Lawmakers: inform public of asbestos cancer, mesothelioma hazards

By Danny Adler
Bucks County Courier Times
April 29, 2007

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Two lawmakers said residents have the right to know about health hazards in their communities.

Congressman Patrick Murphy, D-8, and state Rep. John Galloway, D-14, on Saturday said they will introduce legislation at the federal and state levels that would require a mandatory notice to state and local governments when hazards exist. Murphy said he also wants the EPA to notify the public when hazardous materials are discovered.

The action was spurred by the EPA’s lack of notification to Bucks County and Tullytown officials about an asbestos violation and fine years ago against the developer of the Levittown Town Center at Route 13 and Levittown Parkway.

In April and May 2002, a federal Environmental Protection Agency inspector found asbestos in demolition debris at what was then the 50-year-old Levittown Shopping Center. Stephen Ifshin of DLC Management, the site’s owner and developer, and a demolition subcontractor were fined $37,500 for the violation. The EPA, though, never told anyone in county or local government about the discovery.

Federal and state environmental officials have said that the EPA’s handling of the case followed proper procedures and that no public notification process is required after an asbestos violation.

“This is a healthcare crisis,” Murphy said Saturday at a news conference at his office on Mill Street in Bristol. “This is an environmental crisis that we need to address with a sense of urgency.

“What happened at the Levittown Shopping Center was a wake-up call that there needs to be a drastic change when it comes to notification of environmental hazards.”

Murphy added, “Not only do people have the right to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods, but they expect an open, honest and responsive government. That’s what we’re seeking.”

Galloway, who recently uncovered the violation while researching state grants and low-interest loans available for the long-delayed shopping center, called the incident “a problem of communication between the state, county and federal government,” and sought a state initiative to parallel Murphy’s efforts.

“The public has a right to know, and that is why I have called upon the [state Department of Environmental Protection] to make an immediate policy change as a stopgap until a nationwide public notification standard is in place,” the freshman state lawmaker said.

Galloway drafted a letter to the DEP saying it’s “critical” that the agency inform the public when contamination is in their communities.

Murphy and Galloway said their efforts would protect residents and community members.

EPA spokeswoman Donna Heron on Saturday wouldn’t comment on the pending legislation.

“The EPA … will be happy to talk to the media about it once it’s been signed into law,” Heron said.

The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching the DEP on Saturday for comment.

A DEP inspection earlier this month found that four of 18 materials collected from the site contained asbestos, but the asbestos posed no health risk.

Since 2002, when DLC Management won approvals to develop the center, only three of the site’s 31 proposed commercial properties have been developed. A Home Depot, Taco Bell and Wachovia bank are the only businesses there.

Murphy represents Bucks County; some districts in Abington, Upper Dublin and Upper Moreland in Montgomery County; and two wards in Philadelphia. Galloway represents Bristol, Morrisville, Tullytown and Falls; two districts in Bristol Township; and one district in Middletown.

Staff writer Brian Scheid contributed to this story. Danny Adler can be reached at 215-949-4205 or dadler@phillyBurbs.com .

©2007 Copyright Calkins Media, Inc.

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