Boiling Frogs-Intel vs. the Village

"Boiling Frogs - Intel vs. the Village" recounts the story of Intel Rio Rancho's impact on the air and water in the Village of Corrales from the mid-1980s to the present day. Updates to this ongoing saga will be posted here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The ATSDR Report

The long-awaited report from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) came out this month and was presented to the public. The report was not the total whitewash that we've come to expect but neither was it conclusive enough to identify Intel's air pollution as the cause of illnesses that have plagued residents for years. The investigation was petitioned by CRCAW member Marcy Brandenburg five years ago. The ATSDR, a sister agency of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted interviews with the residents, Intel and the NM Environment Department. The final report was then reviewed by the federal EPA, the NM Environment Department and Intel. We can only guess how much was edited out.

The air monitoring was not enough to convince the investigators: "Results from these monitoring efforts are not adequate to evaluate fully the potential public health consequences of air emissions from Intel New Mexico. The primary limitation of the technology is its inability to measure low levels of multiple air contaminants over a restult, ATSDR cannot fully evaluate potential exposure to nearby residents, nor can ATSDR address the potential health impacts of chemical mixtures."

The ATSDR recommended further monitoring (not likely) and better regulatory oversight in the way Intel calculates its emissions (even more unlikely). In a letter to Mary Uhl, the NM Air Quality Bureau Chief, the ATSDR suggested four approaches to gain the data that would allow conclusions about Intel's impact on public health. Two of those recommendations call for additional testing on emissions from pollution control equipment and two related to verification of Intel's claims regarding calculations for pollution control efficiency.

The Corrales Comment reported "Perhaps the boldest of ATSDR's four recommendations is its challenge to Intel's "emissions factors" used to calculate pollutant releases. Technical specialists working with CRCAW, notably retired Los Alamos chemist Fred March and data analyst Steve Martinez, have for years criticized State regulators' blind acceptance of Intel-generated "emissions factors" used to calculate emissions reported to the Air Quality Bureau. Citing proprietary information generated at Intel's research facility, chemical usage at each stage of the microchip manufacturing process is said to send x-quantity of waste chemical to pollution control equipment and thence to the atmosphere. Increasingly in recent years, Intel has revised its "emissions factors" downward and for many chemicals the factor is now zero. As Intel critic Fred Marsh has complained, no matter how large the actual release of those chemicals, when multiplied by zero the result is always zero - which is then reported to the Air Quality Bureau. State regulators have consistently admitted that they have no way of verifying the factors Intel uses, and thus simply accept the calculated releases to the air.

But now ATSDR has tactfully recommended that the Air Quality Bureau adopt a less trusting approach: "Continue to implement thorough review of proposed changes to emissions factors. Intel New Mexico's facility-wide emissions are estimated largely from emisisons factors, any change to which NMED revews and approves. ATSDR encourages NMED to continue this practice in the interest of transparency to community members, and to carefully review all underlying assumptions."

The Corrales Comment was not allowed to interview Bureau Chief Uhl. Instead her boss Jim Norton emailed the Comment that "NMED spent approximately $500,000 to study the air quality in the communities near Intel (gross exaggeration)....and found there was NO evidence of an increased health risk for residents living near Intel." (This despite a health survey in which over 600 people claimed health problems from living near Intel.) While not totally dismissing ATSDR's conclusions of insufficient data and the need for better monitoring, Norton's response strongly suggests a lack of intention to require tighter control or oversight for Intel.

This leaves it up to Intel to voluntarily do the monitoring - on its own terms - which it has indicated it might be willing to do. The fox has been left to guard the chicken coop - a situation that has been status quo since Intel set up shop in New Mexico.