Hugh B. Kaufman

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Hugh B. Kaufman is a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Kaufman is a leading critic of the U.S. federal government's decision to use the dispersant Corexit on oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after BP's Deepwater Horizon accident on April 20, 2010. Prior to joining the EPA in the beginning of 1971, he was a Captain in the US Air Force. He helped write all the Federal laws regulating the treatment, storage, disposal, and remediation of solid and hazardous waste. He has been the Chief Investigator on numerous contamination cases, including Love Canal and Times Beach. Kaufman has been known for his role as a whistleblower over the years. In July 2010, Kate Sheppard wrote the following about Kaufman in Mother Jones:

In fact, he has been blowing whistles on the EPA since he began working there in 1971, just a few months after it was founded. He criticized the Carter administration's handling of hazardous waste issues, including the infamous w:Love Canal example in the late 1970s and is credited with spurring the formation of the Superfund program. In 1982 he went after the Reagan administration for not enforcing laws on hazardous waste and toxic chemicals as well, and helped send deputy EPA administrator Rita Lavelle to jail for perjury in 1983. The 2002 book Whistleblowing includes an entire section on Kaufman. Most recently, Kaufman exposed the agency's efforts to hide information about health risks from air pollution for responders at the World Trade Center site after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. At that time, he was the chief investigator in the office of the EPA ombudsman -- but soon after he blew the whistle, then-EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman decided to eliminate the ombudsman's office altogether, a move Kaufman says was meant to silence his complaints. He's still at the agency, but has been shifted away from his watchdog role."[1]

In 1976, when he was Chief Investigator on Hazardous Sites, he came up with the idea for a major Government Clean-up Program called Superfund, that was enacted in 1980. Beginning in 1997, he served as Chief Investigator for EPA's National Ombudsman. In that role, he investigated and conducted several public hearings around the country on EPA's clean-up and remediation at hazardous sites. In this role, he led the investigation that uncovered EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cover-up of the environmental effects of the collapse of the World Trade Center after al Qaeda's terrorist acts in September 11, 2001.

He has testified numerous times before Congress.

Hugh Kaufman Wins Federal Court Victory on Sewage Sludge "Fertilizer"

Numerous scientific papers and all Federal Court decisions concerning "land application" of sewage sludge have documented its hazards. Federal Judges have ruled that the promoters of growing food on sludge -- EPA and the sewage sludge industry -- have harassed scientists, media firms, journalists and citizens who have exposed the hazardous nature of sewage sludge.

Hugh Kaufman was central to the most famous Federal Court case on sewage sludge where a company hauling and dumping New York city sludge onto land in an impoverished Hispanic county in Texas sued filmmaker Michael Moore, TriStar, and others for a 1994 national NBC television report exposing this situation. The Fifth Circuit Court, the most conservative Federal Appellate Court in the United States, threw out the case. The Federal Judges unanimously ruled that "land application" of sewage sludge is "controversial," and that despite the claims of the sludge industry and the EPA, "experts have yet to establish a consensus on the safety of land application of sludge." This ruling has never been appealed or overturned: Peter Scalamandre & Sons, Inc. v. Kaufman, 113 F. 3d 556 - Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit 1997. [2]

Kaufman Criticizes Toxic Sewage Sludge Given Away as "Organic Biosolids Compost"

Hugh Kaufman has criticized the city of San Francisco's toxic sludge give-away. [3] In 2009 a major controversy erupted in San Francisco when the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association called on the SFPUC to end its give-away of toxic sewage sludge as free "organic biosolids compost" to gardeners. A March 4, 2010, demonstration at City Hall by the OCA forced a temporary halt to the program. (See articles below)[4] [5][6][7] [8] The misleading labeled "organic compost," which the PUC has given away free to gardeners since 2007, is composed of toxic sewage sludge from San Francisco and eight other counties. Very little toxicity testing has been done, but what little has been done is alarming. Just the sludge from San Francisco alone has tested positive for 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane (a.k.a. DBCP), Isopropyltoluene (a.k.a. p-cymene or p-isopropyltoluene), Dioxins and Furans. [9]

The Food Rights Network released a major investigative report on July 9, 2010 titled: Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters. [10] It examines the conflicts of interest and collusion between the Chez Panisse Foundation and the SFPUC based on an extensive open records investigation of the SFPUC internal files. (To view the internal documents see: SFPUC Sludge Controversy Timeline.)

Comments on BP's use of Corexit in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster

Video warning about oil dispersants in the Gulf, made with thanks to Hugh B. Kaufman

Hugh Kaufman is working to bring attention to the inadequate response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.[11] He compares the response to that of the World Trade Center cleanup, where many workers fell ill despite official claims that the environment was safe. Id.[12] He says, "It's unbelievable what's going on. It's like deja vu all over again...We saw this on the Exxon Valdez. We saw this with Love Canal. We saw it with 911. How many times do we have to see this? There's no way you can be working in that toxic soup with getting exposures." Id.[13] He also explained why there may be such a slack safety policy: "If people are wearing respirators, it scares people because they realise how toxic it it...The administration is down-playing the problem because it saves them money down the line. It was the same at Ground Zero."[14]

In 2010, Kaufman accused the EPA of deliberately downplaying the threat of large-scale use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and of downplaying its own role in regulating the chemicals to protect itself from liability and minimize public alarm over use of the chemicals. On July 20, 2010, Kaufman made the following comments about the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf on Democracy Now!:

Well, Corexit is one of a number of dispersants, that are toxic, that are used to atomize the oil and force it down the water column so that it’s invisible to the eye. In this case, these dispersants were used in massive quantities, almost two million gallons so far, to hide the magnitude of the spill and save BP money. And the government—both EPA, NOAA, etc.—have been sock puppets for BP in this cover-up. Now, by hiding the amount of spill, BP is saving hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in fines, and so, from day one, there was tremendous economic incentive to use these dispersants to hide the magnitude of the gusher that’s been going on for almost three months.[15]

World Trade Center

Kaufman exposed the EPA's efforts to hide information about the health risks of air pollution for responders at the World Trade Center site after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. At the time, he was serving as Chief Investigator for the EPA's National Ombudsman office, where he worked from 1997 until 2002. But shortly after he blew the whistle regarding air quality around the World Trade Center site, then-EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman eliminated the ombudsman's office altogether, a move Kaufman says was meant to silence his complaints. He remained at the agency, but was shifted away from his watchdog role. [16]

Complaint filed against the EPA

In 2008, Kaufman filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor saying that the EPA's Ombudsman Office and his job were eliminated and he was involuntarily transferred for uncovering embarrassing evidence about EPA misconduct, in violation of whistleblower anti-retaliation provisions of federal environmental laws. According to documents in the case, one reason EPA cited for disbanding the office was the George W. Bush administrations policy to have agencies speak with “one voice.”

After an initial investigation, Labor Department ruled in Mr. Kaufman’s favor and found that the EPA removed his duties and ended the Ombudsman's office in reprisal for his performing a “too effective job.” EPA appealed the ruling, and the complaint is slated for a hearing before Labor Department administrative law judge Thomas M. Burke in Washington, D.C. After forcing the agency to provide new documents in the case, Mr. Kaufman filed a motion to amend his complaint to more fully address EPA's illegal retaliation against him.[17]

Love Canal and the Superfund office

During the 1970s, Kaufman testified before a congressional panel about improprieties he observed in the enforcement of environmental laws under the Carter administration at Love Canal in Niagara County, N.Y. Kaufman's testimony led the EPA to create the Superfund program. [18]

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Kate Sheppard, Is the EPA Playing Dumb on Dispersants?, Mother Jones, July 20, 2010
  2. Google Scholar Site, Accessed 4/24/11
  3. Anna Werner, Concern Over SF Compost Made from Sewage Sludge, CBS Channel 5, March 3, 2010.
  4. Heather Knight, Nonprofit calls PUC's compost toxic sludge, San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 2009.
  5. Barry Estabrook, Free Compost--Or Toxic Sludge?, The Atlantic, December 1, 2009
  6. Anna Werner, Concern Over SF Compost Made from Sewage Sludge, CBS Channel 5, March 3, 2010
  7. Leora Broydo Vestel, Food Groups Clash Over Compost Sludge, New York Times Green Inc. blog, April 9 2010.
  8. Chris Roberts, Farmers Call PUC's Shit, Will Dump it on City Hall Today, San Francisco Appeal, March 4, 2010.
  9. Jill Richardson, What San Francisco Found in Their Own Sludge, La Vida Locavore blog, April 8, 2010.
  10. John Stauber, Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters,, July 9, 2010
  11. Rob Stein "Illnesses among workers highlight concerns about health risks of oil cleanup" The Washington Post May 27, 2010.
  12. Rob Stein "Illnesses among workers highlight concerns about health risks of oil cleanup" The Washington Post May 27, 2010.
  13. Rob Stein "Illnesses among workers highlight concerns about health risks of oil cleanup" The Washington Post May 27, 2010.
  14. Suzanne Goldberg "Gulf oil spill 'is public health risk'" The Guardian May 29, 2001.
  15. Democracy Now! EPA Whistleblower Accuses Agency of Covering Up Effects of Dispersant in BP Oil Spill Cleanup, July 20, 2010
  16. Kate Sheppard Is the EPA Playing Dumb on Dispersants?, Mother Jones, July 20, 2010
  17. Kirsten Stade EPA FIGHTS LEGAL BID TO RE-OPEN WORLD TRADE CENTER PROBE — Whistleblower Seeks Restoration of Independent EPA Ombudsman, Public Employees for Environmental Responisbility, Press release. January 8, 2008
  18. Kirk Beldon Jackson Environmental Activists Coming To Nazareth, The (Allentown, PA) Morning Call , October 1, 1992

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