Friday, March 25, 2011

Obama CEO Pal's Company Guilty of Unsafe Radioactive Waste Storage

Union Memorial to Deceased Plant Workers
Honeywell International, whose CEO is a member of President Obama's Bipartisan Deficit Reduction ("Cat Food") Commission, has pleaded guilty to knowingly storing hazardous radioactive waste without a permit, and has been sentenced in federal court to pay a criminal fine of $11.8 million. 

While all eyes are on Japan's nuclear disaster, an eerily similar scenario born of corporate greed, union-busting, political influence peddling and safety shortcuts  had been playing out for years in Metropolis, IL.  Yes, that Metropolis: named after Superman's city and complete with a giant sized statue of Superman and all kinds of tourist- trappy accoutrements, including a newly-built memorial to the late actress who played Lois Lane on TV.

There's also a memorial to the workers of the Honeywell plant, where the Steelworkers' Union claims many of its members contracted cancer and died due to radiation exposure over the years.  It is particularly telling, in this age of union demonization, that it was the steelworkers' local which blew the whistle on Honeywell executives for blatantly ignoring safety laws.   The union, incidentally, was locked out of the plant by CEO David Cote last June after voicing its concerns.  The Environmental Protection Agency  finally listened, and prosecuted. (after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did nada.)  The company entered its guilty plea on March 11, the same day as Japan's earthquake --and along with the fine (a drop in the bucket in Corporate World) was sentenced to five years' probation and some community service in the way of a recycling campaign in Metropolis.  Neither Cote nor any other human was held criminally responsible.

Here are excerpts from the official Justice Department press release:

Honeywell, a Delaware corporation with corporate headquarters in Morristown, N.J., owns and operates a uranium hexafluoride (UF6) conversion facility in Massac County, Ill., near the city of Metropolis and the Ohio River. Honeywell is licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Reulatory Commission to possess and otherwise manage natural uranium, which it converts into UF6 for nuclear fuel. The Metropolis facility is the only facility in the United States to convert natural uranium into UF6.
At the Metropolis facility, air emissions from the UF6 conversion process are scrubbed with potassium hydroxide (KOH) prior to discharge. As a result of this process, KOH scrubbers and associated equipment accumulate uranium compounds that settle out of the liquid and are pumped as a slurry into 55-gallon drums. The drummed material, called "KOH mud" and consisting of uranium and KOH, has a pH greater than or equal to 12.5...
Honeywell needed, but did not have, a RCRA permit to store any drums of KOH mud at its facility longer than 90 days.
In July 2007, Honeywell requested a modification of its RCRA permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) so that they could store drums of KOH mud. IEPA issued Honeywell a modified permit in July 2008, allowing Honeywell to store drums containing KOH mud only in a KOH container storage area designed to contain any spills, leaks or precipitation that accumulates in the drum storage area.   By September 2008, Honeywell had accumulated over 7,000 drums of KOH mud.   In April 2009, EPA special agents conducted a search warrant and found nearly 7,500 illegally stored drums containing waste that was both radioactive and hazardous.   Honeywell began storing the KOH mud drums in compliance with the terms of its RCRA permit in approximately March 2010.

Workers had complained, to no avail, that the waste was corroding the drums and leaching out - possibly spreading to the nearby Ohio river.  But instead of reporting the problems to the NRC or the Environmental Protection Agency -  Honeywell covered its behind by dropping a quick line about the toxic  sludge to - get this - the Securities and Exchange Commission! This is the same SEC which can't even regulate Wall Street, let alone radioactive waste.  Disingenuous cynicism does not even begin to cover this blatant attempt at a cover-up.

Meanwhile, Honeywell is continuing to protect its ass by issuing a press release this week, claiming it always totally self-reports itself and as a matter of fact, has just closed the plant down for five weeks, for routine maintenance and to make "capital improvements".  The sludge was/is being packed in plastic and taken "elsewhere".... maybe to nearby Metropolis, or wherever Lex Luthor keeps his stash of kryptonite.
 
According to the union, 42 plant workers have been diagnosed with cancer, with 27 cancer deaths reported over the past 20 years.  No correlation between toxins or radioactive waste at the plant and the cancers has yet been established, although union workers say it's common knowledge that you can expect to have 10 years knocked off your life from working there.

The union, by the way, is still locked out and replaced with "scab" workers who were allegedly helped to pass their hastily-administered certification exams by plant management.  And the removal of the radioactive waste does not spell the end of the problems.  In December,  there was a leak of hydrofluoric acid at the facility, setting off its mass sprinkler system to prevent the escape of gas to the surrounding community - home to some 128,000 people.

Cote and Obama Share a Tender Moment
Oh, and back to David Cote, who has been described as one of Obama's favorite CEOs of all time.  Not only did the president tap him to serve on the Cat Food Commission to lend some corporate cred in the scrapping of Social Security, he also invited him along on that India trade junket last year. ( Cote is also a past executive of G.E., another one of Obama's favorite, corporate tax-evading companies of all time).   Obama's decision to help Cote further his business interests in India predictably infuriated the more than 200 locked-out Honeywell union members. USW Local 7-669 President Darrell Lillie, who represents them, had this to say in November on learning of Cote's inclusion by Obama:

"We've been forced out of our jobs for the past 20 weeks and watched unskilled scabs brought in by this company steal our jobs, cheating our families out of income that puts food on the dinner table and pays the mortgage. It strikes me as a poor choice for Honeywell's CEO David Cote to be accompanying President Obama on a mission to India for promoting American jobs and exports."

According to Mike Elk, a third generation union organizer and labor journalist who wrote about the Obama-Cote connection last year for The Huffington Post (when it was still the old, pre-AOL HuffPo), "It should come as no surprise to political observers that President Obama is taking Honeywell's side in the dispute. Honeywell is the number one political contributor in the United States. It has increased its political contributions by 400% since Obama took office in 2008. President Obama has routinely described Honeywell CEO David Cote as one of his closest advisers in the business community. Cote ensured an early political victory for the President when he persuaded the US Chamber of Commerce to stay on the sidelines during the stimulus fight."

"In return for their political contributions," Elk continued, "Honeywell has received $13 billion dollars' worth of federal contracts, mainly defense contracts, over the last ten years. Honeywell is also accused of using its political clout to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve allowing undertrained scabs to work with enriched uranium at the Metropolis facility. In the 60-plus years that the United Steelworkers union has represented the Metropolis uranium facility, the NRC has never allowed scabs to be hired during a lockout due to the safety issues related to enriching uranium."

In light of his disinterest in private sector unions, should it come as any surprise that the President didn't put on those comfortable shoes as he promised to do during his campaign, and join the public sector union demonstrations in Wisconsin?  Elk, who has gone on to call Cote "the most dangerous man in America" for locking out trained union workers in favor of inexperienced lower-paid employees, also bemoans the scant press coverage of Cote and Honeywell and union-busting and presidential enabling.

Scant indeed.  I must confess, I came across news of the criminal case purely by accident, via an email from the "Labor Notes" union blog.  There has been no coverage of the criminal conviction, nor of the cozy relationship between Obama and Cote, in any corporate media that I can find.  But I did happen upon this pic of Obama on the official Metropolis website, proving at least that he once set foot in that Land of Comic Book Heroes and Nuclear Sludge:

Where's a Pro-Union Toxic Avenger When You Need Him?



25 comments:

jhand said...

Thank you, Karen, for the powerful story that no one in the Village will ever cover, unless, of course, it turns out to be Good News for Republicans. What really got my attention was the role of the Steelworkers Union. When I was in politics in the 70's the Minnesota Steelworkers were, in my opinion, the most liberal, intelligent, and forward-looking union in the state. It appears that they have not lost their souls, even though they have lost too many members to cancer and too many jobs to the scabs. Solidarity!

Draft Spitzer said...

Karen,
Thanks for keeping us informed. My favorite uncle was a sheet metal worker, he did some amazingly innovative work for the Japanese in the 1980's. Back then, his company ENCOURAGED ordinary workers to innovate. Those were the days... He was downsized in the early 1990's.
That photo of Obama with the Superman statue just breaks my heart. I don't know that we ever thought we were electing a "Superman", but we sure thought he'd give it the old college try. Who knew his Kryptonite would turn out to be a predilection for kissing Lloyd Blankfein's ring? The Pope of Goldman Sachs. At least Spitzer's Kryptonite was relatively innocent. I'm sure that on the list of mortal sins, hookers rate pretty low compared to selling out the country to dirty banks. After all, until he met Anita, the heroic Garibaldi had only bedded with whores. And yet he puts our own founding fathers to shame with his abolitionist fervor, and his bold and often lonely action.

Draft Spitzer said...

One more thing: Joe Nocera's Business Day article on the conviction of a Countrywide borrower (yes, borrower, not lender) will make your head spin. The borrower, one Mr. Engle, writes a prison blog, probably worth checking out.

Karen Garcia said...

Joe Nocera will be on the op-ed page starting next month, replacing Bob Herbert or Frank Rich or both. He is an impressive journalist and a master of irony.

Draft Spitzer said...

If I have to sell the rest of my book collection, it will be worth the $15 to read Nocera in the Times, Unfortunately, since you (Karen) have informed me where the money goes, maybe I'll just send Joe the money directly and read his column off my friend's screen.
I've been reading Nocera for a while, and it seems like he's gone through something of an evolution in his thoughts on the banking sector. Or maybe I just didn't "read" his earlier columns' use of irony. I have to say that my formerly reverential view of Goldman Sachs as a once-young financial services worker has been totally trashed as I've watched the events of the last few years unfold. The other day, there was a headline story in the Times on Blankfein, and my mouth just dropped when I realized how far behind so many of my friends have fallen economically (not to mention my own squeezed circumstances) and meanwhile Lloyd hasn't even been indicted for his role in crashing the economy.
Don't laugh, but St. Spitzer is my only hope. If things get any worse, I'm going to start selling mock-up rekigious icons of Spitzer. Only slightly less useless than praying to the icons at our local cathedral.

Anonymous said...

So what is going on at the NYT? First Frank Rich and today Bob Hubert, is the NYT going to change their editorial policy along with limiting free access? Personally I hope not. I would hate to have to go to the Guardian to comment.

Richard

Metro Journalist said...

How's this for more changes at the NYT Op-Ed page: replace David Brooks with Karen Garcia?

Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Obama is different than Bush - only by degrees. Let's face some serious facts here, folks: We're screwed.

Nice blog.

Tom Degan

earthnurse said...

Government agencies repeatedly fail to protect the public interest.

The same thing that Honeywell is doing was done by Rockwell International and EG&G when they managed the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado. Here's a link to the Grand Jury report, outlining the history of the violations. http://www.constitution.org/jury/gj/rocky_flats/rocky-flats-grand-jury-report.htm

Among the worst violations, they were illegally storing leaking drums of plutonium-contaminated cutting oil (1958-1989)on Pad 904 that leaked into groundwater and forced the closing of 2 municapal water supply reservoirs. Standley Lake still has plutonium in it's sediments.

The Grand Jury was hijacked, there were no indictments, and the whole thing has been covered-up and the jury silenced. The collusion between the Dept of Energy and industry is criminal. EPA now says the site is "clean" and can be opened as a Wildlife Refuge! How about taking the kids for a walk there while inhaling the fresh mountain air? A 12" (inch) asphalt layer covers pad 904 but the soils underneath are lethal. This area remains in the so-called "donut hole" that is fenced off from the rest of the planned refuge.

Now there are plans on the table to build the Jefferson Parkway through the plutonium-contaminated dirt along the periphery of the facility. This will release clouds of dust. The place is a ticking time bomb and no one will do anything about it. Real estate developers are pushing closer, too.

It's the American Way.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks for the link.

It is something of a miracle that EPA lawyers were even allowed to prosecute Honeywell, given its political connections. Of course, Republicans are now trying to de-fund the agency, and may even get some capitulation from Obama now that his friend has been embarrassed. These companies pollute, then they cut and run. Here in New York, the Hudson River is only now regaining its health in the wake of the GE PCB contamination from many decades ago. It goes on, and on, and on.

Draft Spitzer said...

Karen,
Now that HuffPo is off limits, would you consider adding comments to talkingpointsmemo.com? I really dislike the Obamaton mentality there, but I think your perspective is badly needed on the site. I believe you can both add comments in reply to articles AND blog within their blog.
Let us know if it's a yes, and I'll start reading TPM again. It was a great resource during the Bush years, but now, not so much and sometimes not at all. But there are some solid commenters there, still, no one with your refreshing bite.

Anne Lavoie said...

I went to the TPM site last week after someone recommended it, and my antivirus blocked Malware from being installed as soon as I landed on the main page.

Just thought I'd mention to be careful. Hackers are poisoning sites, probably political ones they don't like.

annenigma

Anonymous said...

Here's my upfront confession...I react in haste. Upon reading the GE story, I called the WH. Since they don't work past 5 o'clock on Fridays, I had to be satisfied with an email. It's essence: fire the son of a bitch (Immelt, lest you conclude I meant the prez). I also sent emails to my senators and one to Charlie for good measure.

So what's my point? Well, I want the same fate for the sleeping air traffic controller..fire the son of a bitch. I was somewhat surprised to read that he is "suspended". I've been told he admits that he WAS asleep. Indeed, he slept through attempts to contact him with loudspreakers. My (reactionary) brother suggests he will NEVER be fired because of union protection. Well, that sorta took the wind out of my sails regarding my support for the unions. Anybody out there hear anything about what's going on with regard to this "suspension"?

Now to go VERY off topic. What's with the burning of the Quran by the Florida guy and hardly a peep out of the press! Everybody from the Pope to Obama last time, and now NOTHING?

We've got one powerful Chinese curse on us. You know...may you live in interesting times.

Haley Simon

Draft Spitzer said...

Let me get this straight, Haley... One, singular air traffic controller messes up and it "takes the wind out of (your) sails" when it comes to union support? Isn't that... I don't even know where to begin with that. Are you equating the corporate malfeasance at Honeywell, which resulted in worker deaths, to a singular screw-up at air traffic control?
Is it your brother-in-law who's reactionary... Or you? How many times have unionized nurses overseen your care, or that of a loved one?
Are you in a union, or are you unburdened from the hassle of laboring for a buck?

Anonymous said...

Eva,

My use of "wind out of my sails" was not a good choice. I did not mean my support of unions was withdrawn. Instead, I found myself at a loss to respond to my brother's retort. I do feel it is a firing offense. You and I will disagree on that point.

If we had a moment to talk, I believe we would agree about Honeywell, worker deaths, and fabulous nurses and a few million other things that are going wrong.

Speaking of things going wrong, did you see what's going on with a history professor at the UofW and the GOP requesting copies of his emails through the the Freedom of Information Act after he wrote an op-ed on the unions? Me? I'm nothing that should upset you that much. But THAT situation....that's a killer!

Haley Simon

Draft Spitzer said...

I'm not upset, nor did I state it wasn't a firing offense. I'm just baffled by the apparent equivalence you seemed to draw between Honeywell and a singular air traffic controller. And why let your brother-in-law stymie you so?
This is a classic trope of the right - you should know how to defend against it by now...
As for the Prof, his University email is retrievable under FOIA. But I believe he was careful to separate his work email from partisan, political material. Most of us who've been in industry and/or gov't have known for over a decade that we sign away our rights to privacy when using the work server or email. He'll survive their petty bullying.

Karen Garcia said...

The air traffic controller who fell asleep on the job was on his fourth straight overnight shift, solo. I place equal blame on the airline and the FAA for not having two people per shift, at least. I don't happen to think he should be fired over this, because he had many years of good performance before his circadian rhythm went wacko despite his best efforts. It wasn't like he was drunk or out partying the night before.

Draft Spitzer said...

See how Karen does that, Haley? A clean simple knee to your brother-in-law's groin.

Anonymous said...

Karen,

I'm in complete agreement with equal blame of the FAA and airlines allowing a solo shift. I did not know about the 4 straight overnight shifts and appreciate the info. It does change the equation, but I still can't quite shake my initial response. I'd love to hear from the pilots - they'd settle it for me.

Eva,
Please re=read my comment. There was NO equivalence to Honeywell. I wanted Imelt fired (GE). Honeywell was not mentioned, nor considered. Mea culpa, since Honeywell was the topic of the post and I took it off track. Moreover, I'm afraid I will remain inadequate because however much I may want to, I don't do knees to the groin.

I hope you're right about the FOIA email request, but it seems to be pretty easy to bring down organizations like Acorn, NPR and climate science so I wouldn't describe this as a petty attack. This conservative legislative group - can't remember the name - is the scariest thing yet. Did you get a chance to read Cronon's original op-ed? Not the one in the NYT, but the one that centered on the history of that group and their nationwide legislative efforts. The Koch brothers are but a cog in this group. This group is more dangerous than the John Birch Society, Joe MacCarthy, HUAC, Koch and any 20 Tea Party organizations.

My apologies, Karen, for getting so off track. The Honeywell post was terrific.

Haley Simon

Karen Garcia said...

Haley.
You aren't off-topic at all - a big part of the Honeywell story is the union-busting. As a matter of fact, I was originally going to write about night shift work in the wake of the air traffic controller snooze scandal, but got sidetracked by Honeywell (what a sweet-sounding name for such a noxious company, huh?)

Anne Lavoie said...

Haley,

In regards to the air traffic controller, I heard on one news report that he was a supervisor, so I don't know if he is necessarily a union member or protected by the union.

Anne

Anonymous said...

Karen,

Thanks, so with your permission.... Now Anne's comment prompted me to do a little looking. She's right and he is not union. This will KILL my brother! And I never thought the union was at fault. I'd bet my first-born that they fought and lost the battle to keep two guys in that tower. I found a terrific site run by a miserable conservative who wrote on this incident. Fortunately, he had a fabulous commentor who is an air traffic controller. I could chew up another three feet of your post with what I have learned but I bet you'd like to handle this yourself. The blog is "Sweetness and Light". I'm not quite sure what I googled....something like sleeping air traffic controller. Hope you decide to cover this!

Haley

Draft Spitzer said...

It's amazing how Haley can move from writing "Fire the son of a bitch!" with regard to the sleeping air traffic controller to writing she'd bet her "first-born that they fought and lost the battle to keep two guys in that tower."

This isn't a criticism of Haley - merely to note that even the most doctrinaire among us (I'm sure I fall slightly to the right of Haley on a host of issues) can fall prey to right-wing tropes.

BTW, Haley, thanks for the heads-up on Cronon's other editorial, I'll look for it. And for the record, my reference to the knee-to-the-groin was a metaphor for you to deliver a tidy retort to right-wing bull a la Karen Garcia, not an exhortation for you to injure your sibling.

Karen - if you're planning on writing about shift work, I think you might look at the "heroic" but incredibly dangerous 72-hour shifts that medical residents and interns are put through. There's been some reform of this as the profession was finally forced to reckon with how many patients were being harmed or killed as a result of sleep-deprived young physicians. Similarly, I've noticed a growing reluctance to allow nurses to cram their 12-hour shifts together into three-day periods, as the quality of care decreases. It's understandable why a nurse would wish to cram those 12-hour shifts together - then they "get" four days off, but they really need it to recover afterward. And what hospital can afford the liability from exhaustion/burnout, whether it's doctors or nurses?

Draft Spitzer said...

BTW, with regard to the Cronon situation, there is a potential "win" for our side if we can make the point that the GOP request for his email constitutes a costly governmental over-reach, which is exactly what the right claims to detest.
I'm not the first person to suggest that someone should simply calculate the bill that going through all the email and making all the necessary redactions for privacy that this investigation will require.
Then that bill should be presented directly to the Wisconsin Republicans who demanded the investigation.

Anonymous said...

Eva,

To me, the issue about the Professor is WHY they are targeting him in the first place--what's he supposed to have done to warrant the email search to begin with? He is clearly being singled out for his views and for publishing them. Scary.

Janet Camp