Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#158 - Kentucky State Official Fired For Defying Demands Of Waste Industry, 04-Dec-1989

A respected public official in Kentucky--Don Harker, head of the
Division of Waste Management--was fired at 4:30 p.m. the day before
Thanksgiving. Harker had defied the demands of the waste hauling
industry once too often, and he was terminated without explanation.
Observers throughout Kentucky agree that his firing was an act of
avarice and cowardice by Kentucky's Democratic Governor, Wallace
Wilkinson, who clearly now expects that the waste industry (and the
chemical industry) will keep him in office for a second term because he
has just cleared the way for dumping and incineration to expand
throughout Kentucky. Like George Bush, Governor Wilkinson had ridden
into office mumbling pleasantries about being an environmentalist, but
when push came to shove he caved in to threats and blandishments from
the shadowy nether world of chemical waste generators and haulers.

Like other southern and border states, Kentucky is under relentless
pressure from the waste industry. As wealthy, industrialized states
tighten up their own environmental rules, the waste industry has
invaded the south and midwest, seeking places to dump poisons from New
Jersey and New York and elsewhere. In the south and midwest, where
local people are friendly to strangers, the waste industry has proposed
hundreds of new dumps and incinerators. Particularly in poor counties
where the level of formal education is below average, unemployment is
high, and people are generally trusting and open, the waste industry is
circling for the kill.

The federal EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) seems actually
to be promoting these developments. Region 4 EPA in Atlanta is the
weakest branch of that federal agency; Region 4 seems to have abandoned
all pretense of protecting the public and is now more or less openly in
league with the poisoners. Many state officials recognize what's going
on, but few have what it takes to stand in opposition to the waste
industry's onslaught. Don Harker has what it takes.

Two kinds of decisions lost Don Harker his job: he opposed the siting
of new landfills in inappropriate locations, and he tried to prevent
incinerator operators who violated the law from getting permanent
licenses to operate.

Those of us interested in protecting the environment can learn some
important lessons from Don Harker's courageous work:

1) There are some sites that are entirely inappropriate for landfills
of any kind. For example, any site that sits atop fractured bedrock,
such as limestone or dolomite or granite, is entirely unsatisfactory
for placement of a landfill. The fractures (also called cracks) in such
rock formations serve as pipes carrying water. Because the fractures
are underground and are not visible, their underground pathways are not
known and are not knowable. When contamination from a landfill gets
into these fractures, it will be carried away through the system of
underground "pipes" (fractures). Whose water supply it will ultimately
contaminate must remain unknown until the contamination occurs; by then
it's too late. Monitoring wells are useless under such circumstances;
no one can tell where to place the monitoring wells because no one can
know which fractures will be carrying the contamination in what
direction. For the same reason, the cleanup of such contamination is
impossible. The leading hydrogeological consulting firm in the U.S. is
Geraghty and Miller of Plainview, NY [phone (914) 249-7600]. On
November 30, 1982, David W. Miller of Geraghty and Miller testified
before the Congressional Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Agriculture
Research and Environment that "[I]t is my recommendation that no new
land disposal facilities be allowed under these conditions regardless
of engineering design." He was referring to sites "in fractured rock
areas and in regions where a number of different aquifers comprise a
complex flow system." Seven years later, when Kentucky official Don
Harker opposed the siting of landfills over fractured limestone for the
sensible technical reasons offered by David Miller, Don Harker was

2) Aerial photography can be used effectively to locate illegal
dumping. Don Harker denied a permit to an incinerator (LWD, Inc., of
Calvert City, KY--see RHWN #132) because past violations of the law
were apparent first from aerial photographs and later from other
sources of information. A stunning new report available free [phone
(202) 224-8996] from the Congress's Office of Technology Assessment
(OTA) [at 600 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Wash., DC 20510], COMING CLEAN:
Government Printing Office, 1989), pg. 90, points out that the entire
U.S. has been photographed from the air about every five years from
1938 onward. These photos are stereoscopic and thus afford three-
dimensional views of the ground, from an altitude of 12,000 feet. Waste
dumping and the effects of waste dumping are visible in these photos,
which are held in five national archives around the country. U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an office whose job it is to
interpret these photographs. These photographs represent a phenomenal
untapped resource for citizens and regulatory agencies alike. Everyone
should read this OTA report.

Starting with evidence of illegal waste handling provided by aerial
photographs, Don Harker and his staff interviewed former employees of
LWD, Inc., and they collected affidavits from 10 people describing
various illegal acts by LWD's management. On that excellent basis,
Harker's agency denied LWD a permit to continue operating. It was an
exemplary performance by a regulatory agency. In Wallace Wilkinson's
Kentucky, it was enough to get Don Harker fired.

Don Harker is an outstanding example of what public officials are
supposed to be: honest, intelligent, inventive, uncorruptible, and
dedicated to protecting the interests of the public. Jean True, vice
chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said Don Harker is "the kind
of person who didn't knuckle under to industry." Tom FitzGerald,
director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said, "I can't think of a
more dedicated public servant." U.S. EPA official Hugh Kaufman calls
Harker "The best state waste official in the country, a giant among

Why not send Governor Wallace Wilkinson your opinion about the firing
of Don Harker? Write him at the State Capitol Building, Frankfort, KY
40601. The Governor's phone is (502) 564-2611 and his office fax number
is (502) 564-2735.

Send us a stamped, self-addressed envelope and we'll send you a copy of
David Miller's testimony on landfill siting over fractured bedrock.

To help Kentucky enter the 20th century, keep in touch with Corinne
Whitehead, The Coalition for Health Concern, Box 25, Route 9, Benton,
KY 42025-9809; phone (502) 527-1217.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: don harker; ky; wallace wilkinson; waste disposal
industry; epa; policies; lwd; aerial photography;