VA Water Toxics Scandal
The Virginia Water Toxics Scandal 1998-2000

When the Allen and Gilmore administrations locked away for years a massive body of water-toxics data representing millions of taxpayer dollars, and failed to alert the public to related health risks,
a Roanoke Times investigation spurred Virginia legislators to call for a rare mid-term investigation.  
The findings produced major reforms to the state's reporting of water pollution problems to the public.
After this, data could no longer be locked away and hidden from the public view, and had to be posted promptly on the Internet.  
The report won the Virginia legislature's first ever, and still only, prestigious National Conference of State Legislators Impact Award for work in the environmental field (with the exception of an environmental justice waste report).


Eileen Rowan, 2011

http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/lnacui2api/images/ImgAcademicProductName.gif

JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission) Reports
JLARC - Action still needed 2000.pdf 25-Feb-2012 16:45 75K
JLARC Oct 2001 Report on DEQ-VDH Progress Resulting from Water Toxics Report.pdf 25-Feb-2012 16:45 841K
JLARC Water Toxics Problems Report Jul 12 1999.pdf 25-Feb-2012 16:44 124K
JLARC reports on water toxics study followup progress May 8 2000.pdf 25-Feb-2012 16:44 42K
JLARC Wins Its 1st & Only Environmental Natl Conf State Legislators Impact Award.png 25-Feb-2012 16:44 185K

Press Chronology
November 29, 1998, The Roanoke Times:  MEASURING STICK FOR ENVIRONMENT COMES UP SHORT; REPORTS CAN GIVE FALSE IMPRESSION OF AN AREA'S AIR, WATER AND SOIL QUALITY
April 25, 1999, The Roanoke Times: TOXIN DATA KEPT SECRET; FEW HAD ACCESS TO DEQ DATABASE
April 25, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  DEQ denied scientists access to data
April 28, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Legislator to seek JLARC probe of DEQ
April 29, 1999, The Roanoke Times:  DELEGATE INQUIRES INTO DEQ POLICIES; AGENCY DENIED ACCESS TO TOXIN RECORDS
May 11, 1999, Richmond Times Dispatch:  PANEL PROBING DEQ STUDIES OF RIVER; TOXINS DATABASE REPORTEDLY DENIED TO OFFICIALS HUNTING POLLUTION SOURCE
May 11, 1999, The Roanoke Times:  JLARC TO INVESTIGATE DEQ TOXIC MONITORING; DATABASE WITHHELD FOR 5 YEARS
May 11, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Legislative watchdog group to look into monitoring of waterways
May 11, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Legislative watchdog group to look into monitoring of waterways
May 16, 1999, The Virginian-Pilot:  Panel to examine charge that DEQ suppressed data
July 13, 1999, The Roanoke Times:  DEQ LOST AND DESTROYED WATER DATA, AUDIT FINDS;ALLEN ADMINISTRATION BUD GET CUTS BLAMED
July 13, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Agency faults environmental, health agencies in water pollution review
July 15, 1999, The Virginian-Pilot:  LOCKED-UP POLLUTION DATA; IGNORANCE IS RISKY BLISS; PEOPLE WERE TOLD THAT RIVER TOXINS REPORTS WERE UNAVAILABLE
AUGUST, 1999, VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE UPDATE:  JLARC Issues Report on DEQ's Handling of Water Toxics Data
September 14, 1999, The Roanoke Times:  NEW OFFICE TO MONITOR STATE'S WATER QUALITY; PANEL RECOMMENDS END TO INQUIRY
September 20, 1999, The Roanoke Times:  CORRECTING COURSE ON THE ENVIRONMENT (Editorial)
December 14, 1999, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Bill seeks to increase DEQ sampling of water
February 6, 2000, The Roanoke Times:  REINFORCE THE WATCH ON THE ENVIRONMENT (Editorial)
April 13, 2000, The Roanoke Times:  TASK FORCE INVESTIGATES TAINTED FISH; FISH FROM ROANOKE AND DAN RIVERS CONTAMINATED WITH BDES
September 27, 2000, The Associated Press State & Local Wire:  Allen endorsed by Chamber of Commerce, slammed by ex-DEQ workers
October 14, 2000,  The Washington Post:  An Environmental Question Mark; Allen, Opponents Dispute His Legacy in Va.

The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

November 29, 1998, Sunday

MEASURING STICK FOR ENVIRONMENT COMES UP SHORT
REPORTS CAN GIVE FALSE IMPRESSION OF AN AREA'S AIR, WATER AND SOIL QUALITY

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES

SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. A1

The EPA relies on company officials to list the business's pollution output accurately.

In April, an inspector for the Environmental Protection Agency made a five-hour trip from Washington, D.C., to Rocky Mount in Franklin County.

He was inspecting M.W. Manufacturing, a company that makes wood and metal doors and windows. The inspection turned out to be more than routine.

After going through plant records, the inspector concluded that the company had violated federal environmental reporting laws.

In 1994, the company had released more than 25,000 pounds of manganese during manufacturing without reporting it to the EPA. For the 1995 reporting period, the company had released more than 10,000 pounds of the chemical toluene without reporting it.

The EPA fined the company $ 68,000 last month.

Duane Fishel, a spokesman for M.W. Manufacturing, called the penalty excessive for what he said amounted to a paper violation.

The EPA disagrees.

"It's more serious than that," said William Smith, an EPA spokesman in Philadelphia. "We use these figures to track our efforts to reduce pollution and to let the neighbors of a facility know what's being used in their community. You can't write it off as just some paper violation."

The chemical releases were legal, and M.W. Manufacturing later changed its manufacturing process so the two chemicals are no longer used.

But government and health officials say the case is an example of what's wrong with the federal community-right-to-know laws, which are designed to inform the public about what types of chemicals are used and stored nearby.

"The EPA and state officials depended on the company to report accurately and fairly," said Martin Harell of the EPA. "When they abdicate that responsibility, everyone loses out."

Problems with reporting

Since they were first passed in 1986, community-right-to-know laws have given thousands of communities valuable information on what's being emitted in their neighborhoods. The information is filed by companies with the EPA, which puts the information on diskettes and online.

Governments, environmentalists, the media and the public use the information to show toxic hot spots and rank how cities and states compare to one another. It has become the measuring stick for environmental quality.

But there are problems.

One is that the actual reporting of the data is left to the industries, which often estimate how much they have released. Some, as in the case of M.W. Manufacturing, fail to report.

And the data have other limitations, which those who study environmental quality say can give a false impression of an area's environment quality.

Take Roanoke, for example.

Data from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory database show that companies in the city emitted 501,878 pounds of chemicals into the air, water and land in 1996, the latest year for which information is available. Overall, the city ranked 19th in the state.

But the data tell only half the story.

Only companies in the manufacturing sector with 10 or more employees are required to report their emissions. Sewage treatment plants, medical waste incinerators, underground storage tank operators, and runoff from logging or agricultural sites are not included.

Thus, thousands of chemicals released into the environment each year are overlooked when the public measures environmental quality.

For example, there have been 32 spills of various toxins and other substances into the Roanoke environment this year, according to data from the EPA's Emergency Releases Notification Systems database. The spills totaled almost 70,000 pounds.

State Department of Environmental Quality data from 1992 to mid-1997 show that there were at least 45 sewage spills into the Roanoke River and its tributaries in the city.

Environmental quality reports often fail to factor in these sources.

Ferrum College professor David Johnson said it is not that the information is not there.

"Its just that it's not always easily available in one place for the public to get to," he said. "DEQ has some data, the Health Department has other data and so on. Plus, in some cases, the person would need some expertise to understand the data."

Dick Tabb of the Alleghany and Roanoke health districts says there's another problem with a lot of the environmental data.

"It's often dated," he said. "So by the time we or the public gets the information, the situation may have changed."

There are other shortcomings as well.

"There are problems with the reporting thresholds," said Jeremiah Baumann of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C. "Most of the chemicals only have to be reported when the use exceeds 10,000 or 25,000 pounds. But some chemicals are far more toxic than others, and a pound of one thing might be more toxic than 1,000 pounds of another substance."

Baumann points to mercury as an example.

"According to research, a teaspoon of mercury can contaminate an entire 25-acre lake to the point where fish are not safe to eat," he said. "But if you don't use 10,000 pounds of mercury, you don't have to report."

Baumann said many of these chemicals, in addition to being toxic, remain in the environment for long periods of time and accumulate in the tissue of animals.

Baumann's group has asked the EPA to lower the threshold for several toxic chemicals.

Making information public

Several agencies in Washington and locally are trying to address the reporting problems.

The Roanoke Valley Emergency Planning Committee, made up of government officials, business leaders and private citizens, is building a database of the types of chemicals companies store, said Willie Howlett, a Roanoke deputy fire chief who heads the committee.

The committee already keeps information on toxic chemicals and emergency plans for natural or technological disasters. The new data will help groups keep track of chemicals in their neighborhoods.

Other agencies are trying to post data online. The DEQ already has air pollution, water quality and ozone data on its Web site.

Tabb said the Health Department also is considering finding ways to make information more accessible. The department publishes an annual public health report card and is considering posting online.

The EPA had considered posting online the Risk Management Plans that companies are required to file by July 1999. The plans will consist of amounts of hazardous chemicals at the site, the companies' accident-prevention plans, their history of accidental releases and the potential effects of worst-case spills on the surrounding community.

The agency killed the online plan, however, after the FBI and CIA said the data could be used by terrorists.

Tabb said getting a clear picture of regional environmental quality is difficult.

"Still, it's good to have all the information where people can get to it and we can use it," he said. "At best, it gives us a limited view of what's happening around us."

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

GRAPHIC: GRAPHIC: map and charts - 1. Toxic releases in Roanoke. 2.Virginia's top 20 cities for toxic emissions. THE ROANOKE TIMES

Copyright 1998 The Roanoke Times
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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

April 25, 1999, Sunday, METRO EDITION

TOXIN DATA KEPT SECRET;
FEW HAD ACCESS TO DEQ DATABASE

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES
SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. B1  

Standing on the banks where the Roanoke River becomes the Staunton River near Altavista, more than a few fishermen have pulled in a prize flathead catfish or smallmouth bass.

Most just throw them back.

More than a decade ago, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency discovered polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the tissue of fish in the river between Altavista and Clover. PCBs were used as coolants until the 1970s. The government banned the compounds after learning they may cause skin and liver damage as well as cancer.

PCBs persist in the river because the source of the contamination has not been discovered. Last year, the General Assembly appropriated $ 250,000 to help find the source.

What legislators didn't know was that the state Department of Environmental Quality had data that many scientists, including some of the agency's staff, believed might have shed light on the contamination source.

But top officials at the agency denied access to the data. No one was allowed to use it - not other scientists, not agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, not the researchers at the College of William and Mary who created the database, not even the DEQ staff.

Instead, the database spent more than five years locked in a safe on the second floor of an office at the agency's building in Richmond.

Last month, DEQ released some of the data to the EPA and other interested parties, and an agency spokesman said the database recently has been reactivated.

Still, critics of the agency say the episode with the database is indicative of the way the Department of Environmental Quality was run under the administration of Gov. George Allen and former Secretary of Natural Resources Becky Norton Dunlop.

Top managers and administration officials, they say, put ideology and politics over science and the protection of the state's natural resources.

Meanwhile, critics say, the public was left with a rosier picture of water quality than actually existed, and a database paid for with millions of taxpayers' dollars sat unused and inaccessible.

"The public relies upon - and pays for - the state's collection and analysis of all types of water quality data," said Roy Hoagland, assistant Virginia director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group in Richmond. "State officials should make every effort to provide academic and policy experts easy access to such government data. Virginia needs to broaden access to water quality data, not limit it."

The Virginia Toxics Database was created in the late 1980s by Craig Smith, a scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William and Mary. He died in January.

The system was designed to allow users to gain access to analytical data on toxic chemicals found in water monitoring samples around the state.

In 1993, the database was turned over to DEQ. It contained several data tables with fish tissue, sediment samples, industrial discharge and other monitoring data from special studies that dated back to the 1970s. The database also contained information from a program called the Toxic Fingerprinting Program, which was designed to trace sources of contamination to a specific facility.

Permit writers at DEQ used the data to determine what contaminants had been found in an area in order to establish monitoring requirements. The data also were used to help set water quality standards.

In early 1994, under the Allen administration, the water toxins monitoring program, which generated and kept the toxins database, was eliminated by budget cuts. Most of the staff was reassigned.

But many scientists and government agencies, realizing the importance of the data, continued to ask permission to use it. Scientists at VIMS, including Smith, wanted to put the data on the Internet so other researchers could access it.

EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program wanted to use the information for a toxic report on the bay, as did scientists at the Maryland Department of the Environment. Joe Winfield, a scientist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, wanted to use the data for a conference on toxins in the James River.

An EPA official summed up the database's importance in a June 22, 1998, memo: "This database comprises what we know about the baseline level of toxics in Virginia waters. Without this data, we will not be able to characterize toxic conditions in Virginia waters, which will limit our ability to effectively target monitoring and management actions."

The DEQ did release a subset of the data to the EPA in 1995, but all requests for the full database were denied.

"They are worried that we might misuse the data or use the poorer-quality data," an EPA official wrote in the June 22, 1998, memo.

Many seeking information were told that the database was dead. Some were told that the data were in an inaccessible format and that there was no one to obtain access to the data. Others were told that the data were too old, damaged, incomplete or of poor quality, according to documents obtained by The Roanoke Times.

One DEQ staffer knew better.

Eileen Rowan had been the manager of the toxins database. For years, she and other DEQ staff members had tried unsuccessfully to provide access to the information to DEQ staff and other scientists. Even though she had accepted another job within the agency, she continued to receive requests for access, but was never allowed to turn over the data.

"I was instructed to refuse requests verbally," she said. "But was unable to receive permission to refuse in writing."

When Rowan heard from one person who had been told that the data were damaged while being loaded onto a computer, she became worried.

"I was the person who had done the transfer, and knew I'd left it undamaged," she said. "As I had not seen the database in nearly five years, I, of course, wanted to set the record straight."

Rowan received permission to load the tape onto a DEQ computer and found the database was undamaged. Relieved, she sent an e-mail to DEQ staff, VIMS and the EPA notifying them that the database was intact.

According to agency memos and e-mail, several DEQ staffers expressed interest in using the data.

A staffer wrote in an Oct. 26, 1998, memo: "This looks like an opportunity to access data for the Roanoke River (PCB) and Hopewell (PCB) areas."

Scientists at the EPA and other agencies also were relieved that that the database was still intact and wanted access.

Rowan's supervisors weren't as happy with her e-mail.

"I have been asked to explain why and under what authority you sent the message below," wrote Mike Murphy, a DEQ manager, in an Oct. 20, 1998, e-mail to Rowan. "I do not recall asking you to assist with the database since your return from vacation."

Rowan said she met with her supervisor later that day and was told that management "didn't want to find another Roanoke River" in the database.

She said the supervisor then sent out a memo forbidding anyone to ask for her assistance with the toxins data without checking with him first.

Rowan wasn't the only one worried about the status of that database.

In a July 22, 1998, memo, Mark Richards, a DEQ staff member in the Chesapeake Bay Program, wrote "the fear is that each year, as these data remain unattended, degeneration of the storage tapes will cause these data to be lost forever.

"At the expense of taxpayers, millions of dollars have been spent on the collection of these data," Richards wrote.

Last month, the DEQ finally released the database after continued requests from the EPA and several inquiries and freedom of information requests from the Natural Resources News Service, an environmental news service in Washington.

A DEQ spokesman denies the agency ever tried to restrict DEQ staffers or outside scientists access to the database.

"It was simply in a format that nobody had access to," said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the DEQ. "There was no one on staff who could operate it. That was all that was."

Hayden said the agency would make copies of the database for anyone who wanted a copy of it.

As far as data on the Roanoke River, Hayden said he isn't sure that the database would help. "I haven't done any analysis, but I don't know if there is any data in there on the river."

The database is being used by the Chesapeake Bay Program of the DEQ, he said. And the agency is evaluating the data to see what to do with the information.

Rowan, who left the DEQ this year, said she is glad the agency has finally allowed access to the database, but she disputes Hayden's statement that the database was in an inaccessible format.

"The data was in Foxpro, an off-the-shelf database," she said. "I wouldn't call that a complicated program." A copy of the database obtained by The Roanoke Times does show that the data are in Foxpro, a database used by the newspaper.

Rowan said several staffers at DEQ knew how to use Foxpro.

Documents also show that the EPA and Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences offered to help retrieve the information, but the DEQ declined.

Rowan also said officials at the DEQ never tried to access information from the database to see if there was any information on the Roanoke River.

"They find the VTDB, a complex database that stored very high-tech lab output, extremely intimidating and have an unfortunate tendency to disparage it to hide this discomfort," she said.

Nevertheless, she said the toxin database remains of immeasurable public value.

Many academic and government scientists agree.

"With the historical data, we can compare it with current data to see if the level of pollution is going down since regulations were passed or sources of pollution have been turned off," said Kelly Eisenman, of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program. "This allows us to focus our efforts. It would have been nice to have the data five years ago."

Dr. Morris Roberts, head of the Department of Environmental Science at William and Mary and Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, also said the data contained in the Virginia Toxics Database continue to be useful.

"There is unique data in the database that does not exist elsewhere," he said. "It adds tremendously to our historical knowledge of toxics in Virginia waters."

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

GRAPHIC: map - River Contamination COLOR THE ROANOKE TIMES
Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times
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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

April 25, 1999, Sunday

DEQ denied scientists access to data
SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: ROANOKE, Va.

More than a decade ago, Environmental Protection Agency scientists discovered polychlorinated biphenyls in fish in the Roanoke River between Altavista and Clover.

PCBs were used as coolants until the 1970s, when government banned the compounds after learning they may cause skin and liver damage as well as cancer.

The chemicals persist in the river because the source of the contamination has not been discovered. Last year, the General Assembly appropriated $ 250,000 to help find the source.

What legislators didn't know was that the state Department of Environmental Quality had data that many scientists believed might have shed light on the contamination source, The Roanoke Times reported Sunday.

But top DEQ officials denied access to the data. No one was allowed to use it - including other scientists, agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, researchers at the College of William and Mary who created the database, and even the DEQ staff.

Instead, the database spent more than five years locked in a safe in the agency's building in Richmond.

Last month, DEQ released some of the data to the EPA and other interested parties, and an agency spokesman said the database recently has been reactivated.

Critics of the agency say the episode shows the way the agency was run under the administration of Gov. George Allen and former Secretary of Natural Resources Becky Norton Dunlop.

The public, they said, was left with a rosier picture of water quality than actually existed, and a database paid for with millions of taxpayers' dollars sat unused and inaccessible.

The Virginia Toxics Database was created in the late 1980s by Craig Smith, a scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William and Mary.

The system was designed to allow users to gain access to data on toxic chemicals found in water monitoring samples around the state.

In 1993, the database was turned over to DEQ. It contained several data tables with fish tissue, sediment samples, industrial discharge and other monitoring data from special studies dating back to the 1970s. The database also contained information from a program called the Toxic Fingerprinting Program, which was designed to trace sources of contamination to a specific facility.

In early 1994, under the Allen administration, the water toxins monitoring program, which generated and kept the toxins database, was eliminated by budget cuts. Most of the staff was reassigned.

But many scientists and government agencies continued to ask permission to use it. Scientists at VIMS, including Smith, wanted to put the data on the Internet so other researchers could access it.

The DEQ did release a portion of the data to the EPA in 1995, but all requests for the full database were denied.

"They are worried that we might misuse the data or use the poorer-quality data," an EPA official wrote in a June 22, 1998, memo.

Many seeking information were told that the database was dead. Some were told that the data were in an inaccessible format and that there was no one to obtain access to the data. Others were told that the data were too old, damaged, incomplete or of poor quality, according to documents obtained by The Roanoke Times.

Eileen Rowan had been the manager of the toxins database. For years, she and other DEQ staff members had tried unsuccessfully to provide access to the information. Even though she had accepted another job within the agency, she continued to receive requests for access, but was never allowed to turn over the data.

"I was instructed to refuse requests verbally," said Ms. Rowan, who left DEQ this year. "But was unable to receive permission to refuse in writing."

Last month, the DEQ finally released the database after continued requests from the EPA and several inquiries and freedom of information requests. from the Natural Resources News Service, an environmental news service in Washington.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 

All Rights Reserved

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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

April 28, 1999, Wednesday

Legislator to seek JLARC probe of DEQ

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: HALIFAX, Va.

Del. Ted Bennett said he will ask the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to investigate the Department of Environmental Quality's willingness to release data collected with tax money.

Bennett, D-Halifax, said Wednesday his request was prompted by a weekend report in The Roanoke Times that the DEQ denied scientists, government agencies and its own staff access to a water toxin database for five years.

Bennett said he wants JLARC to find out what other data or studies the department might have that it hasn't released to the public.

Bennett's district includes parts of the Roanoke River where polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found in fish tissue in the late 1980s. PCBs can cause cancer and liver damage in humans. Many scientists believe the toxin database could help pinpoint sources of contamination.

The DEQ released the database last month after continued requests from the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

"DEQ has a responsibility to protect the public health, not hide information that may help identify where pollution is coming from," Bennett said.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley said the toxin database controversy was not typical of how the agency handles information requests.

"All requests for information, including databases, are honored in a timely manner," Woodley said. "This was a situation where a program was terminated and no one was keeping tabs on the database."

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 

All Rights Reserved

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

April 29, 1999, Thursday, METRO EDITION

DELEGATE INQUIRES INTO DEQ POLICIES;
AGENCY DENIED ACCESS TO TOXIN RECORDS

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES

SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. B1

A state lawmaker said he will ask the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, a legislative watchdog agency, to investigate the Department of Environmental Quality's refusal to release taxpayer-funded databases.

Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax County, said his request is prompted by a recent Roanoke Times article which showed that, for five years, beginning under then-Gov. George Allen's administration, the DEQ denied scientists, government agencies and its staff access to a toxin database with water quality data and studies that date back two decades.

Bennett said he wants JLARC to find out what other databases or studies the department might have that it hasn't released to the public. Bennett's district includes parts of the Roanoke River where polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found in fish tissue in the late 1980s. PCBs can cause cancer and liver damage in humans.

Many scientists, including some of the DEQ's staff, believe the toxin database could help pinpoint old sources of contamination in state waters, like the PCBs in the Roanoke River.

DEQ denied access to the data and told scientists seeking the information that the database was of poor quality and in an inaccessible format.

The agency released the database last month after continued requests from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources News Service, an environmental news service in Washington. The news service obtained a copy of the database and other records and provided copies to The Roanoke Times.

"DEQ has a responsibility to protect the public health, not hide information that may help identify where pollution is coming from," Bennett said.

Bennett said the DEQ has been more responsive to requests for data under Gov. Jim Gilmore's administration.

State environmental officials say they see no need for an investigation of the DEQ.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley said the recent controversy over the toxin database was not typical of how the agency handles requests for information.

"All requests for information, including databases, are honored in a timely manner," Woodley said. "This was a situation where a program was terminated and no one was keeping tabs on the database."

Woodley said the incoming DEQ administration didn't even know about the database.

"When the EPA asked Dennis Treacy, the new head of DEQ, about the database, he wasn't even aware of it at the time," Woodley said. "When he found out, he made it available to them."

Woodley blames the delay in getting the toxin database to scientists and government agencies on an outdated software program that was inaccessible. Woodley said all the agencies within his department are committed to providing access to all data on the state's natural resources.

"DEQ should be an open book when it comes to releasing information," he said. "We take that very seriously."

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times
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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

May 11, 1999, Tuesday, CITY EDITION

PANEL PROBING DEQ STUDIES OF RIVER;
TOXINS DATABASE REPORTEDLY DENIED TO OFFICIALS HUNTING POLLUTION SOURCE

BYLINE: Peter Bacque; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

SECTION: AREA/STATE, Pg. B-3

 
The General Assembly's investigative arm wants to find out how the state Department of Environmental Quality handled pollution studies from the Roanoke River.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission took the action at the request of Del. W.W. Bennett Jr., D-Halifax, yesterday.

"We'll be happy to work with them .*.*. in any way," said DEQ spokesman William P. Hayden.

At issue is a state toxins database of environmental monitoring information that the DEQ "deactivated" in 1993 because of budget cuts.

The department reportedly denied scientists and other government agencies access to the information, which might have helped locate the source of the pollution.

"We have not denied access to it," Hayden said. "It was simply in a format that was inaccessible .*.*. to DEQ or anyone else. It was on an old [computer] tape system.

"There is some concern that some information in that database may relate to PCBs in the Roanoke River."

However, he said, "there is nothing in there that would give us sufficient information in there to help us identify PCB sources in the Roanoke River."

The state Health Department has advised residents to eat only limited amounts of six types of fish caught in the Roanoke River on a 50-mile stretch from Long Island in Campbell County to Clover in Halifax County.

The fish are carp, white bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish and flathead catfish.

The Health Department also has warned against eating PCB-contaminated fish taken from the Potomac River south of Washington and the Shenandoah River at Front Royal.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used to cool and lubricate transformers and other electrical equipment. According to the EPA, exposure to PCBs has been linked to cancer, liver damage and reproductive problems.

"We're continuing to study the Roanoke River," Hayden said.

So far, the department has not been able to locate the source of the PCBs.

Copyright 1999 The Richmond Times Dispatch
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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

May 11, 1999, Tuesday, METRO EDITION

JLARC TO INVESTIGATE DEQ TOXIC MONITORING;

 DATABASE WITHHELD FOR 5 YEARS

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES

SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. A1

 The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, a legislative watchdog agency, agreed Monday to investigate the Department of Environmental Quality's toxic monitoring program.

The investigation was requested by Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax County, who learned about the database when the Roanoke Times reported that DEQ had refused for five years to turn over a public-funded pollution database to the Environmental Protection Agency, other scientists and the agency's staff.

Many scientists think the database, called the Virginia Toxics Database, could have helped pinpoint old sources of contamination in state waters, including polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the Roanoke River, which becomes the Staunton River near the North Carolina line. The EPA discovered the substance in fish tissue in the river in the late 1980s. Officials at the agency told those who requested the data that the information was dated or of poor quality. Others were told that the data were in an inaccessible software program.

Eileen Rowan, who was the database manager for the toxin data, said she was told to refuse access to the database verbally, but not in writing.

The DEQ finally released the Virginia Toxics database in March to the EPA and other scientists who wanted it. But last week, a report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a regional environmental group in Virginia and Maryland, found the DEQ had withheld data on mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River.

JLARC Director Phillip Leone said in a letter to DEQ Director Dennis Treacy and Virginia Department of Health Commissioner E. Anne Peterson that the commission would conduct a preliminary inquiry into the DEQ's toxic monitoring program and database as it relates to the Roanoke / Staunton River and other rivers and streams in Virginia.

The agency will report its findings and recommendations to a JLARC subcommittee composed of Delegates W. Tayloe Murphy, D- Warsaw, and Harry Parrish, R-Manassas and State Sens. Joseph Gartlan, D- Fairfax County, and Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg.

The report is to be completed in July.

DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said the agency has not had a chance to discuss the pending investigation with JLARC, "but we will be happy to cooperate with them in whatever they need to do."

Bennett, whose district includes parts of the Roanoke River where contamination was found, made the request to JLARC about a week ago.

He said there is pattern in DEQ's refusal to release information to the public, and he hopes the JLARC inquiry gets to the bottom of the way the agency makes toxics data available.

"I'd like to know why they have refused to release data that would help people make important decisions about the state water quality," Bennett said. " I hope this inquiry will help us figure that out."

Bennett said if JLARC's preliminary report fails to discover why DEQ withheld important toxics data, he will ask the agency to do a full investigation.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it was pleased that JLARC will look into the toxic monitoring program at the DEQ.

"It seems to us that any technical or monitoring information on toxic contamination in Virginia's rivers and streams ought to be made public," said Chuck Epps, a spokesman for the Foundation. "It's critical that this data be made available to the General Assembly and policymakers so they can devise regulations to protect and clean up our state waters."

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times
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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

May 11, 1999, Tuesday

Legislative watchdog group to look into monitoring of waterways

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: RICHMOND, Va.

A legislative watchdog agency agreed to review the state's water pollution monitoring program and why state environmental officials withheld the data from scientists.

The review announced Monday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission was requested by Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax, who acted after a Roanoke Times report said the Department of Environmental Quality refused for five years to let anyone see the pollution data, known as the Virginia Toxics Database.

Some scientists believe the data could help pinpoint old sources of contamination in state waters, including cancer-linked polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The Environmental Protection Agency discovered PCBs in fish tissue in the Roanoke River in the late 1980s. But EPA scientists and others who tried to obtain information from the DEQ database were told either that the data was old or of poor quality or was in an inaccessible computer program.

Eileen Rowan, the database manager for the toxin information, said she was told to refuse access to it verbally, but not in writing. The DEQ finally released the database in March.

Last week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a regional environmental group, said the DEQ also had withheld toxic data on mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River.

JLARC Director Phillip Leone notified DEQ Director Dennis Treacy and Virginia Department of Health Commissioner E. Anne Peterson of its inquiry in a letter. A report with recommendations is expected to be completed in July.

DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said the agency would cooperate with JLARC.

Bennett said he would ask for a full investigation if JLARC's preliminary review fails to discover why DEQ withheld the data.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 

All Rights Reserved

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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

May 11, 1999, Tuesday

Legislative watchdog group to look into monitoring of waterways

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: RICHMOND, Va.

A legislative watchdog agency has agreed to review the state's water pollution monitoring program and why state environmental officials withheld the data from scientists.

The review announced Monday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission was requested by Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax, who acted after a Roanoke Times report said the Department of Environmental Quality refused for five years to let anyone see the pollution data, known as the Virginia Toxics Database.

Some scientists believe the data could help pinpoint old sources of contamination in state waters, including cancer-linked polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The Environmental Protection Agency discovered PCBs in fish tissue in the Roanoke River in the late 1980s. But EPA scientists and others who tried to obtain information from the DEQ database were told either that the data was old or of poor quality or was in an inaccessible computer program.

Eileen Rowan, the database manager for the toxin information, said she was told to refuse access to it verbally, but not in writing. The DEQ finally released the database in March.

Last week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a regional environmental group, said the DEQ also had withheld toxic data on mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River.

JLARC Director Phillip Leone notified DEQ Director Dennis Treacy and Virginia Department of Health Commissioner E. Anne Peterson of its inquiry in a letter. A report with recommendations is expected to be completed in July.

DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said the agency would cooperate with JLARC.

Bennett said he would ask for a full investigation if JLARC's preliminary review fails to discover why DEQ withheld the data.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 
All Rights Reserved

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The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)

May 16, 1999, Sunday, FINAL EDITION

Panel to examine charge that DEQ suppressed data

SECTION: LOCAL, Pg. B3
 
Spurred by a legislator's request, the General Assembly's investigative arm will examine whether the state Department of Environmental Quality deliberately suppressed data it collected about toxins in Virginia waterways.

The 60-day study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission will focus primarily on the agency's role regarding the Roanoke River between Halifax County and Campbell County in Southside.

The State Health Department has advised residents in that 50-mile area to eat limited amounts of certain types of fish where PCB contamination has been found.

But JLARC's inquiry could have a bearing on all waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, because the data lists statewide information. The Health Department also has issued warnings about PCB contamination in the Staunton River near Front Royal.

 DEQ, which is cooperating with the investigation, maintains that no one was denied access to the database, a charge leveled by a former DEQ employee who claims such information could help locate the source of the pollution.

''The allegations . . . seem to suggest a pattern of practices within the DEQ that may not have been in the public interest,'' Del. William W. ''Ted'' Bennett Jr., D-Halifax, wrote to JLARC in asking for the inquiry.

- Ledyard King

Copyright 1999 Landmark Communications, Inc.

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

July 13, 1999, Tuesday, METRO EDITION

DEQ LOST AND DESTROYED WATER DATA, AUDIT FINDS;

ALLEN ADMINISTRATION BUDGET CUTS BLAMED

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. A1

A legislative study of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's toxin monitoring program has found substantial problems with how the agency maintains data and disseminates information to the public.

The report, released Monday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, said that DEQ has refused to release valuable

data on toxins to the public; that it has lost or destroyed dozens of what may have been important environmental studies, and that it collected some data without any clear purpose about how to use it.

The report also said that the agency does not appear to fully use the data it does collect and that its system for managing its databases is fragmented and inefficient.

JLARC said the problems outlined in the report raised troubling questions about the quality of Virginia waters.

"Individuals who routinely catch and eat fish from Virginia's waters may have trusted that state agencies would have made them aware of risks," said Robert Rotz, a JLARC staffer. "Unfortunately, the record indicates that over many years and for a variety of reasons, this trust may not have been completely well placed."

JLARC's study was requested by Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax County, after The Roanoke Times reported in April that the DEQ had withheld the Virginia Toxics Database from state scientists, its staffers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DEQ finally released the data to the EPA earlier this year.

The publicly funded pollution database contains historic information about toxins that, many scientists say, could be used to help locate old sources of contamination in state waters.

The database also might have helped pinpoint the sources of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in the Roanoke River, which becomes the Staunton River. Bennett's district includes parts of the Roanoke River where contamination was found.

PCBs were used as coolants in electrical transformers until the 1970s; they were banned when it was learned that they could cause skin and liver damage, as well as cancer. In the 1980s, the substance was found in the tissue of fish in the river.

"This report confirms what we already knew," Bennett said. "But for the efforts of the EPA and local citizens we would have had very little action on this."

Many of the problems outlined in the report occurred during the administration of Republican Gov. George Allen.

The Virginia Toxics Database was eliminated because of Allen administration budget cuts, despite objections from DEQ staffers.

Other data also were lost. Before 1994, the DEQ kept a database dating to the 1970s of special studies on water quality in the state. The agency lost track of the database after the budget cuts. The DEQ also eliminated a technical library. Staffers were told they could take what they wanted and the remaining documents were destroyed.

JLARC said the destruction of those documents remains a concern.

"There is a high potential that valuable studies may have been lost," Rotz said.

JLARC said even those studies that still exist have not always been properly used.

For example, citizens in the contaminated areas of the Roanoke River were not told about a 1973 study on PCBs in the affected areas. The 1973 study was briefly mentioned in a 1993 report by DEQ, but the older report seems to have received little or no attention at the agency, according to the JLARC report.

"This is a serious human health issue," said Sen. Joseph Gartlan, D-Fairfax County, a JLARC member. Not only was the EPA denied information, Gartlan said, but the public was not informed about possible health hazards in Virginia waters.

Del. Tayloe Murphy, D-Richmond County, and Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, co-chairmen of JLARC, asked the commission staff to make further recommendations for legislation that would more clearly define DEQ's role in collecting and monitoring data.

Legislators also wanted to know who made the decision to not release certain data to the public. Many had speculated that the decision was made by upper management at the agency, though JLARC said it could not find any evidence that Thomas Hopkins, the former head of DEQ, or former Secretary of Natural Resources Becky Norton Dunlap made such decisions.

Murphy called that appalling.

"I find it hard to believe that a staff person can make a decision to just not release information to the public," he said. "I'm concerned that one employee can suppress a program as important as the Virginia Toxics Database. If others were involved, it's disturbing that we don't know."

Not all of the report's findings cast a bad light on DEQ. JLARC noted that under current DEQ director Dennis Treacy the agency has a new policy of openness and has made getting information to the public a high priority. It also has made the Virginia Toxics Database accessible again.

Treacy said the DEQ has taken steps to fix problems with its database management system.

"We're doing something that is really new for DEQ," Treacy said. "It used to be it was irresponsible for an agency to give out data without interpreting it for the public. Now in this age of information, it's almost the reverse. It's irresponsible not to give it out and explain it later, and I think we have maybe failed to see that transition."

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times

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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

July 13, 1999, Tuesday

Agency faults environmental, health agencies in water pollution review

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: RICHMOND, Va.

The state withheld knowledge of water pollution for years, even refusing to release river contamination data to federal environmental officials, according to a report by a legislative agency.

The Virginia Toxics Database, created in 1984 to track river pollution, was erased from personal computers, and backup tapes were locked in a fireproof box in 1994. People asking about it were told it was no longer available.

"People just forgot about it," Philip A. Leone, director of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, said Monday.

According to a new JLARC report, high levels of PCB, an industrial coolant linked to cancer, were found in the Roanoke River in the early 1970s. But a health advisory against eating Roanoke River fish wasn't issued 1998 after years of pushing by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report criticized the state's Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health, although it found no evidence of health problems caused by withholding the information.

Virginia created the database to track toxins in several state rivers. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science maintained the data until 1993, when the state took it over.

But in December 1993, severe budget cuts under then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder forced the reassignments of several officials handling the data. When George Allen became governor the following month, access to the data virtually disappeared, JLARC said.

The report said a DEQ official made the decision to withhold the information, concluding it was "dead" when its funding stopped.

"It's a disheartening ... and embarrassing disclosure of a pretty shoddy job of monitoring conditions that can have an adverse impact on public health," said state Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr., D-Fairfax.

The JLARC report recommended, among other things, that DEQ work to spot pollution problems quickly and notify the Health Department, and that health officials act more quickly to issue advisories.

DEQ Director Dennis H. Treacy said the agency is conducting a review of how it monitors rivers and already has started using some of JLARC's recommendations.

Health officials pledged to work with DEQ to prevent a repeat of past problems.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 

All Rights Reserved

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The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)

July 15, 1999, Thursday, FINAL EDITION

LOCKED-UP POLLUTION DATA;
IGNORANCE IS RISKY BLISS;
PEOPLE WERE TOLD THAT RIVER TOXINS REPORTS WERE UNAVAILABLE.

SECTION: LOCAL, Pg. B10

Under federal environmental laws, industries and states are supposed to publish important data such as toxins found in rivers. The information is used in deciding, among other things, whether to issue advisories against eating fish. Such information can be very important.

Yet, under the George Allen administration in 1994, the Virginia Toxics database, created 10 years earlier to track river pollution, was erased from staffs' personal computers. Backup tapes were locked in a fireproof box.

People asking about the database, including federal environmental officials, were told it was no longer available.

This bizarre situation was uncovered by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the investigative arm of the General Assembly, following a report in The Roanoke Times.

''People just forgot about it,'' said Philip A. Leone, JLARC's director.

Apparently an office handling the database was disbanded at the tail end of the Doug Wilder administration, because of budget cuts.

Then, according to the JLARC report, Alan Anthony, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's water-quality standards under the Allen administration, decided to withhold the information because he considered the database ''dead'' when its funding stopped. Why it would be ''dead'' when the facts in it hadn't changed is unclear.

One has to wonder, though, whether the Allen administration's well-established sympathies for polluters played a role. The possibly operative philosophy is best described by Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club's Virginia chapter, as: ''No data, no pollution, no problem.''

Whether from incompetence or purposeful neglect or a combination thereof, denying the public and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency access to the data was in any case wrong, and presumably illegal.

As Sen. Joseph V. Garlan Jr., D-Fairfaix, rightly laments, ''It's a disheartening . . . and embarrassing disclosure of a pretty shoddy job of monitoring conditions that can have an adverse impact on public health.''

The current DEQ director, Dennis H. Treacy, says the agency is reviewing how it monitors rivers and has begun applying some of JLARC's suggestions. That, at least, is good news.

Copyright 1999 Landmark Communications, Inc.
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VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE UPDATE

AUGUST, 1999

JLARC Issues Report on DEQ's Handling of Water Toxics Data

BYLINE: Williams, Mullen, Clark & Dobbins, Thomas E. Knauer
SECTION: Volume 7, Issue 2

The staff of the Virginia General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has issued a report on "DEQ and VDH Activities to Identify Water Toxic Problems and Inform the Public." The report focuses primarily on polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in Virginia rivers, particularly in the Roanoke (Staunton) River, but it also discusses mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River.

Last July, the Virginia Department of Health issued a fish consumption advisory for segments of the Roanoke River because of high levels of PCBs found in fish samples collected by DEQ as part of a special 1993 study. The advisory prompted criticism from citizens living in the area because they weren't informed of the 1993 study results until five years later and VDH did not issue a fish advisory sooner.

The JLARC report said that in April 1999, it became apparent that DEQ had a database (known as the Virginia Toxics Database) that might be used to assist in determining the source(s) of the PCBs found in the fish in the Roanoke River. The report said that until recently, however, the agency withheld information from this database, even for internal use.

Also, an April report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation suggested DEQ wasn't acting appropriately in response to known toxics contamination, particularly for mercury in the Shenandoah River. Concerned about those issues, delegate Ted Bennett, Jr., asked JLARC to "determine whether important information may have been withheld from the public." JLARC approved a "preliminary inquiry" by its staff into DEQ's handling of the PCB, mercury, and other toxics information.

The JLARC staff report addressed five major topics: (1) the Virginia Toxics Database, (2) DEQ's management of water quality data in general, (3) the PCB issue in the Roanoke River; (4) the mercury issue in the Shenandoah River; and (5) the interaction between DEQ and VDH on toxics issues.

The JLARC staff generally concluded that recent DEQ and VDH actions on the toxics database, the PCB contamination in the Roanoke River, and mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River "have generally been appropriate," although "a review of the path that led to these outcomes reveals shortcomings in the timeliness of DEQ and VDH actions, a lack of proactive conduct by the agencies in addressing issues, and concerns about DEQ's tracking and use of information." Each of the five major topics is discussed below.

Virginia Toxics Database

First, JLARC concluded that "no compelling reason has been offered for why the [database] was not given for several years to EPA and others." JLARC found that for five years before February 1999, DEQ wasn't responsive to repeated requests from EPA and others (notably, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) for database information and "sought to filter certain data" before releasing it.

Because of that filtering of data by DEQ, about 90 to 95 percent of the database was excluded from the data given to EPA. The JLARC report said: "[I]t does not appear that filtering out this data for submission to EPA was appropriate." It was not until February of this year that DEQ sent EPA the database data the federal agency had originally requested five years earlier.

DEQ's Management of Water Quality Data

Second, JLARC found that "database management at DEQ has been fragmented and inefficient, but improvements are under way." DEQ currently has more than 100 databases containing air, water, and waste environmental data. Sixty of those databases contain information about Virginia's waterways. JLARC noted that "DEQ collects a large quantity of water quality data that should be automated in a way to maximize its use within and outside the department."

JLARC concluded: "[I]t does not appear that DEQ currently maximizes the use of the water quality data it collects." DEQ, however, "is now taking steps to more effectively manage its data," particularly through development and implementation of its computer software package called "Comprehensive Environmental Data System (CEDS) 2000."

PCBs in Roanoke River

Third, JLARC found that "PCBs were first identified in the Roanoke (Staunton) River in 1973, but the state response has been slow." The report notes that in 1993, DEQ issued a report assessing PCB contamination in fish taken from the river. However, "concern about PCBs in the Roanoke and Dan Rivers was expressed in a 1973 State Water Control Board report."

Nevertheless, it was not until July 1998 that VDH issued an advisory against eating too much of three types of fish caught in certain parts of the river. JLARC noted that "without EPA pressure starting over a decade ago, it appears unlikely that a Roanoke PCB advisory would exist today."

JLARC concluded that despite past problems, "recent DEQ decisions and actions on the river appear generally appropriate." Those actions include the appointment of a DEQ staff member as "project coordinator for river issues" to coordinate activities by various DEQ staff. One of the project coordinator's tasks is to develop a "source assessment plan" to determine the origin(s) of the PCB contamination in the river. DEQ is also working with a citizens advisory committee on the Staunton River to improve relations.

Mercury in Shenandoah River

Fourth, JLARC found that "recent events have raised questions about the Shenandoah River's recovery from mercury contamination," which was first discovered in 1976. Fish, water, and sediment samples have been analyzed, most recently in 1992, 1994, and 1996. JLARC noted that "there are differing opinions [about] whether the increasing mercury concentrations from the 1992, 1994, and 1996 data conclusively show that mercury concentrations in the Shenandoah are rising over the long term."

Because the State Water Control Board believed cleanup options were not technologically and environmentally desirable, it decided in 1982 not to require or undertake a mercury cleanup in the Shenandoah River. That decision was based in large part on a belief that no action "would still result in mercury abatement at similar levels to those reached through the sediment removal scenarios."

JLARC noted that "if the data show a historical upward or even level trend in the mercury concentrations of fish, then the predicted mercury abatement associated with the 'no action' alternative is in question." The JLARC reports said that "the public perception may be that DEQ is unwilling to revisit the strategy of nonremediation."

DEQ, VDH Interaction on Toxics Issues

Finally, JLARC found that "interaction between DEQ, VDH, and the general public on human health concerns in state waters has been problematic in many regards." The report said that "it is unclear why it took so long for VDH to issue the fish advisory in the Staunton River."

JLARC noted that DEQ and VDH "have differing opinions on the level of cancer risk to humans that is acceptable through exposure to PCBs." DEQ's acceptable risk level is 10 times more protective than VDH's acceptable risk level. VDH, however, appears to have been "diligent in its responsibilities toward the protection of human health from mercury in the Shenandoah River system."

JLARC's Recommendations

In JLARC's report, the staff made eight specific recommendations about DEQ and VDH activities. In a letter to JLARC, DEQ Director Dennis Treacy responded to the six recommendations pertaining to the department. Two of the recommendations concern DEQ's handling of environmental data, and Treacy noted that the department's CEDS 2000 system will address those concerns.

JLARC recommended that: <UL> (*) * DEQ seek out information from the 1970s as part of its search for PCB sources in the Roanoke and Dan rivers; (*) * DEQ develop sampling protocols for all routine and special study monitoring (Treacy noted that DEQ currently has various documents in place that establish monitoring protocols, but in the future, the department's quality assurance program will include a review of monitoring protocols); (*) * DEQ endeavor to ensure that agency-identified water quality issues are acted upon in a "timely fashion" (Treacy said appropriate guidance and staffing will ensure that timely response to water quality issues is an operating procedure within all of DEQ's units); and (*) * the secretary of health and human resources and the secretary of natural resources work together to develop a formal Virginia policy on the acceptable levels of risk to human health associated with exposure to carcinogens and other toxins in the environment. </UL>

Treacy said DEQ will discuss contaminant levels of concern and work with VDH to develop "procedures [that] clearly articulate appropriate use of risk levels."

The JLARC staff's overall conclusion was that "DEQ management appears to be generally on course now in responding to concerns raised about public access to toxics data and the Roanoke River issue." Accordingly, the staff did not recommend a continued review of the situation. Copyright 1999 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC

Copyright 1999 M. Lee Smith Publishers & Printers

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

September 14, 1999, Tuesday, METRO EDITION

NEW OFFICE TO MONITOR STATE'S WATER QUALITY;
PANEL RECOMMENDS END TO INQUIRY

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES

SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. A1

Two months after being criticized for withholding crucial data about toxins and not responding to citizens' concerns, the Department of Environmental Quality has taken steps to correct the problems, according to a draft report by the General Assembly's investigative committee.

In perhaps the most important development, DEQ is creating an Office of Water Quality Programs, stated the report, released Monday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.

This new DEQ office will combine several water-quality divisions into one entity and will be responsible for coordinating all activities dealing with water-quality monitoring and assessments.

The office will be run by an assistant division director, a job the agency is recruiting to fill.

The report stated the DEQ had begun to list environmental studies and fish-tissue analyses on its Web site and has designed a comprehensive environmental database that will coordinate all water-quality monitoring data.

The DEQ said it hoped that eventually the public would be able to access the database through its Web site.

The changes will help the agency become more efficient in doing its job and getting information to the public, said David Paylor, director of program coordination at the DEQ.

Jeff Corbin, a scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Richmond, called the DEQ's efforts a step in the right direction.

But, Corbin added, "this is just the first rung of the ladder in making this information useful to the public.

"It's good that they are putting this information on their Web site, but the average person out there needs someone to tell them if one part per million PCBs in the water is bad or not," Corbin said.

Polychlorinated biphenyls are toxins that were found in fish from the Roanoke River in the 1980s between Altavista and Brookneal, according to a DEQ database that came to light only recently.

"The information has to be useful to the people out there fishing the waters. We'll have to wait and see what they come up with," Corbin said.

The DEQ came under criticism after a Roanoke Times report in April found that the agency had, from 1994 to early 1999, withheld information contained in the Virginia Toxics Database.

The database was designed to make decades of water-quality data and studies available to agency staffers, other scientists and agencies.

The program that administered the database was eliminated under Gov. George Allen's administration, and the database locked in a closet on the second floor of the DEQ.

During that time, several scientists at the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state universities asked permission to use the data. They were told by Dr. Alan Anthony, who was head of the DEQ's water-quality standards division, that the data were in an inaccessible format or that "the database was dead."

Staffers at the agency also were denied access to the database. Several staffers thought that information contained in the database might help the agency pinpoint the source of PCB contamination in the Roanoke River, which later becomes the Staunton River.

PCBs were used as coolants in electrical transformers until the 1970s; they were banned when it was learned that they could cause skin and liver damage, as well as cancer.

After being told of the Virginia Toxics Database, Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax County, whose district is affected by the PCB contamination, ordered a JLARC investigation of DEQ. The report, released in July, found problems in addition to the withholding of the

database.

JLARC found that the DEQ had lost or destroyed dozens of what may have been important environmental studies, and that it collected some data without any clear purpose about how to use them.

The report also stated that the agency does not appear to fully use the data it does collect and that its system for managing its databases is fragmented and inefficient.

Four members of the General Assembly who sat on the Audit and Review subcommittee expressed anger at how the agency had handled requests for data and asked JLARC to recommend statutory changes to address how the DEQ handles toxin monitoring and reporting issues.

The legislators then recommended in July that JLARC not continue with its inquiry into the DEQ.

The lawmakers are JLARC co-chairmen Del. Tayloe Murphy, D-Richmond County, and Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, and JLARC members Sen. Joseph Gartlan, D-Fairfax County, and Del. Harry Parrish, R-Manassas.

The full subcommittee, which has 14 members, agreed Monday to recommend an end to the inquiry.

"What they decided was that we would continue to work with DEQ staff on drafting statutory changes that will be ready by the start of the 2000 session" of the General Assembly, said Phil Leone, director of JLARC.

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times
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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

September 20, 1999, Monday, METRO EDITION

CORRECTING COURSE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

SECTION: EDITORIAL, Pg. A6

THE STATE Department of Environmental Quality is using the Internet to speed the flow of data about water pollution to the public and will create a new office to unify oversight of the state's water quality.

These developments are further evidence that the Gilmore administration and Dennis Treacy, department director, are committed to reversing the disastrous anti-environmental policies of Gov. George Allen's administration. Under Treacy's leadership, the department appears to be returning state government to a proper policy of protecting its natural resources rather than merely hiding its environmental problems. The department's actions also appear to have soothed concerns of a legislative subcommittee that was investigating the department's previous failure to report on toxins contaminating the state rivers.

By quickly posting environmental studies from the state's rivers on its Web site, DEQ is responding appropriately to expectations in this Internet era for rapid dissemination of scientific data. This is certainly an improvement over the Allen administration's absurd practice of hiding water-quality data in a closet and claiming it was in an outdated and inaccessible database.

The demand for ever faster, more detailed release of data, however, creates two conflicting missions for the department. One group wants data immediately. Scientists and environmental experts, after years of being hamstrung by the Allen administration, want to see numbers as quickly as possible so they can monitor the rivers and study the effect of toxic pollutants and other water contaminants.

For the department's other constituency, the general public, such raw data is meaningless. For this group, the DEQ staff must both analyze the scientific data and then communicate what it means.

Does a river have potentially harmful levels of PCBs or other toxic chemicals in its fish? The department needs to translate those findings for the public and then publicize that information to protect families who might catch and eat those fish.

By uniting several water-quality functions in one office and creating a new top-level administrator to oversee the office, the department has a better chance of being able to serve its multiple missions as data gatherer, water-quality enforcer and town crier on potential water-quality problems.

The Gilmore administration still has a big job ahead of it in restoring confidence in state government's willingness and ability to protect the environment. The direction being steered by Treacy and his department indicates that, at last, the DEQ is headed down the right road.

Copyright 1999 The Roanoke Times
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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

December 14, 1999, Tuesday

Bill seeks to increase DEQ sampling of water

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: RICHMOND, Va.

The state Department of Environmental Quality would be required to take fish and sediment samples from state rivers every three years instead of five years and to post the results on the Internet under legislation being drafted.

The proposal follows published reports and a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee study that found the agency withheld data on water toxins, even from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and failed to notify the public of potential health risks.

The DEQ finally released the Virginia Toxics Database, created in 1993, to the EPA earlier this year.

Del. Ted Bennett, D-Halifax and the likely sponsor of the bill, said it also would allow citizens to petition the State Water Control Board to conduct additional tests in places where DEQ finds problems, or where the public suspects a problem.

The toxics database indicated that the Roanoke River, which runs through Bennett's district, has PCB contamination.

A spokesman for the DEQ said Monday the agency had no problems with the proposed bill. "Our interest is getting information out to the public," said Bill Hayden, public affairs director at the agency.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press 

All Rights Reserved

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

February 6, 2000, Sunday, METRO EDITION

REINFORCE THE WATCH ON THE ENVIRONMENT

SECTION: EDITORIAL, Pg. 2

THE MOST ardent of environmentalists might be feeling just a little bit sorry for Dennis Treacy these days.

Treacy, Gov. Jim Gilmore's director of the Department of Environmental Quality, last week acknowledged its lax response to complaints about Sanville Utilities Corp. and outlined measures DEQ will take to avoid repeating its mistakes.

After years of problems, the small Southside sewer and water utility finally shut down, leaving human waste spilling into a creek. The agency's unblinking review of its role in failing to enforce environmental standards revealed a similar, smelly mess.

DEQ stepped forward, took responsibility and outlined a plan for improvement - a heartening response to longstanding, festering inadequacies in the scope and effectiveness of the department.

Treacy's forthright leadership is commendable and, by now, familiar. He showed similar good faith last year after a legislative study, prompted by a Roanoke Times report, found that DEQ had lost, destroyed and simply withheld environmental data and had failed to notify the public of potential health risks.

Treacy pledged change, and the Virginia Toxics Database finally was released to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After contending for four years with an administration under George Allen that was hostile to aggressive environmental enforcement, the department has taken a welcome new direction. But Virginians must wonder how many more problems are waiting to be uncovered.

As one scientist noted of Treacy's tenure thus far: "It looks like he's been handed a hornets' nest, and he's taking all the stings. We wonder how many more of these bees' nests are sitting out there."

The state must ensure that DEQ has both the authority and the resources to identify and alleviate threats to a clean and safe environment.

A spokesman said the department can improve its oversight of small utilities such as Sanville by doing a better job with the resources it has. But legislation in the General Assembly that would expand DEQ's role - for example, requiring it to test state waters more frequently for toxins - will take more staff.

Virginia needs more aggressive and effective environmental protections. Lawmakers should ratchet up expectations for DEQ, and back up that action with the resources to achieve the goal.

Copyright 2000 The Roanoke Times
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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

April 13, 2000, Thursday, METRO EDITION

TASK FORCE INVESTIGATES TAINTED FISH;
FISH FROM ROANOKE AND DAN RIVERS CONTAMINATED WITH BDES

BYLINE: RON NIXON THE ROANOKE TIMES

SECTION: VIRGINIA, Pg. B1
The Department of Environmental Quality and several state and federal agencies have formed a task force to investigate recent reports of fish contamination in the Roanoke and Dan rivers, the agency announced Wednesday.

The task force will analyze information about brominated diphenyl ethers, or BDEs, a group of chemicals found in recent fish tissue samples taken from the rivers near Brookneal and South Boston.

BDEs are used as flame retardants.

Included in the task force are the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Roanoke River becomes the Staunton River near Brookneal and then flows into North Carolina.

The DEQ plans additional river monitoring and steps to identify possible sources of the pollutants.

The DEQ already was monitoring PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, that were found in fish in the Roanoke River. The agency has also analyzed the fish samples for other chemicals including BDEs, DDT and chlordane.

"We believe it is important for Virginia to have current information on the condition of our rivers," said DEQ director Dennis Treacy.

"We will work closely with the other members of the task force to expand our knowledge of these pollutants, and we will make the results of our investigation available as quickly as possible."

The DEQ has made the results of its monitoring available on its Web site and at public libraries.

The agency began posting data on the Internet after a Joint Legislative and Review Audit Committee report found that it had not adequately informed the public about toxins in the Roanoke River.

The audit agency also found that DEQ had lost data and collected information without any thought to how it would be used.

The audit agency's study was done last year after The Roanoke Times reported that the DEQ had withheld a database with historic toxics data from the public, state scientists, its staffers and the EPA.

The agency later turned over copies of the database to the EPA and provided it to state scientists.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill that required officials from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health to submit reports to the legislature as they develop new policies for determining when water monitoring should occur and when to issue advisories warning against eating fish from polluted waterways.

The bill stated that those reports were due at least one month before the policies were adopted and specified that they be submitted no later than Dec. 1.

Gov. Jim Gilmore amended the bill to remove deadlines for filing the information, but left in the requirement that reports be submitted to the legislative committees. That means legislators would have no guarantee that they would receive a progress report by the end of this year.

The governor's amendment makes it clear that the legislature would not be informed until after the new policies already are in effect.

Ron Nixon can be reached at 981-3347 or ronn@roanoke.com

Copyright 2000 The Roanoke Times

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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

September 27, 2000, Wednesday, BC cycle

Allen endorsed by Chamber of Commerce, slammed by ex-DEQ workers

BYLINE: By BOB LEWIS, Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

DATELINE: RICHMOND, Va.
Republican Senate candidate George Allen got a major endorsement Wednesday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's foremost promoter of business and industry.

\At the same hour, four former employees of the state's environmental watchdog agency said that when Allen was governor, industries and others who held permits to discharge pollutants into the air or water were considered "customers" to be accommodated.

In endorsing Allen over Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, chamber officials praised Allen for making Virginia more friendly to business while he was governor from 1994 to 1998.

"He would be an aggressive advocate for the businesses of Virginia if elected, and that is lacking in one of our senators right now," Lonnie Taylor, the chamber's senior vice president, said at a news conference in Arlington.

Taylor especially commended Allen for reducing state regulations on businesses by about 70 percent during his term.

"We did a comprehensive review of all the regulations and paperwork in all the agencies and we asked why we were doing this or that and people would say, 'Well, we've done it this way for 20 years,' so we cut out a lot of regulations and modified a lot more," Allen said in a telephone interview.

This year, the chamber has given $154,983, or 93.4 percent of its political contributions, to the GOP, and $11,000 to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission data. In every federal election cycle since 1980, 94 percent of the organization's giving has gone to Republicans.

The organization represents 3 million businesses, 3,000 state and local chambers and 830 business associations nationally.

At a Sierra Club news conference in Richmond, four former state Department of Environmental Quality workers said that under Allen, DEQ employees who stood in the way of the agency granting pollution permits faced intimidation and sometimes firing.

Eileen Rowan, David Sligh, Arthur H. Buehler III and Ralph Bolgiano said that they were ordered to approve illegal permits and that DEQ workers were intimidated and banned from talking to the public or legislators.

"One clear message was that our primary duty was to give customer service, but not all people were considered DEQ customers," said Sligh, who resigned from the agency in February 1995. When the agency held seminars and outreach sessions, only permit holders, not the public, were invited to attend. When the the agency got information requests, permit holders got prompt service at no charge while the public was forced to make requests in writing, endure a long wait, then pay for any data provided, Sligh said.

Bolgiano, who served five governors of both parties before leaving DEQ in 1998, said that no administration forced such hostile changes on DEQ as Allen. The biologist said that when his findings were adverse to permit holders, his supervisors repeatedly asked "are you certain about your conclusions?

"As a low-level field person, I found myself having to defend the law to senior agency officials," he said.

Rowan said that after she led an exhaustive investigation into pollution in the Elizabeth River, she was ordered to table her findings and instead write a speech for Allen's former Secretary of Natural Resources, Becky Norton Dunlop.

She said computer databases of pollution problems, including extensive data mapping toxins released into Chesapeake Bay, were either deleted or withheld from scientists and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I left well into the Gilmore administration, and they were a lot nicer," Rowan said. "At least there were no people walking around with a plastic ax at DEQ headquarters - I'm not making this up - saying 'Heads will roll. Heads will roll."'

Allen said he never heard of such an incident and would have dismissed anyone who had done it. He said environmental studies show that the state water and air improved under his watch.

"You expect that sort of thing from the Sierra Club. They like people like Chuck Robb who thought a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase was a good idea," Allen said.

The Sierra Club has attacked Allen throughout the campaign and endorsed Robb. It also has a substantial track record of support for Democrats. This year, it has made contributions totaling $92,206 to Democrats and $1,551 to the GOP. In federal elections since 1980, 94 percent of the Sierra Club's contributions have gone to Democrats.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press 
All Rights Reserved

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http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/lnacui2api/results/docview/attachRetrieve.do?smi=LOGOS&key=4640&componentseq=1&type=logo&inline=y

The Washington Post

October 14, 2000, Saturday, Final Edition

An Environmental Question Mark; Allen, Opponents Dispute His Legacy in Va.

Craig Timberg , Washington Post Staff Writer

SECTION: METRO; Pg. B01

DATELINE: SMITHFIELD, Va.

This riverside town calls itself "The Ham Capital of the World," but for several years it was also a battleground in the war between federal environmental regulators and the administration of then-Gov. George Allen.

Tensions have since eased. But as Allen (R) seeks election to the U.S. Senate, both his supporters and detractors see the Smithfield case as offering insights into the governor he was and the senator he might be.

The Pagan River is by most measures cleaner today than it has been in decades, thanks to the hooking up of Smithfield Foods' meatpacking plants to a regional sewer system.

Gone is the flow of treated hog waste that in 1997 prompted a federal judge to fine Smithfield Foods $ 12.6 million--a record amount at the time--for thousands of water-quality violations. Wildlife is flourishing. "It even tastes better," said Smithfield Mayor James B. Chapman, 74, who swims in the river.

That, say Allen and his supporters, is the kind of bottom-line environmental progress he championed; the priority was ending the pollution more than levying big fines against an important regional employer. "That was finally accomplished when I was governor," he said. "That is a success."

But environmentalists say it was a victory in spite of--not because of--an Allen administration that prized economic development over the environment and coddled polluters such as Smithfield, whose chairman gave $ 125,000 toward Allen's political ambitions.

Allen said the contribution had no effect on regulation of Smithfield, but federal officials criticized his administration's handling of the case as lax and took the unusual step of preparing their own legal action against the company.

State officials, after learning of the impending federal lawsuit, filed one of their own, prompting accusations that they were finally moving against the company to shield the state against tougher federal action. Allen denies that, but for environmentalists the incident symbolized his resistance to tough enforcement against polluters.

"I don't think they deserve any credit" for a cleaner Pagan River, said retired state delegate W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., a Northern Neck Democrat regarded as an environmentalist. "I didn't see any executive branch leadership on environmental issues during Governor Allen's administration."

Nearly every major environmental organization active in Virginia tangled with Allen during his governorship, from 1994 to 1998. Several, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, have made defeating his Senate bid a priority. They are running ads and distributing literature depicting Allen as a threat to clean air and clean water.

Allen attributes the criticisms to Democrat-leaning environmentalists eager to damage his Senate candidacy. His approach to protecting Virginia's natural resources, he said, encouraged the goodwill of businesses and individuals before resorting to cops-and-robbers enforcement actions.

The results, he says, were environmental improvements with fewer of the regulatory hassles that can hurt economic development and waste money better devoted to cleaning up air and water. He would like to see federal environmental officials follow a similar model of setting broad goals, then leaving industry and state officials flexibility on how to reach them.

"The point is the results," Allen said. "You can argue all you want about the methods."

He is a hunter and fisher whose first date with his wife, Susan, was on a canoe trip on the New River in Southwest Virginia. And Allen got passing grades from environmentalists during his years as a state legislator. In his law office in Richmond, Allen keeps a trophy with a bear sculpture that represents his being named "Legislative Conservationist of the Year" in 1991.

Edward E. Clark Jr., president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia and a longtime environmental activist who has served on several state boards, recalled Allen's push as a legislator to require that hunters make an effort to eat or otherwise use the wildlife they kill. Clark also praised Allen for traveling to Washington in 1984 to urge Congress to set aside 54,000 acres of national forest land in Virginia as pristine wilderness.

"When George Allen became governor," said Clark, "I was not anticipating the environmental disaster that flowed from his administration."

Clark and others are particularly critical of the turmoil in the state Department of Environmental Quality under Allen and his combative relationship with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the blame, they say, goes to Allen's appointment of Becky Norton Dunlop, a conservative activist with little experience in Virginia, as secretary of natural resources, the Cabinet position that oversees DEQ.

Her handling of the department drew a broad and bipartisan backlash. General Assembly auditors found that enforcement actions and inspections for clean air and water fell to the lowest levels in the region. Surveys done for their audit found that only 20 percent of agency employees believed that their leadership "values environmental protection."

After Allen left office, legislative auditors also reported that a database of toxins in state waterways was kept secret during his administration, which refused access even to the EPA.

One DEQ reorganization under Dunlop drew protests not just from environmentalists but also from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Virginia Municipal League. Del. George W. Grayson (D-James City) wrote of her, "No one since Gen. Ulysses S. Grant has posed a greater threat to our resources and our people."

In 1997, the EPA threatened to take over DEQ, which it called ineffective. The controversies grew so intense that even Republican James S. Gilmore III, in his successful bid for governor that year, promised to replace Dunlop.

Allen stood firmly behind her. Dunlop, now a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, dismisses many of the criticisms as the product of politics and a resistance to change by Virginia Democrats, environmentalists and the EPA.

Dunlop and Allen both profess pride in their battles with an EPA they found too controlling and unwilling to trust Virginia to find its own ways to meet environmental goals. The Allen administration, for example, defeated in court a federal plan to require that Northern Virginia drivers have car emissions tested at only a dozen or so facilities. Allen favored the system allowing testing by hundreds of independent garages.

Allen also says that faster permitting at DEQ helped recruit clean, high-technology businesses that are the engine of Virginia's surging economy. And he touts spending $ 60 million for Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

"It is a cleaner state," said Allen. "It is a more prosperous state."

On that score, he is right, though there is sharp disagreement over the causes.

Three of four areas listed by the EPA for their dirty air in Virginia were dropped from that list during his administration. A Virginia Commonwealth University report analyzing a half-million pieces of data showed that Virginia's environment reversed years of decline in 1994 as Allen became governor. Allen says that's partly due to his environmental policies.

The report's author, VCU environmental scientist Greg C. Garman, calls that conclusion "absurd" because natural systems take years to respond to government policy shifts. The improvement, Garman says, is far more likely to have resulted from decades of initiatives by the same federal environmental officials Allen battled.

But Garman also warns against the contention of some environmentalists that Allen's administration damaged the quality of air or water in Virginia.

"I don't have any specific evidence that suggests that," Garman said. "I think the thing that may have been damaged the most is the level of confidence the public may have had in the environmental stewardship" by the state.

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post

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