No environmental justice in Army Corps’ Aua assessment, says Utu

fili@samoanews.com

American Samoa Power Authority Executive Director Utu Abe Malae says a federal assessment of the Aua pipeline and surrounding areas of the former site of a US Navy fuel farm during World War II failed to take into consideration environmental issues impacting American Samoa.

Furthermore, the Army Corps decision stands in contrast with federal regulations, which call for actions to address environmental justice in minority populations and low-income populations.

The Army Corps in a Nov. 9 letter informed Utu that the federal agency will “take no further action” on an assessment investigation conducted on the Aua pipeline project. The Army Corps concluded that the Aua pipeline project poses “no risk to human health.”  (See yesterday’s Samoa News for details.)

Prior to the Army Corps final decision, it had sought public comments on the Aua pipeline project, in which Utu wrote a two-page letter in May this year outlining ASPA’s concerns, which includes residents in the areas faced with the potential for direct consumption of contaminants through the drinking water system.

“American Samoa is a developing territory and still faces challenges within its utility systems,” said Utu, adding that the drinking water distribution system suffers severe leakage due to aging. 

He explained that the leaking system, along with power/ well outages and maintenance work, result in localized pressure losses and negative pressures in the distribution system. He said these pressure changes increase the potential for containments to enter the water system and be directly transported to residential drinking water taps.

Additionally, the local drinking water system is fed by groundwater wells, two of which are directly upgradient (location of source groundwater is another location) of Aua. “To meet demand these wells must operate at flow rates which cause an aquifer drawdown and are realizing a rise in chloride concentrations,” he said. “This suggests that the water wells are drawing sea water from the [Pago] harbor and potentially contaminants with it.”

Another concern raised by Utu is subsurface contamination, especially one as wide spread as this, will carry a huge financial burden as utility development to the territory progression.

“The installation of sewer, water, power and communications lines is performed sub-surface. This not only puts workers in direct contact with the contamination, it requires that the contaminated material be handled and disposed of properly,” he said. “The cost to remove and treat soil and water will be impeding the territory’s ability to develop.”

According to the ASPA boss, managing contaminated soil will have costs associated with; hauling material, land leasing for bio-piles, bio-pile construction, equipment rental, bio-pile aeration, labor, exposure monitoring, organic media to facilitate remediation, laboratory analysis and disposal.

Managing contaminated water will require large oil water separators, granular activated carbon, pumps, labor, laboratory analysis and discharge monitoring. In addition to handling the contaminated material, the cost of new utilities will increase due to material specifications for installation within contaminated soils.

“Beyond the impact to human health and the financial burdens, the environmental risk has not been considered in this assessment,” Utu wrote.

He points to the Pago Pago Harbor, home to a variety of marine life, endangered species and breeding grounds; and the proximity of the contamination suggests that contaminants may be leaching into the Harbor and damaging the marine environment.

“If the territory is left with the burden to fund the many requirements to manage this contamination, it will impede the development of an already under-served, low income community and stand in contrast to US Environmental Justice regulations,” the ASPA CEO said and cites the US Presidential Executive Order 12898, issued in 1994.

The purpose of the order is to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.

The order directs federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law. Additionally, each agency is to develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice, according order posted on the US Environmental Protection Agency website.

The order is also intended to promote nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information and public participation.

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