The QueQue

Partial science

San Antonio Metro Health says it’s trying to “cover all the bases” when it comes to analyzing the health issues that plague the Kelly Air Force Base Toxic Triangle. And by “cover,” they mean “bury.” (Or so it seems to us.)

Metro Health Director Fernando Guerra admitted this week that he hadn’t yet read the Congressional report released a month ago that harshly criticizes the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for shoddy analytical work, with Kelly being one of 10 examples cited. Guerra might consider bumping it to the top of his reading list: Metro Health’s own analysis of the situation at Kelly uses ATSDR’s work as a foundation.

“Dr. Guerra has consistently downplayed the health problems in the Kelly community and any link to the contamination `from the base`,” predicted Southwest Workers Union Environmental Justice Coordinator Lara Cushing last week. “I doubt that EPA, TCEQ, or Metro Health will give much attention to the new Congressional report. They’ve made up their mind on this community long ago.”

Professor Timothy Aldrich would likely agree. An expert in cancer clusters from East Tennessee State University, Aldrich was brought in by Metro Health contractor HealthCare Resolution Services in 2006 to examine the reports of elevated liver-cancer rates in the neighborhoods surrounding Kelly.

Aldrich’s analysis suggested that even after accounting for all other potential factors — such as lifestyle and genetics — 11.5 percent of the cancers in the neighborhoods examined “may be attributable to residing over the Kelly ... plume.”

Metro Health responded by creating a “blue ribbon” panel to discredit Aldrich’s work, which it never published. The QueQue has learned that Aldrich was threatened with a breach-of-contract lawsuit if he publishes the report on his own or speaks about it to the media.

Guerra and Metro Health claim no knowledge of the threat of legal action, saying they simply didn’t want the report published. Aldrich says HCRS issued the warning, while Metro Health Assistant Director Charles Pruski passed the buck, claiming that HCRS is just “a contractor, not a partner.”

“It sounds like another betrayal of the Kelly community by the agency that is supposed to protect us from toxic health threats, not cover them up,” said SWU’s Cushing.

Against the grain

Corn, which recently survived a close casting call for the Toxic Triangle culprit (aflatoxins were suggested as an alternative cause for those high liver-cancer rates), is the hero/victim once again. One week we’re told that as the Arctic sea ice goes, so goes the world. The next, drought-stricken Australia is the planetary harbinger. Now, it’s that New World wonder, maíz. Before we could even wash off the ink from our global-warming feature `“Last Chance for a Slow Dance?” March 25`, the irascible Environment Texas agitants were welding a canary cage around Texas-grown corn, warning that:

“Global warming could cost corn growers in Texas $37 million a year … Texas ranks 11th for highest damage estimates. Nationwide the damages to America’s #1 crop total more than $1.4 billion annually. Environment Texas expects these costs to go up unless Congress and the President take decisive action to repower America with clean energy and reduce global warming pollution.”

While corn enjoys relatively cool temperatures, climate change related to human industry is expected to raise global temperatures by several degrees this century. Other projections suggest that Texas — and the entire Southwest and much of Central America — will enter a state of “permanent” drought within a few years (if it hasn’t already). Enviro Texas’s rap-worthy “Hotter Fields, Lower Yields” concludes:

“Corn, America’s largest harvest, is the canary in the coal mine for productivity losses America’s farmers could see from global warming. In the coming decades, American corn growers and other farmers will face increasing temperatures, more severe storms, spreading pests, and higher levels of air pollution.”

The worrisome report is a reminder for South Texans to put their calls in to U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez and demand the toughest possible climate legislation out of the House Committee on Energy & the Environment.

ET even dedicates a section of the report to how climate legislation could actually be good for farms — even if we can’t slow the warming already locked in by current greenhouse levels.

Not that Texas could tackle global warming on behalf of the nation if Washington fails (we can’t even get a statement in support of science from the Governer’s office), but it’s remarkable that both San Antonio and it’s grudgingly greening utility, CPS Energy (whose Verde ambitions are featured in a story on page 9), are on pace with Environment Texas’ concluding action points.

The report urges utilities to “obtain at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and to reduce their energy use by 15 percent by 2020.” CPS has already pledged to use 20 percent renewables by 2020 while reducing energy usage by more than 700 megawatts.

Environment Texas also calls for all new buildings to achieve zero net energy use by 2030. San Antonio’s City Council adopted new building codes earlier this year to require all new homes constructed in 2030 to be “carbon-neutral.”

Makes you feel like you’re living in Seattle or something, no? Now how do we get our damned solar and weatherization rebates back? And how about taking this low-energy, clean-tech revolution on the road to our South Texas neighbors?

Fostering Unitech

Elisa Chan may be the clear frontrunner for the District 9 Council seat being vacated by Louis Rowe, but that doesn’t mean her campaign has been a Sunday stroll in the park.

Weston Martinez and William Davidson, her opponents in the District 9 race, have blasted Chan over the numerous contracts that her business, Unitech Consulting Engineers, has with the City, including an estimated $2 million in 2007 bond-program contracts.

At a recent candidate forum, Martinez suggested that a Councilmember Chan would be walking through a conflict-of-interest minefield, which would force her to recuse herself on a regular basis. “At the end of the day, hands are going to be tied, and `Chan` won’t be able to vote on things,” he said.

In an interview with the Current, Chan takes issue with that assessment, saying that since May 2008 she has “declined all opportunities to pursue City contracts, whether as a prime or sub-consultant.” She adds that Unitech will simply “finish any jobs they’ve already been awarded.” Chan argues that since her company has already been awarded its contracts, and won’t seek any new ones during the next two years, there is no potential for conflict of interest.

If one of Unitech’s existing contracts changes in scope, the City’s Ethics Code would require her company to walk away from the project, something that Chan anticipates will happen with the Catalpa-Pershing Bridge modification project, which would have brought Unitech more than $200,000.

If nothing else, the Unitech controversy demonstrates that Chan planned her campaign well in advance and closely studied the letter of the City’s Ethics Code. The Ethics Code specifies that a City official should not take any official action “likely to affect the economic interests” of a business with whom the official is involved, if that business has solicited a City contract within the past 12 months. Chan’s decision to suspend all contract solicitation last May, exactly 12 months before the election, was meant to negate the kind of arguments now coming from Martinez and Davidson.

“If I’m running, certainly voters have the right to know, and I’m all for transparency,” Chan says. “But it’s just how people try to portray you; it’s very frustrating. Hopefully, people understand that negativity is not helpful to get more good-intentioned and capable people to put their hats in the ring.”

Candidate Issue of the Week

Do you support SAWS’ current plans to secure San Antonio’s water supply? If so, please explain why. If not, please explain what you believe they should be doing

District 7 Councilman Justin Rodriguez: It must improve:  First and above all it is the responsibility of SAWS to manage the greatest natural resource phenomena known to this planet, our pristine aquifer.  Our water and reserves should outlast the drought and I will hold SAWS accountable to a more clearly articulated management plan where conservation is improved upon and is made a household name as it should have been since the drought of the early 1980’s.  SAWS is well funded by our rate payers and they must be good stewards of the monies they collect.

District 7 challenger, retiree, and former Councilwoman Elena Guajardo: We are very fortunate in San Antonio that the Edwards Aquifer provides us with an extremely pure water source.  Anything we do to limit its absorption or create impurities is a disservice to the health of our community.  Scientific research tells us that impervious cover over 15% can endanger the Aquifer.  Sadly, we do not know what the total impervious cover of the Aquifer is today nor is there a comprehensive plan.  This is a conversation what we should be holding at city, county and regional level.  There is current program that uses sales tax money to buy undeveloped land over the Edwards Aquifer and its tributaries and I would like to see this program continued. 

District 7 challenger and student, Robert Garibay: I support SAWS’ efforts because it is a well rounded plan to secure our water supply. It provides adequate water supplies, it promotes use of non-Edwards Aquifer supplies, and it has San Antonio’s future in mind.

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