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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Letter from Rosemary Keefe

Friends in Corrales have urged me to tell my story to help stop pollution from Intel and stop their proposed expansion. Two weeks ago I organized a forum on saving the NM environment. State Land Commissioner Dr. Ray Powell and Barbara Rockwell both spoke. The audience was roused for action. Today the Albuquerque Journal reports that Intel is rallying people to request immediate expansion. It further reports that "studies funded by the Environmental Department and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, 'have found no evidence of negative health effects from Intel emissions.'” (D-4) This may be in response to a grassroots petition in Corrales to NMED to deny the request for expansion.

Here's my story: When I moved to NM five years ago on my final sabbatical from the University of Wisconsin, Life without Stress washed over me. Hallelujah! I celebrated by taking hour-long walks every day up Morning Sun Trail directly under Intel on Hop Tree Trail, or I trudged up another road off Loma Larga also up to Intel--inhaling the "pure desert air" for my health. I was probably sucking in deadly gases and fine particle silica. The last four months of 2007 in Scotland, my last work for Wisconsin, I enjoyed tromping in the highlands and climbing the steep streets of Edinburgh. Early in 2008 in Corrales my throat seized up coughing on one of my walks. I suspected chemicals from Intel from the chemical taste in the back of my throat. Pollution? No problem. I'd been breathing on a polluted planet all my life--in stressful conditions. A little more pollution won't kill me. HA!

I paid no attention to the cough that wouldn't go away because I've always been healthy. In Feb 2009 I went to a new primary care doctor to get referral to physical therapy for my arthritic knees and mentioned the cough I'd had for a year. She diagnosed asthma and gave me a fistful of inhalers. Dutifully I inhaled meds that irritated my cough. No improvement. She'd taken a chest x-ray (CXR) in her office on 2/9/09, but I didn't see the radiologist's report until 14 months later. Early in 2010 my cough was seriously interfering with my performance of Mabel Dodge Luhan for NM Humanities Council Chautauqua "living history." I couldn't take a deep breath without triggering a cough, and the coughing that wouldn't stop often prevented my intake of air. My PCP ordered another CXR. It was only when I went for a CT scan in April 2010 that I saw a radiologist report on my CXR taken 2/9/09. Both CXR reports from 2/09 and 4/10 said "Pulmonary Fibrosis." CT scan confirmed PF.

Researching my past medical history, I discovered I'd had a CXR taken in Wisconsin end of 2004. A radiologist at NW Imaging put the three CXRs from Wisconsin 10/25/04 and from NM in 2/09 and 4/10 on screens side by side. Even with my untrained eye I could see dramatic changes in my lungs in 3 years and 3 months from Wisconsin to NM. The radiologist said he'd never seen such damage in so short a time.

I'd been looking forward to years of creativity (reviewing plays, writing memoirs, teaching creativity, performing) and travel in retirement. Now I'm told the Grim Reaper is nipping at my heels more closely than I'd imagined. I've always led a healthy active life. But for the last four months, I've needed oxygen almost 24/7, and I've had to curtail places I go. I can only review in theaters where I can drive right to the door. I hate to have to leave my beautiful home in order to breathe. Today one of my doctors urges me to consider a lung transplant--very dangerous for those over 60. I'm 71. "But you're healthy otherwise and you contribute so much to society," he says. It's my only hope--but a long shot.

Does Intel toxic pollution have anything to do with shortening my life and making what's left of it difficult every day? "Negative health effects from Intel emissions" are pretty obvious to me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Protesting County Manager Firing

Darryl Madalena, Chairman
Sandoval County Commission
711 Camino del Pueblo
Bernalillo, NM 87004

April 17, 2011

Dear Mr. Madalena,

As a resident of Sandoval County, and certainly as a taxpayer in this county, I wish to register my anger and dismay at the Sandoval County Commission’s firing of County Manager, Juan Vigil. Those of you who voted to fire Mr. Vigil should fire yourselves!

Juan Vigil’s “crime” was for doing his job when he attempted to assess the Intel plant for property taxes on its $38 million-dollar, 30 acre, ¾ mile-long facility for the first time in thirty years, as per Intel’s agreement with the state. While Sandoval County residents are losing their homes and properties because they can’t afford to pay real estate taxes, this arrogant, multi-billion-dollar firm doesn’t believe it should pay anything.

Altogether, Intel has obtained a total of 26 BILLION dollars in Industrial Revenue Bonds from unsophisticated Sandoval County officials. The capital we Sandoval County residents backed for Intel allowed them to build plants in Arizona, Oregon, Ireland, China and Israel. The IRBs, millions in tax breaks, and other forms of government largesse were to encourage the company to hire a promised 6,000 local employees—at a cost to New Mexico of some $600,000 per promised job. Intel now employs about 3,000, many of them hired from out of state. Like other large multinationals operating in New Mexico, the company reports its in-state earnings out of state and thus avoids paying state taxes

As a small business owner for over three decades, an employer who has created jobs, generated gross receipts taxes, and dutifully paid a variety of taxes on my employees’ earnings as well as my own real estate and income taxes, where are MY tax breaks from the magnanimous state of New Mexico and Sandoval County?

This company thinks Sandoval County officials are yahoos, fools, who will roll over and play dead for a company that cares nothing about our community. Your firing Juan Vigil proves that they’re not wrong.

I live within two miles of the Rio Rancho plant. Here’s my account of our community’s history with Intel.

Intel is currently requesting a permit revision, in order to more than double the number of thermal oxidizers at its Rio Rancho plant, hinting that they’re “pre-positioning” the company for an expansion. Intel has not solved their years-long problems with this type of pollution abatement equipment, including those recently installed, and now they intend to increase the number of them. Are they “pre-positioning” their factories to increase the quantities of toxic emissions as well?

When Intel’s pollution equipment fails, and it often fails for weeks at a time, the company releases into our airshed unknown quantities of highly toxic air pollutants, including, but not limited to hydrogen fluoride, arsenic, mercury, phosgene (mustard gas), carbon tetrachloride (a known carcinogen), hydrochloric acid, phosphine, and more than 70 other federally designated Hazardous Air Pollutants.

Each of these chemicals is known to be lethal in small doses, but no one knows what the longterm or synergistic effects are when these noxious substances are released into our atmosphere. Can any thinking being believe that this stuff is not harmful to residents? Our animals? Our plants?

Under Intel’s current “minor source permit,” described by EPA itself and NMED permit writers as a “sham” permit, the corporation is allowed to release up to 24 T of HAPs into the air annually. There are no hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly limits on these emissions. In theory, Intel could release all of its annual allotment of phosgene into the air at once, killing every living thing for miles, and not be out of compliance with this ineffectual permit.

There is no independent monitoring of Intel’s stacks—zero, zip, none. Instead, regulators allow the company to “estimate” its toxic releases. In a surprise visit in December, 2009, EPA found that Intel underreported one chemical alone by 30%. They cited an additional dozen “areas of concern for the health and safety” of Intel’s neighbors. When Intel’s own consultants have demonstrated that the company’s emissions calculations are way off, especially when they report zero emissions, Intel blithely reports these figures as “false positives.”

This is a company with a less than proud history of its relationship with the community that has helped fund its expansions here and overseas. The ink on the 1993 “Good Neighbor Agreement,” negotiated among Corrales residents, the Village Council, and Intel, was no sooner dry than Intel tossed it into a wastebasket.

For years, Intel employees have laughed in public meetings at local residents who raise legitimate concerns about our health and safety, calling us “The Crazies.” The company, and the overly friendly Environmental Improvement Board, have not allowed residents to speak in public meetings on behalf of the community, even those who are recognized, knowledgeable scientists. The results of government agencies’ tests of Intel emissions are kept from the public for years, even after Intel and NMED have seen them. In 2004, the two-year-long EPA task force was shut down by NMED’s Secretary Ron Curry two hours before a Department of Health employee was going to report on a correlation between the times of residents’ health complaints and Intel’s toxic releases; NMED, rather than task force members, wrote the study’s final report.

In the March 28, 2011 public meeting about this latest permit revision request, more than half the audience were Intel employees. Were they on the clock when one after the other, they stood to praise their employer? Intel’s representative, Sarah Chávez, stated that the Good Neighbor Agreement was still in force and that Intel had agreed to some hourly limits on emissions. Her statement is untruthful.

Intel’s PR Department would like the public to believe that the Community Environmental Working Group represents the public. Wrong. CEWG is wholly staffed, funded, organized, and controlled by the corporation.

Employees who report unsafe conditions, who refuse to falsify safety reports, or who otherwise blow the whistle on the company for shoddy/dangerous/illegal business practices are summarily fired and blackballed, making it difficult for them to find work elsewhere. The company often does not report accidents that send its employees to the hospital. A contract worker badly burned by faulty equipment at the Rio Rancho plant was fired by his company, owned by an Intel executive, denied workmen’s compensation, and soon ran out of health coverage for his painful, disabling injuries.

The company has a long history of losing multimillion-dollar court battles, being convicted and fined for illegal business practices. Successful plaintiffs include AMD, the European Union, and the IRS, among others. Intel left three Superfund sites behind in California. Who pays for the clean-ups? When on rare occasions Intel is fined for local violations, the company makes a grandiose “donation” to the community.

The State of New Mexico’s NMED regulators who fail to roll over and play the Company Song for Intel are moved to other jobs or strongly encouraged to retire. NMED employees claim they are fully compliant with their department’s mandate to protect the health and safety of the people of New Mexico. Sorry—I don’t believe it; I’ve seen too much. An arrogant, multi-billion dollar enterprise is cheating the people of New Mexico out of our once-clean air, our endangered water supply, thousands of promised jobs, and millions in owed revenues. In exchange, they’re subjecting residents to tons of dangerous, often lethal chemicals, tons of crystalline silica, environmental degradation, and aquifer depletion. Such a deal.

Humans can be hypochondriacs, but animals? The vet who inspected two dead prize Corrales llamas attributed their demise to “something in the air.” The autopsy on a resident’s treasured dog showed huge quantities of solvents and chemicals in her body that could only have come from Intel.

Not until Intel cleans up its emissions should the company receive any further assistance from the State of New Mexico and its hard-working, tax-paying citizens.


Martha J. Egan

The Firing of Juan Vigil, Sandoval County Manager

Shame on the Sandoval County Commission for firing the first county official who has ever stood up for the people against Intel a company that has never paid one dime in taxes in the 30 years they have been in NM. Apparently, Mr. Vigil was not humble enough to the giant when he asked for a few crumbs for the peasants so off with his head !

It was a cowardly deed by the Commission to fire this worthy man.

At long last, we the people of Sandoval County had a county official with the courage to stand up for us to these bullies and demand that Intel pay property taxes like the rest of us do. Intel makes about 75% of its profits from its operation here in NM while sucking down three billion gallons of water each and every year and otherwise using every infrastructure resource this poor County can muster on its behalf. On top of that insult, Intel is poisoning the neighbors in its vicinity. Did you know that the pulmonary fibrosis rate is 11 times the national rate and the ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) rate is 25 times the national rate? Do you even care? My family moved away from that blight 15 years ago and we thank God every day that we did; otherwise, we might now be like friends and neighbors who are battling - or dead - from these terminal diseases.

I implore you to reverse this bad decision and rehire Mr. Vigil. We need him !!