March 8, 1998 in City

Locke Asked To Dump Study Of Spokane’s Trash Burner Group Says Study Compromised By Conflict Of Interest

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane environmental group wants Gov. Gary Locke to scrap a controversial study of the city’s trash incinerator and start over.

But city officials aren’t willing to do that.

The $300,000 study is more than two years overdue and won’t be ready for state scrutiny until late April.

The study is “fatally compromised” and has become a major embarrassment to Spokane, Spokane lung specialist Dr. Michael McCarthy told Locke in a March 3 letter.

The study’s chief author, scientist Kathryn Kelly, faces serious conflict of interest questions as a result of her affair with the city’s former trash chief and her own close ties to the incinerator industry, McCarthy said.

McCarthy is president of the Northwest Environmental Education Foundation, a nonprofit group founded last year to study and promote discussion about Spokane environmental issues.

City officials have a contract with Kelly to finish the study this spring, said Damon Taam, the city’s solid waste director.

“She has committed to deliver a product. Let’s not judge it until we have it,” Taam said.

The affair between Kelly and Phil Williams “has the appearance of a conflict, but maybe it’s not an actual one. I see no reason to go back and re-create the wheel with someone else when all the data is reviewable by everyone,” Taam said.

The study of the trash plant’s health risks was launched in 1990 at City Hall.

The Washington Department of Ecology insisted on the study as a condition of a $60 million state grant that went to help build Spokane’s trash incinerator.

Ecology withheld $300,000 from the grant to eventually reimburse the city for the study.

The study was supposed to be completed by late 1995. The raw data used for the study, including air and soil measurements, haven’t been submitted to reviewers.

The measurements are needed to double-check the study’s calculations and determine how Kelly arrived at conclusions about potential risk to Spokane residents from the trash burner, said Harriett Ammann, the state’s senior toxicologist.

Williams, the city’s former engineering director and trash plant supervisor, was fired in November by City Manager Bill Pupo after revelations about his affair with Kelly.

It’s wrong for the city to continue to do business with Kelly, McCarthy said.

“In our view, it is simply inexplicable and unacceptable that the city continues - with the state Department of Ecology’s approval - to contract with (Kelly), a scientist whose personal and professional conflicts of interest make her an unsuitable choice,” McCarthy said in his letter.

The foundation wants Locke to set up a local task force, including Spokane health professionals, to recommend a new study to be finished by the end of 1999.

Locke is busy with the closing days of the legislative session and hasn’t had time to consider the request, press aide Caroline Duncan said Friday.

, DataTimes


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