Potentially cancer-causing air pollution in the town of Valdez, at the southern end of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, is as high as in many smoggy U.S. cities, a federally mandated watchdog group said Thursday.
The pollution, particularly benzene, in the town of 4,000--"comparable" to levels in Los Angeles--poses a potential hazard to public health, according to a report prepared for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council. The council was set up under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
"The air in Valdez is far from pristine," said the report's author, Yoram Cohen, a UCLA chemical engineering professor and president of Multimedia Envirosoft Corp., a Los Angeles environmental consulting firm. The study calls for further testing to resolve outstanding issues about health effects.
Responding to the report, officials of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline and loading facilities in Valdez, said readings from its air pollution monitors seem to tell a different story.
"The quality of the air in Valdez still looks good from our results so far," said Marnie Isaacs, an Alyeska spokeswoman in Anchorage.
Earlier in the week, Glen Plumlee, a former senior quality-control inspector at Alyeska, charged that the pipeline is a potential "environmental disaster" because Alyeska has "deliberately sacrificed its own system of safety-related checks and balances in favor of profit."
In a sworn statement given to the three congressional committees that oversee the pipeline, Plumlee alleged that X-rays of pipeline welds have been faked, that workers are in danger from leaks and vapor losses and that inspectors have been intimidated and even "blackballed" by Alyeska for pointing out these problems.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has directed that Plumlee's allegations be looked at "very closely," according to Peter Stockton, an investigator with the panel's investigations subcommittee.
According to Alyeska, Plumlee was fired last November after he refused to accept a job restructuring that would have given him a promotion but cut his take-home pay. Plumlee says he was fired "because I did my job too well."
Bill Howitt, vice president of engineering and head of quality control at Alyeska, said he has investigated Plumlee's allegations and concluded that they reflected a difference of interpretation about pipeline procedures. He rejected Plumlee's charge that no one knows the true safety status of the pipeline.
"I take great exception to that," Howitt said.