ST. LOUIS -- The small Missouri towns of Herculaneum and Oak Grove are on the Sierra Club's list of 25 U.S. communities that it says are being hurt by federal changes in toxic waste cleanup and clean air policies.
In a report released Thursday, the environmental group says the Bush administration is weakening 30 years of environmental laws and risking public health and safety.
The group also is critical of the administration and some members of Congress for opposing industry taxes to fund the federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup program.
The tax on chemical, oil and other polluting industries that financed Superfund cleanup expired in 1995, leaving any newly designated Superfund sites without money for cleanup. The fund has shrunk from nearly $4 billion to a projected $28 million next year. The Bush administration opposes reimposition of the tax.
"It's a shame that the administration thinks that polluters shouldn't be responsible," said Jack Warden of Herculaneum, who joined the Sierra Club's Missouri chapter in announcing the report at the Mississippi Riverfront.
"It's time taxpayers tell the government we didn't make the mess. Polluters did. ... Our community, our children, are not the price the world should pay for lead."
In Herculaneum, Doe Run Co. operates the nation's largest lead smelter, which the Sierra Club's Tom Kruzen describes as a "slow-motion train wreck" responsible for cardiovascular disease, leukemia, attention deficit disorder and other maladies.
Kruzen, of Mountain View, Mo., says Doe Run should close the smelter or relocate Herculaneum's residents.
Company offers to pay
Doe Run has offered to pay for Herculaneum's cleanup and to buy out more than 100 homes. But unless the EPA names Doe Run as the legally binding responsible party, the company can wiggle out of its responsibility if it falters financially, the Sierra Club's Ken Midkiff said.
Cleanup in recent weeks has been slowed by Doe Run's financial difficulties, because of poor investments in Latin America, Midkiff said.
Residents of La Oroya, Peru, were set to protest Doe Run's smelter operations there, demanding compliance with that country's environmental laws, said the Rev. Elinor Stock whose St. Louis presbytery partners with the Peruvian town.
Gov. Bob Holden, U.S. House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-St. Louis, and Sen. Jean Carnahan, are among those who have asked the EPA to include Herculaneum on the Superfund priority list.
Doe Run executives say a Superfund listing is not needed, because the company is willing to do the work at its own expense.
In Oak Grove, just east of Kansas City, the tiny community's drinking well is contaminated with chemical solvents, but officials do not know the source of the pollution. The town is buying its water from a nearby source, but the plume of pollution is headed that way, Midkiff said. No federal Superfund money is available for cleanup.