WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29,. 1982
Rein in Sanjour
William Sanjour should have known better, but be evidently didn't.
Sanjour, the chief of the federal. Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous waste implementation program, had no business speaking at a protest rally in Warren County the other day. Yet speak he did. and in the process helped inflame a situation that's already grown too hot.
The situation involves the dumping of more than 35,000 cubic yards of dirt that had been contaminated by toxic PCBs. The soil had been contaminated back in 1978 when PCB-laden. oil was dumped along more than 200 miles of roadsides in 14 North Carolina counties. After a great deal of discussion and examination, the state decided that the best way to dispose of the soil was to bury it in a landfill. A landfill near Afton in Warren County was chosen as the site.
A hue and cry arose in Warren County. That was understandable --. nobody wants hazardous wastes dumped near home. But the controversy soon took on political rather than environmental overtones. Indeed, the landfill dispute has become a cause celebre attracting just about anyone who has a bone to pick with the state of North Carolina.
Enter Sanjour. He went out of his way to say that he was speaking only for himself, and not for the agency that employs him. Then he began playing to his audience. "I'm here to tell the people about hazardous landfills," he said, "I know they don't work." Yet, in his address, Sanjour offered no realistic alternatives to the landfill.
He went on to describe landfills in general as being political rather than environmental issues. Then he prophesied that the establishment of the PCB dump would be a "wedge" that would allow the creation of other hazardous waste. landfills in Warren. County.
By doing so, Sanjour did nothing but play to his audience's fears. Why did he do so? If Sanjour believes that hazardous waste landfills don't work, he has every right, even duty, to present that case to the public. But he doesn't have any excuse for making that case, which he didn't make anyway, at an emotionally charged political forum such as the one in Warren County. He doesn't have an excuse, even given his caveat about speaking for himself and not for the EPA, for injecting himself into a local dispute. That's simply not the sort of conduct one expects from a public official.
Indeed, Sanjour's conduct was most unbecoming. A public official, including a non-elected public official such as an EPA official, is supposed to further the public interest. By playing to the fears of his listeners, Sanjour did nothing to serve the public interest. In fact, he did just the opposite. He stood before a crowd of already agitated people, and made them even more agitated.
Sanjour had no excuse for what he did. He should have known better than to say what he said. Sanjour clearly stepped beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct for a public official. It's up to his superiors to rein him in before he does any more damage. He's already done more than his share.
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