Now we have TMDL rules by decree

Editor’s note:  Published February 23rd, 2002 in the Shoshone News-Press.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)

Now that everyone has submitted their comments with respect to the illegal expansion of the Bunker Hill Superfund Box to most of the Coeur d’Alene Basin, it is time to consider the next threat to the economic well-being of the entire region.  That threat is posed by the TMDL rules being proposed.  The term “TMDL” means Total Maximum Daily Loads and refers to daily limits of dissolved metals, suspended solids and nutrients which are transported in the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

Apparently, both U.S. EPA and Idaho DEQ believe that limits to dissolved metals and solids can be controlled by decree.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature may not agree with TMDL rules being proposed.  Thomas Huxley, a 19th century scientist had a saying: “ The great tragedy of science:  the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

One might ask the common sense question: How did the valley form in which the South Fork flows?  It is a very simple yet important question, but a definitive answer is obvious.  The South Fork formed the valley itself by erosional processes.  One only has to remember the last significant flooding event in February 1996 to appreciate that the river has not given up its erosive tendencies.     Continue reading

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The Science Committee’s human health overview webpage for the NAS’s panel

Editor’s note:  As the National Academies study panel got going on the work of its study, we thought it would be a good idea to offer them some web pages that would provide guidance respecting our various arguments, publications, and sources.  Below, the web page on the subject of human health.  I don’t have an exact date for when this page was posted at our website, but it would have been (of course) soon after the NAS committee was formed and given its charge.  Links embedded in this piece will be dead and out of date as often as not.  I’ve left them in the text, however, as a spur to “reconnecting” them to their current web locations — perhaps something I can chip away at over the days and weeks ahead.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)


Human health has been the hot-button issue in Shoshone County — for both the citizenry and the Science Committee.

EPA calls human health their “top priority” issue in the Basin.  But that designation has an ironic ring for us,  We believe the human health issue has been grossly magnified or manufactured altogether by EPA staff.  The measure of that “problem enhancement” on EPA’s part, we believe, is the shoddy scientific methodology that EPA has brought to the human health issue.

We do not, however, wish to recount the long story of all of our objections and disappoints regarding EPA human health science here.  Instead, our goal is to provide a convenient guide to documents that, we believe, belong in your NAS panel’s evaluation of EPA’s human health science.

To that end, then, this…

Regulatory Sources & Links

As Ron Roizen noted in his presentation to the panel on April 15, 2004, it is important that your group examine the EPA’s 1994 Directive (pdf download) and 1998 Directive (pdf download), which guide lead-related risk assessment at Superfund sites.  Incidentally, it did not miss our attention that the EPA’s 1994 Directive was published in the year following the publication of the Final Report of the Smuggler Mountain Technical Advisory Committee (which report is dated January 27, 1993).      Continue reading

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Fred Brackebusch offers Science Committee’s statement to the GTF

Editor’s note:  The Governor’s Task Force on Human Health met with the Science Committee down in Boise on July 25, 2001.  Fred Brackebusch took the lead and presented a summary of our group’s observations regarding the pitfalls and weaknesses in EPA science re the proposed Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund site.

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(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)


My name is Fred Brackebusch and I am a member of the Science Committee of the Shoshone Natural Resources Coalition.  On behalf of the other members of the Science Committee, who are here with me today, as well as the wider membership of the Shoshone Natural Resources Coalition, I extend my thanks for inviting us to present our concerns before this committee.

On April 12, 2001 the Science Committee had the honor to engage a panel of USEPA and IDEQ scientists and officials in a discussion of the draft Human Health Risk Assessment for the Coeur d=Alene Basin.  In this conference we lodged a series of key concerns regarding the HHRA’s data, analyses, word usage and logic.  Only recently, on July 13, 2001, we received an unsigned cover letter and a technical memorandum responding to those scientific concerns.  While we appreciate that DEQ took the time and trouble to prepare a response, we must say that the substance of the response does little to allay our concerns that the science described in the HHRA is uncompelling and substandard.

Before turning to the substance of our concerns and our reply to IDEQ’s response, however, some preliminary matters require attention.

First, the Cover Letter of the DEQ response implies that the Science Committee is asking for “scientific certainty, perfection, or irrefutable proof” as a standard.  We reject the notion that our disagreement with IDEQ and EPA science reflects an underlying misunderstanding about the imperfections of real-world environmental science and associated decision making.  We are concerned that certain aspects of the science are sufficiently faulty that the overall conclusions drawn from IDEQ/EPA science may be incorrect.  Thus, instead, we wish to apply a far less demanding standard than perfection, namely, that EPA/DEQ science meet minimum standards of contemporary scientific practice and credibility.      Continue reading

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Highlights of the Science Committee’s meeting with the Governor’s Task Force, July 25, 2001

Editor’s note:  As noted previously on this blog, almost the entire Science Committee made the trip down to Boise in July of 2001, after the Science Summit, to meet with the Governor’s Task Force on Human Health.  The meeting was one in a continuing series of efforts to find a responsive audience with respect to our criticisms of EPA science and that agency’s plans for the expanded Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund site.  Fred Brackebusch wrote a summary of the meeting after we returned, which is offered below.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)

The Science Committee of the Shoshone Natural Resource Coalition met with members of the Governor’s Task Force on Human Health in Boise, Idaho on 25 July 2001.

Task Force members present included:

Jack Riggs, Lt. Gov., Chairman 
Dick Shultz 
Orval Green 
Chuck Moss 
Jim Yost

Steve Allred, Director of DEQ attended as did other representatives of the State.  Three US EPA representatives were also present.

The Science Committee gave its presentation laying out concerns that minimum scientific standards are not being met with respect to human health and lead in the Coeur d’Alene Basin and decisions relating thereto, i.e. cleanup plans.  A copy of the presentation listing 14 points of concern is available from the Science Committee.

Not the least of those concerns are the following:

  • The use of the IEUBK model for lead risk has been put forth by the agencies as “settled science,” when in fact there is considerable controversy over the model in the scientific literature.
  • There has never been a random blood survey conducted in the Basin, and thus the percent of children with blood leads exceeding the 10 microgram per deciliter level of concern is not known.  Yet opportunistically collected blood lead data is utilized by the agencies as if they were representative and correct.
  • Bioavailability of lead minerals has not been studied in the Basin.  Different lead minerals have widely different bioavailabilities yet the agencies insist that “lead is lead” in comparing smelter dust to mineral processing tailings, despite the different mineralogies.

Continue reading

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An Open Letter to EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin

Editor’s note:  This letter, coauthored by Science Committee members, was published at the Science Committee’s web page but not in the local newspaper.  As this letter suggests, the Science Committee, early on, tried every avenue, bent every ear, tested every official it could find respecting EPA’s scientific missteps in that agency’s push for a greatly expanded Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund site.

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(PHOTO CREDIT:  Zona Desconocida)

To:  Robert Martin
U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency

From: Science Committee
of the Shoshone Natural
Resources Coalition

April 27, 2001
Shoshone County, Idaho  

Dear Mr. Martin,
On behalf of the people of Shoshone County, Idaho, the Science Committee of the Shoshone Natural Resources Coalition begs to draw your attention to the following facts:

The EPA’s Progress Report for Cleanup in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin has just been published.   This document claims that human health represents the top priority in the EPA’s plan for environmental remediation of our area.  Childhood lead exposure is the main focus of this would-be remediation.

Yet, there is no credible nor uncontroverted scientific evidence that child lead poisoning is a problem in our area.

Local physicians do not see childhood lead poisoning cases.

A modern and fully equipped hospital in neighboring Kootenai County has no special programs, wards, nor physician training for child lead poisoning — and they have no caseload for lead as such.      Continue reading

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Vanishing voluntary participation

Editor’s note:  Published March 2, 2007 in the Shoshone News-Press.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)

Four-and-a-half years have passed since the EPA issued the September, 2002 Record of Decision (or ROD) that expanded the original 21-square-mile Box Superfund site around Kellogg into the much larger area of the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.

In my opinion, then-governor Dirk Kempthorne did a feeble job of protecting the CDA Basin community’s interests in the days and weeks leading up to the EPA’s issuance of the ROD.  In November 2001, the governor got a standing ovation from a Wallace audience when he said that he was getting so frustrated with EPA that he was on the verge of asking them to leave Idaho.  Yet, the governor thereafter proceeded to sign-off on the ROD with little more than a whimper of protest.

There was, however, one significant element of victory for the Silver Valley community in the governor’s letter of concurrence regarding the ROD.  The governor asserted that since there was no health emergency in the Basin therefore the human health aspect of the ROD — that is, the yard remediation program — should be voluntary.  He wrote:  “We will only support voluntary actions in this program” (italics in the original; ROD, letter of concurrence section, page 5).     Continue reading

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Shoshone County Commission’s cover letter to EPA

Editor’s note:  The deadline for the submission of comments on the proposed new Record of Decision for the Coeur d’Alene Basin came in late February.  In my capacity as the County’s EPA consultant at that point, I assembled a large binder full of documents, all neatly tabbed and indexed.  (EPA’s ROD-related documents, incidentally, would fill a small U-Haul, and so I thought the weighty submission we were making with our binder was fair turnabout!)  The binder’s contents included many of the op-eds and articles Science Committee members had written as well as primary sources and scientific articles I thought were worthy of EPA’s attention.  Shoshone County’s county commissioners — Jim Vergobbi, Sherry Krulitz, and Jon Cantamessa — submitted a cover letter for the binder.  It was drafted by Jon Cantamessa and then signed by all three commissioners, thus making it a formal act of the Shoshone County Commission.  I thought at the time — and I still do — that it offered an excellent commentary.


Shoshone Letter Top

Dear Ms. Eckman:

Please accept and consider these comments on the Proposed Plan for the Coeur d’Alene Basin cleanup. The Plan states that the EPA will “consider the comments” and that the final decision may be modified based on public comments. We have not found this to be the case concerning our comments, both oral and written, in the past. Several of our questions raised in prior comments have yet to be addressed. Shoshone County is not a “stakeholder” in this process.

Shoshone County is locally elected government. We are concerned that if the EPA is not  sincerely considering our comments, then you are probably not sincerely considering any other comments submitted  by our fellow citizens who will be directly affected by your final decision.

We believe that there is no imminent  threat to human health  in Shoshone County.  We believe  that there is no imminent threat to the environment in Shoshone County.  We believe that there is  no medical emergency  present  in Shoshone County.  Our children are as healthy as any other group of children, and our population is intelligent, healthy, and unfortunately shrinking.  We are one of only two counties in the State of Idaho to experience a decline in population during the last decade.  Our County is shrinking in large part due to the oppressive actions of the EPA.     Continue reading

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Smearing metals all around

Editor’s note:  My reference for this op-ed is incomplete, but I think it’s indicating publication on April 16th, 2002 in the Shoshone News-Press.  In any case, that’s the best info I have on it.

Fred Brackebusch

Fred Brackebusch

The misuse of technical terminology has clearly harmed our arguments that health risks in the Coeur d’Alene Basin have been overstated.

Consider the word “metal.”

We all know what metals are.  Metals such as iron, copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold are everywhere in our homes, our lives, our culture.  However, in nature most metallic elements do not occur in the uncombined, elemental state. In geological environments, with the notable exception of gold, metallic elements exist in minerals combined with other elements with sulfur being the most common combining element.  Many of these minerals are called sulfides.  For example, galena is lead sulfide and sphalerite is zinc-iron sulfide.

Almost the entire crust of the earth is composed of the combinations of elements into substances with definite characteristics and specific chemical makeups.  These substances are called compounds, and in the case of metallic compounds occurring in the rocks and sediments are called minerals.  The word “metals” describes a group of elements which have certain characteristics.  Each element has a unique number of protons and electrons, called the atomic number.

The definition of metal:  In the U.S. Bureau of Mines Dictionary of Mining, Mineral and Related Terms, metal is defined “an opaque, lustrous, elemental, chemical substance that is a good conductor of heat and electricity and, when polished, a good reflector of light.”  The definition goes on to describe other characteristics of metals including the definition that a metal is an elemental substance whose hydroxide is alkaline.      Continue reading

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Science committee short on tears for Iani’s departure

Editor’s note:  Published July 25th, 2004 in The Press, North Idaho News Network.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Image)

We read with interest that EPA Region 10 administrator, John Iani, is quitting his post on August 7th.

One of Mr. Iani’s “crowning achievements,” according to Region 10’s July 21st, 2004 press release, was the Superfund “Record of Decision” (ROD) for the Coeur d’Alene Basin.  That ROD, continued the press release, “…had been highly controversial until Iani helped broker an agreement….”

That’s the sort of double-speak we have grown accustomed to hearing out of Region 10.

The CDA Basin Superfund ROD can hardly be said to have put controversy behind it.

There is serious grumbling in several quarters about the semi-farcical operation of the Basin Environmental Improvement Commission, which was created to carry out the ROD.  The BEIC has turned out to be little more than a yes-man for the yard replacement boondoggle and a new spigot for Clean Water Act research grants doled out to funds-thirsty state and federal agencies.     Continue reading

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TAG funds not going to be made available another sorry chapter in EPA’s CDA Basin saga

Editor’s note:  Published March 3rd, 2004 in the Shoshone News-Press.


(PHOTO CREDIT:  Google Images)

EPA regulations say that citizens in Superfund sites may group together and apply for “TAG grants” — or Technical Assistance Grants — which offer renewable funding of up to $50K per year.

EPA’s rationale for its TAG program is that EPA’s science behind its Superfund cleanup enterprises is often unclear to ordinary citizens.  Therefore EPA provides funds for a citizens group to hire technical experts to translate EPA science at a particular Superfund site into language that ordinary citizens can understand.

According to the federal regulations, preference is supposed to be given to applicant citizen groups that are most affected by the local Superfund enterprise.

Remember that.      Continue reading

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