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Monday, January 05, 2009

Coverage of Target Issue in Bee and Aggie Stands in Marked Contrast To the Enterprise

This morning residents in Davis wake up to more coverage of the Target issue. However, in marked contrast to the article two weeks ago in the Davis Enterprise, the Sacramento Bee and California Aggie present largely balanced arguments weighing the concerns of the local citizen's groups against the stance of the EPA.

On Monday December 22, 2008, the Vanguard broke the news that local group, Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group (FFSOG) was concerned about the discovery of new detection levels of TCP at the Target Superfund site. The group was asking for new testing before Target was set to lay the foundation for the new store on January 5, 2009 (coincidentally today).

The following day, the Davis Enterprise was downplaying this story running an article entitled: "Toxics won't impede Target: New contaminant deemed low-risk," in which EPA project supervisor Bonnie Arthur completely downplayed any risk of the project. [Note I tried to link to the original article, but the Enterprise has already removed it from their website].

Claire St. John of the Enterprise writes:
The discovery of the pesticide isn't surprising. It was first detected at the Superfund cleanup site west of where the new Target will be built. TCP was first discovered in 1983, after the Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up a site where the former Frontier Fertilizer company dumped pesticides in unlined pits along Second Street.

'It's not a new discovery of contamination,' said Bonnie Arthur, project supervisor for the EPA's Superfund Division. 'It's a slightly different area than what we've seen before. It's a little bit further to the east. It's not unexpected in terms of what we know about how this chemical moves around in the subsurface.'


'We'll probably have to install some additional monitoring wells just to investigate it further,' Arthur said. 'But it's not something that's a showstopper to us in terms of the Target development.'

'We have an enforceable agreement with them, so if we had to, we'd drill through their slab,' Arthur said. 'We've done it before. We're not going to ignore it, but we don't think there's any health risk. Nobody's drinking the water.'"
Sacramento Bee and California Aggie Present a Very Different Story

In this morning's California Aggie, Jeremy Ogul as promised two weeks ago, writes an article that is quite balanced. "Citizens' group wants Target project to wait: Group concerned about discovery of toxic chemicals below ground."

He writes:
"As construction workers prepare to pour the foundation for a new Target store in Davis, a citizens oversight group is sounding the alarm about a recent discovery of a hazardous substance nearby.

Recent groundwater samples from an area 100 feet east of the planned location for the Target building revealed the presence of trichloropropane (TCP), a synthetic chemical that the U.S. government considers a hazardous substance.

The samples were taken on the Target property, which sits directly east of an EPA Superfund cleanup site on Second Street in East Davis. The Superfund site was established after the Frontier Fertilizer company illegally dumped pesticides and other chemicals during the 1980s, contaminating soil and groundwater in the area.

Pamela Nieberg, president of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting more investigation into the discovery."
Pam Nieberg who heads FFSOG is then quoted:
"It is an issue of determining the extent and probable source of the TCP contamination, possible health impacts in the neighborhood and how to remediate if necessary... "Once the slab is poured, that sampling will be difficult if not impossible."
It is only after introducing the group's concerns that the Aggie presents the EPA's view:
"EPA officials said they did not believe the discovery was enough to stop the Target project from moving forward.

"While it is our intention to further investigate the TCP found in this area, we believe that this additional investigation can occur either before or after the Target store is constructed," said EPA project manager Bonnie Arthur...

In a letter to the oversight group, Arthur noted that TCP has only been found in two of 40 groundwater sample locations on the Target property, neither of which were at the location of the building itself..."
Sacramento Bee Coverage Likewise Much More Balanced

Hudson Sangree of the Sacramento Bee this morning writes an article entitled: "Davis residents wary of Target store near toxic Superfund site."

The first two graphs present both sides of the issue:
"Construction of a Target store in Davis won't be delayed by the discovery of a hazardous chemical from a nearby toxic site, according to an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But as crews get ready to pour the store's foundation, neighbors say their children's health should not be jeopardized to make sure a Target store gets built on schedule. More time is needed for testing, they say."
The Sacramento Bee then quotes, neighbor Deb Westergaard:
"Let's find out what's going on instead of putting the neighborhood at risk."
Then we get into the EPA's position:
"On Friday, EPA Superfund project manager Bonnie Arthur sent a letter to the head of a citizens' group saying the discovery of TCP was a matter for further investigation but should not push back Target's construction timeline. "We believe this additional investigation can occur either before or after the Target store is built," she wrote. The chemical does not pose an immediate danger, she said in the letter. "We have not found TCP concentrations that present a current health risk to the community," Arthur wrote."
However, Mr. Sangree continues to contrast this issue against the backdrop of resident concerns.
"The chemical has previously been found at the neighboring Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site along Second Street, near Interstate 80 and Mace Boulevard.

But nearby residents are now concerned it may be migrating northeast under the Target site, toward their homes.

For decades, the eight-acre Frontier Fertilizer grounds were used to store and mix pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals."
Back to the EPA's viewpoint:
"Arthur told The Bee that TCP is "a contaminant we've been tracking at the site for 10 years." The chemical is known to cause cancer, she said. But she said it does not threaten the city's drinking water supply, which is drawn from deeper wells. "Nobody's drinking this water," she said.

Representatives of Target Corp. could not be reached for comment Friday.

Davis city officials say the company's construction team is planning to pour the big-box store's concrete slab in the next two weeks."
And finally back to the concerns by Ms. Westergaard and also Pam Nieberg:
"Residents argue it would be worth delaying for a month or two to determine the extent of the risk and what cleanup is needed. There is a new park nearby, and many families with young children live in the Mace Ranch subdivision.

"If it wasn't that Target was pushing to pour its slab, I think (the EPA) would be taking more time," Westergaard said.

Pam Nieberg, a community activist in Davis, serves as the liaison to the EPA for the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group. The group, which employs a technical adviser, is part of an EPA-funded program to involve residents during the cleanup of superfund sites. She wrote to Arthur in November urging the EPA to conduct further sampling "to determine the extent and source of the TCP contamination prior to further construction at the Target site."


Nieberg said she isn't trying to stop it from being built, but thinks a brief delay is reasonable. The TCP found at the Target site was outside the prior boundaries of the cleanup area and may be flowing northeast, toward homes, she said. "It's out there moving in the groundwater," she said.

Samples were 3,000 times the level that requires a safety notification, she said. Nieberg said she was concerned the TCP could "gas up" into homes. In the air or water, the chemical can cause eye and throat irritation. Target, Nieberg said, was planning to protect its employees and shoppers by laying down 4 inches of gravel below the store and a plastic vapor barrier. Pipes will vent the chemical from the ground into the air, she said. She said the extent of the contamination should be known before construction starts. "We wanted them to look for (TCP) first," Nieberg said. "Once you've poured a big concrete slab, it's going to be hard to do testing." "
It is instructive to note the difference in both of these articles which give resident and group concerns equal weight to the EPA's denial that this is a serious problem. There is concern attention given to the group FFSOG and Pam Nieberg.

In the Davis Enterprise article, the title and the tone led to the conclusion that this was not a problem. The views of Pam Nieberg were presented in a brief fashion and buried in the middle after the concerns were fully quelled by the official position of EPA supervisor Bonnie Arthur.

In the Sacramento Bee by contrast, the views of both were interspersed throughout the article. Both views were presented in the first two paragraphs and then given equal weight through out.

This is in fact a balanced article. The Enterprise article stands in stark contrast to the approach given in both the Bee and the Aggie this morning.

An interesting example appears even in the quotes of Bonnie Arthur by the Davis Enterprise versus the Sacramento Bee.

The Davis Enterprise quotes Ms. Arthur:
"We're not going to ignore it, but we don't think there's any health risk. Nobody's drinking the water."
On the other hand, in the Sacramento Bee, in virtually the same quote, Arthur acknowledges that TCP is known to cause cancer, but she still downplays it.
"The chemical is known to cause cancer, she said. But she said it does not threaten the city's drinking water supply, which is drawn from deeper wells. "Nobody's drinking this water," she said."
To me both of those statements give me very different reactions. In one case, they really do not believe there is anything to be concerned about. But that changes in the second statement quoted in the Sacramento Bee. The question becomes in the second quote--is it really true that "nobody" is drinking the water and that the water that is contaminated is not someone leaching into the city's wells. And if the plume is moving, how does the EPA know for sure? These questions only arise due to the Sacramento Bee's coverage which acknowledges for the first time that the chemical is known to cause cancer.

Had the Bee article been printed in the Davis Enterprise on the 23rd of December, the Vanguard likely would not have had to run a follow up story on the 24th criticizing the Enterprise and trying to set the record straight by showing the EPA's poor track record under the Bush administration.

---David M. Greenwald reporting