- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

The federal government is using faulty science to allow itself to dump tons of crude-oillike sludge into the Potomac River and should be stopped immediately, according to a scientific review.
However, 48 hours after the report was released Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers discharged massive amounts of the smelly sludge through a national park and into the designated National Heritage River near Georgetown Thursday and yesterday, witnesses said.
"It looked like a tanker crashed in the Potomac," said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute.
Mr. Gordon and other witnesses saw young beavers coated in sludge and ducks swimming frantically to escape the goo that left dead eels in its wake.
This is the first time discharges have occurred since it was first reported by The Washington Times last summer. The discharge from an outfall in the C&O; Canal National Historic Park Thursday lasted four hours and occurred one mile above Fletcher's Boathouse. Yesterday's discharge was one mile below the boathouse and lasted three hours.
The sludge is created when the Corps uses alum to separate sediment from drinking water taken from the Potomac and pushes it back into the river in a heavier concentration.
The scientific peer review by the Institute for Regulatory Science was requested by Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican and chairman of the House Resources national parks, recreation and public lands subcommittee.
Mr. Radanovich is investigating whether the federal government is violating the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
"Dumping toxic material into the Potomac is indefensible, and it is appalling that sound science continues to uncover this kind of fraud and abuse in our federal agencies dealing with endangered species and our environment," Mr. Radanovich said.
The discharges in the Potomac River are allowed under a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency that expired in 1994 but which still allows the federal government to operate.
A new permit is expected to be issued next month. Mr. Gordon said the permit is based partly on a water-quality report used by the federal government to justify its dumping practices. The study's claims that the discharges are not environmentally hazardous have been dismissed by the peer review.
"The peer review shows that the report being used by federal agencies to justify their midnight dumpings is no better than the sludge they dump," Mr. Radanovich said.
The review found "selective collection, application and interpretation of data leave key questions unanswered and introduce an element of subjectivity."
"By far, the most important shortcoming of the study appeared to be making far-reaching conclusions from less than adequate data. Based on our experience dealing with several hundred reviews, this study appears to rank at the lower end of the studies we have viewed so far," the report said.
The concentration of key pollutants used to test the toxicity of the discharge was merely a fraction of the same pollutants actually being discharged and "raises a red flag," Mr. Radanovich said.
The Interior Department referred a call for comment to its agency, the National Park Service, which referred a call to another park office, which did not return the call. The Environmental Protection Agency also did not return a call for comment.
The revelation comes on the heels of other questionable actions taken by federal officials in the name of protecting endangered species.
False samples were submitted into a national lynx survey, and in other cases faulty information was used to cut off water to farmers, as well as to establish habitat in several states for endangered fish species. Federal officials also knowingly used faulty data of spotted owl habitat to block logging in a California forest.
The sludge dumps contain alum, sediments and other impurities including high concentrations of iron. The suspended solids were in the tens of thousands of milligrams per liter, said Mr. Gordon, who has tracked the dumpings over the past two years and is suing the federal government to stop it.
Nationally, municipalities discharge 10 to 30 miligrams per liter 60 miligrams at the most, Mr. Gordon said.
"You might find other places where dumps like this occur, but you would have to go to Bulgaria or India," he said.
Brian Kennedy, a congressional aide to Mr. Radanovich, witnessed the dumps yesterday morning and described it as looking and smelling "like a latrine in the dead of August."
"This is unreal, totally unreal," Mr. Kennedy said as the chunky sludge gushed through a gated pipe and spread over the green river, turning it charcoal black and coating rocks and the riverbank in its path.
The bad smell made his eyes water.
"That this is being condoned, that this is being done by the federal government in its own back yard … It's appalling," Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy videotaped the dumping, which is available on Mr. Radanovich's Web site at www.house.gov/radanovich/.


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