Church group contends survey findings warrant environmental testing near quarry
January 19, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER
The potential for increased health problems of Oakville residents living near Fred Weber Inc.'s South Quarry asphalt piles warrants environmental testing, according to an activist church group's survey.
But an attorney representing Fred Weber, Gary Feder of Husch & Eppenberger, said the survey has no scientific merit. He said a Weber-funded study conducted by "air quality experts" proves the company has not violated any county, state or federal en-vironmental standards.
The survey may lack statistical merit, but the county Planning Commission recently delayed a decision on a Weber rezoning proposal to consider the survey in its decision.
The Isaiah cluster of Metropolitan Con-gregations United, or MCU, conducted a survey of roughly 360 residents of seven subdivisions surrounding Weber's asphalt piles at Baumgartner and Old Baumgart-ner roads. Nearly 260 residents filled out the surveys at church or responded by mail. Volunteers went door to door collecting another 100 surveys.
It is uncertain if the survey is a reflective sample of the community. MCU representatives were unavailable for comment at press time. But in MCU's report to the county, the activist church group asks for a scientific environmental study of Weber's land and the air around it to gauge the accuracy of its findings.
Of the residents responding, 49 percent living within one mile of the asphalt quarry have respiratory problems, while 16 percent living more than one mile from the piles have problems. Nationally, 6.8 percent of people suffer respiratory problems, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, 44 percent living within one mile have high blood pressure, as do 11 percent living more than one mile away and 21 percent nationally.
Respondents also reported slightly higher cases of cancer, diabetes and heart problems than state and national averages, according to the church group.
"I don't think the survey has any scientific merit to it," Feder said, noting that Fred Weber hired Air Control Techniques P.C. of North Carolina to measure the environmental impacts of the asphalt piles and "based on that study, there are no violations of any air quality standards. There is no reason to think there are any negative effects (resulting from the asphalt piles) on the residents around the quarry. These piles have no significant effect on air quality. They've been there for 30 years."
MCU's report states, "It seems very likely that there are environmental factors affecting the health of St. Louis County residents in the immediate vicinity on the east side of the Baumgartner Industrial Area that are not affecting other south county residents ... MCU believes that testing of the air is essential and that all environmental problems need to be remediated immediately ... Water and soil testing of the area in question can and should begin immediately."
MCU last month submitted its results to the Planning Commission, which for the third straight month delayed a decision regarding a zoning request from Weber.
The proposed zoning change would allow Weber to keep two asphalt piles that the county claims are there illegally because the land is inappropriately zoned.
If the zoning isn't changed, Fred Weber officials claim the asphalt would move to appropriately zoned land closer to Oak-ville homes. Fred Weber's request refueled an ugly debate between company officials and nearby residents over a proposed trash-transfer station at the site.
Residents claim the zoning change would remove one hurdle for getting the transfer station. Fred Weber officials contend the proposal has nothing to do with a trash-transfer station; they just want to avoid the burden of moving their asphalt piles.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to make a decision at its meeting next month. The County Council then casts the final, binding vote.