Raquette  Point  Air  Monitor
Raquette  Point  Air  Monitor

Tribal Council Updates Ambient Air Standards for Superfund Site Cleanup

May 17, 2017

AKWESASNE — On Onerahtohkó:wa/May 17, 2017; the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council signed Tribal Council Resolution 2017-29 and updated its ambient air standard for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Territory of Akwesasne. Scientific studies and newly conducted research necessitated that the Tribal Council update its ambient air standard that was initially adopted 28-years ago to protect the ongoing health and welfare of the Mohawk people.

“With work starting at the General Motors Superfund Site to excavate the 10-million-gallon lagoon; additional measures need to be taken to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of our community members,” said Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance. “Last year, we saw an exceedance of air levels as PCBs evaporated and were released into the air during construction of the landfill to permanently cap contaminated materials. To combat this, our ambient air standard has been strengthened to now specify two levels of air quality that are enforceable under tribal law.”

Through the passage of TCR 2017-29 Tribal Council has adopted, as tribal law, the ambient air standard of 0.5 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3), as a measurement of acceptable air quality over a 12-month, annual basis. Tribal Council also affirmed a previous ambient air level of 5 ng/m3 and held that this level should not be exceeded during any 24-hour period for cleanup or other actions.

TCR 2017-29 updates the air quality standard previously established in 1989 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was obligated to comply with for nearly thirty-years of clean-up activities at the General Motors Superfund Site, as directed in EPA’s Revised Interim Final Guidance on Indian Involvement in the Superfund Program, OSWER Directive 9375.5-02A (November 28, 1989).

“We commend the previous Tribal Council for exercising their legislative authority as a sovereign government and initially establishing an environmental standard for cleanup activities at the General Motors Superfund Site,” said Tribal Chief Eric Thompson. “The cooperative agreements that we have entered into with federal and state agencies for cleanup efforts recognizes the Tribe’s authority to set standards that are intended to prevent the release of PCBs and other hazardous substances into our community’s environment. This an exercise of our sovereign authority in an effort to protect our people from exposures that take into consideration the body burden of our people, who have now experienced the exposure to PCB’s for generations.”

During the past 28 years, the Tribe has learned through scientific studies and leading research; including a recent scientific report authored by Dr. David Carpenter entitled, “Scientific Support Summary for Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Air Quality Standards for PCBs”; that tribal members have been exposed to potentially significant levels of PCBs for many years through a variety of pathways that include the air, despite EPA’s efforts to mitigate the site.

“There is an emerging body of evidence that indicates ongoing exposure to lighter-chlorinated PCB’s that are being released into the air are linked to the development of diabetes and disruption of the female reproductive cycles in our community,” said Tribal Chief Beverly Cook, who prior to her election to Tribal Council served as a Registered Nurse Practitioner in Akwesasne for more than 30 years. “There is a host of other illnesses and health problems that health studies are just now bringing to light, as well as the classification of PCBs as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research and Cancer.”

Scientific health studies that involved Akwesasne residents have shown PCB exposure among tribal members to be correlated with reduced memory and thyroid function; altered growth and development in children and adolescents; and has caused increases in obesity, production of serum cholesterol and triglycerides, which are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Tribal Council is continuing to urge the Environmental Protection Agency, through all political channels, to completely remove all contaminated materials in a responsible and timely manner in accordance with tribal laws and regulations from the General Motors Superfund Site, as well as from the Grasse River Superfund Site attributed to Alcoa.

Any violation of the updated ambient air standards will result in a hearing in the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court for a civil penalty up to $250,000 for violation of the annual standard and up to $25,000 for each violation of the short-term standard.

PHOTO CAPTION: One of four air monitors in the residential area of Raquette Point rests near a family garden to monitor air quality levels that were exceeded last year during the construction of a 100-foot landfill, located in the background, which will permanently store PCB-contaminated materials at the General Motors Superfund Site despite objections from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

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The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Saint Regis Mohawk People.