Infected cattle, sketchy samples topic at heated meeting
By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
MALVERN — Dozens of Hot Spring County citizens filed out of an informational meeting Tuesday afternoon with more questions than answers related to what state officials are calling the Anthony Timberlands Inc. Malvern Pollution Incident.
Agency officials from the state Division of Environmental Quality, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Game & Fish Commission were on hand for the meeting, which more than 50 landowners and concerned citizens attended in a lecture hall at Arkansas State University Three Rivers.
Agency heads took turns explaining their role in responding to the aftermath of manufacturing fluids polluting several miles of two Ouachita River creek tributaries and a nearby wetlands.
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ADEQ confirmed at the meeting that levels of copper and zinc that violate water quality standards were detected in the eight water samples taken between the sawmill and the river. Chromium and nickel were also detected but those levels were below water quality standards.
Rather than opening the meeting up to an open forum, citizens were given the option of filling out a comment card with questions from which the moderators would choose to answer. This didn’t appear to settle well with those who had questions, as several fired off questions anyway.
The Q&A session grew heated at moments.
Those in attendance took issue with the fact that ADEQ admitted those samples were obtained by a third-party contractor hired by Anthony Timberlands Inc.
“We [ADEQ] have taken some samples, but the samples we’re referring to … were taken by their contractors,” said Alan York, assistant director of ADEQ’s Office of Water Quality. Many in the crowd grumbled at this fact as one person fired back: “Isn’t that your job?”
Another citizen asked whether heavy metals were detected in the Ouachita River. York said samples were taken from both above and below the confluence of the contaminated creeks, and “we did not see any significant uptick in any of the perimeters in our ambient water quality either upstream or downstream.”
Arkadelphia water supply still in the clear, says city manager
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Arkadelphia City Manager Gary Brinkley told The Arkadelphian in a telephone interview that the city’s water supply has detected no quality issues before or after the Malvern pollution incident was reported.
“We’re more acutely aware of what’s happening [in Malvern],” Brinkley said, “but had they not notified us and something had entered the water supply stream, we would have caught it and red-flagged it because of the way we test.” Brinkley said Arkadelphia Water Utilities tests samples “every time we take water in from the river”, or multiple times each day.
Brinkley said AWU tests as frequently now as it did prior to the Malvern incident, and added the distance between the two municipalities adds a level of comfort in maintaining a safe drinking supply.
Not the livestock!
Cattle farmers with property adjacent to the polluted creeks, on the other hand, remain convinced that the contaminated soil and water is the reason their cows are dying and why they’re unable to either market their herds or use them for personal consumption.
At least five cattlemen in attendance said they have submitted liver samples for testing, and the USDA determined the beef was unfit for consumption, and the meat was dyed green and placed into containers for disposal to keep it from being sold or consumed.
“They denatured them and threw them in a trash Dumpster,” said Alex Huell, one of the farmers in attendance who later told KARK about his concerns. “They said they were not fit for consumption, and they were not fit to go in dog food, and they put a hold on them indefinitely in a USDA facility.”
An estimated 1,700 head of cattle continue grazing in the affected area, and the landowners say they’re stuck with sick cows they can’t send to market.
One landowner offered to give the agency heads free beef from the affected cows and all the water they care to drink from the streams. Another asked that meeting moderator Caleb Osborne, ADEQ’s chief administrator, join her in caring for the sick and dying cattle and calves affected by the pollution; Osborne didn’t decline the invitation, but he didn’t respond, either.
State agencies told to ‘Move faster!’
Osborne said the state officials would take information gathered from Tuesday’s meeting back to their agency offices to “work on” but would not be able to answer all the questions that came up at the meeting.
Concluding the meeting, one cattleman grew heated as he explained that, soon, there will be “1,000 head of cattle stacked that you can’t sell, you can’t eat … That water will not sustain life form in it. If it won’t sustain a life form, what do you think it’s doing to the cattle?
“What you came here to do was kick the can. Stop getting a paycheck ’til you fix it!” In the contaminated water, he pointed out, “there’s no ducks, there’s no turtles, there’s nothing living there. But you’re working on it? You’re going to get to it as quick as you can? Move faster!” His shouts received applause from meeting-goers as ADEQ concluded the meeting.