

Loeb, along with officials from both the U.S. and Ohio environmental protection agencies, attended a meeting last week to discuss a settlement with Heritage over 2013 emissions from the incinerator that violated federal rules. Heritage agreed to pay a $288,000 penalty and pay $302,500 to help replace lead-lined water lines in the community.

Heritage President Chris Pherson told those at the meeting safety is a priority for the firm. “We don’t put our employees in danger and we don’t plan on putting the community in danger,” he added.

Some at the meeting were not pleased. One East Liverpool resident, Thomas Redman, insisted that since the incinerator has been in operation, incidents of cancer have increased.

“Aren’t you supposed to protect us? Shouldn’t you investigate more?” he asked DOJ and EPA representatives. “I’ve seen pink smoke. I’ve seen balls of ash falling from the sky. I’ve got concerns,” he added.

Another resident, Mitzi Stoddard, agreed. “These are our lives, not all of you who live far away. Once the pink smoke happens, it’s too late.”

These are serious accusations, amounting to a fear that the EPA is not safeguarding East Liverpool-area residents’ health adequately.

“If you have evidence, you can submit it at any time,” responded Loeb.

“We care. We will help,” added John Matson, who is an associate regional counsel for the U.S. EPA.

But Alonzo Spencer, president of an organization called Save Our County, insisted evidence of problems at the incinerator, including photographs, has been submitted in the past — with no resulting action by the EPA.

Perhaps the agency did investigate and concluded there was no hazard, of course.

But with faith in government — especially that in Washington — low, such a reaction may not be enough.

That is something to which EPA officials need to be sensitive. People who complain about what they fear are environmental hazards need to know the government, at all levels, has investigated complaints.

They need to know what was done — and why.

“Trust us” doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. EPA officials, among others in government, need to find ways to do something about that.

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