Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"This is what de-regulation looks like" -- wells of SE WI communities potentially contaminated

Waste hauler dumps three times the regulated levels, receives slap on the wrist and minimum penalty

This story is a bit dated, but it's worth keeping alive because it's relevance isn't yet fully appreciated.

Herr Environmental, a waste hauler company in southeastern Wisconsin, is facing harsh criticism because it spread possibly more than three times the legal limit of waste around the homes and fields of dozens of Jefferson County residents.

Scott Gunderson, an executive assistant in the Department of Natural Resources, handed down a few citations to the company, carrying out the minimum action required of him, disregarding recommendations from several within the agency to recommend criminal action against Herr Environmental.

What's so controversial here is that Gunderson, who had "made an extra effort" to deal with Herr himself, had received campaign contributions from the company during his time as an Assemblyman. The violations, touted as "among the worst" by the lead investigator of the case, could have required criminal action resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in fines for the illegal waste dumping. Instead, Herr Environmental paid just $4,338.

Another politically appointed member of the DNR had urged the agency to be lenient with Herr Environmental, advising his colleagues that "we all make innocent mistakes" (Emphasis added).

Residents in the area have been warned to test their well water before drinking it. Contamination in the wells could prove to be fatal in some cases, with one DNR investigator issuing a dire warning to residents:
Wastewater specialist David Bolha, the lead investigator, has said he and other agency staff feared potential threats to public health, including possibly dangerous levels of nitrates in wells. Elevated nitrates levels can cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants called blue-baby syndrome.
Emphasis added.

The incident with Herr Environmental highlights a growing trend at the DNR, of lessening the number of tickets to a 12-year low in 2011. Some have suggested this is good practice, a lowered intrusion on government on the people whom it's supposed to serve.

But with actions like the illegal dumping of human waste near the well water of Jefferson County communities, I'd rather err on the side of caution. If this is what de-regulation looks like, I'll take the old DNR over the new one any day.

No comments:

Post a Comment