Wednesday, the Pharos-Tribune published a letter from a Logansport science teacher who is running for state senate. This letter includes several inaccuracies — scientific and otherwise — about the proposed Waelz Sustainable Products (WSP) zinc production facility.
As the environmental toxicologist providing the outside science support on the team, I asked WSP permission to respond, one science teacher to another, and to perhaps alert your readers and the author to several inaccuracies in her statements. My rather direct statements are not intended to be disrespectful, but rather to emphasize that society expects more from science teachers and those running for election. Facts do matter.
Efforts to Communicate: The author claims lack of “transparency.” WSP has made every effort to communicate openly and transparently about the proposed facility despite the ongoing pandemic. Here are some of the ways WSP has worked to create an open, fact-based dialogue about the project:
Prior to the requirement to avoid large public gatherings, WSP representatives attended three public meetings held in Logansport the week of March 16 and spent approximately one hour responding to questions from interested citizens during the March 16 county commissioners meeting.
Company representatives were available to discuss the project after that meeting as well as during and after the meetings held on March 19 and 20.
They have created a website at www.wspcasscounty.com and have posted answers to many questions from Cass County residents both there and to Facebook.
Company executives (and I) have authored a number of guest columns in the Pharos-Tribune responding to questions and correcting the record on uninformed assertions.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Gov. Holcomb, there have been no recent opportunities for the company to engage with the public in a live meeting. WSP has held discussions with a number of individual citizens and engaged in email exchanges with others to respond to numerous questions. WSP staff is also exploring other means to engage with stakeholders via other platforms, such as video conference call. Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, WSP will be able to schedule a public meeting to present the project and answer questions. In the meantime, WSP welcomes any suggestions on how to improve communication about the facility under the current restrictions. The person to contact is Darci Ackerman, Senior Vice President and Director of Research & Development, Heritage Environmental Services, 317-572-8297.
Muncie: WSP was not “forced out of Muncie.” WSP chose to pull out of Muncie once it became clear that the elected officials, several of whom were apparently under FBI investigation or arrested, might not have been able to live up to their obligations under various agreements with the company. WSP favors a community that would better appreciate the benefits of a state-of-the-art zinc production facility and welcome them as the good neighbor they intend to be. The author further states (incorrectly) that WSP was “forced out” “due to the same health concerns we have.” In fairness, WSP did not have a chance to discuss community health concerns before deciding not to site WSP in Muncie, but they are proactively having those discussions now in Cass County, as noted above. (I did not join the project until fall, for example, and I look forward to attending upcoming public meetings in Logansport.)
The facts, please: Unsupported and unscientific statements about “harmful pollutants” “putting all Hoosiers in danger” from “mercury and lead to our farming lands and in our drinking water” — coming from a potential elected official and science teacher, no less — are disappointing. I would hope her students cannot make unsupported assertions without providing evidence, and neither should she. EPA’s Air Toxics database is one important source to learn details about lack of harmful impacts from existing zinc production facilities. A science teacher should know that allegations about health impacts of emissions have to be backed up with factual information to be credible.
Lead and mercury are not biotoxins: As the author is not a scientist, she may not know that neither lead nor mercury is a “biotoxin.” (Snake venom, deathcap mushrooms and sea wasp jellyfish all have toxins. Lead and mercury do not.) Spreading misinformation is a disservice to those people who genuinely are interested in learning the facts about the project.
Zinc production plants like WSP do not harm the environment: Despite her assertions to the contrary, there is no evidence of lead and mercury “building up in the environment” around other zinc recycling facilities. According to the EPA air toxics database and various other published reports, emissions from zinc production plants are exceedingly low, particularly when compared to other sources of environmental contaminants. If the author has any evidence otherwise, she should please share it.
The record is clear: WSP has been actively engaged, to the extent currently possible, in providing factual information about the project. It is looking forward to a public forum on the issue just as soon as possible and engaging in a fact-based discussion.