FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DEP denies Open Records request for
Cornerstone Care air quality testing data
Agency instead issues 2nd analysis summary revealing detection of new chemicals and more unanswered questions
HARRISBURG, June 25 – The Department of Environmental Protection has denied state Rep. Jesse White's open records request to obtain air quality test data from the agency's investigation of odors at Cornerstone Care, a non-profit medical clinic in Burgettstown. Cornerstone has been closed since May 25, when they were forced to evacuate the facility for a third time.
White said the letter, dated June 18 and signed by the DEP's open records officer, stated that the DEP's investigation concerning the odors at Cornerstone was "non-criminal" in nature and thus exempted from the state’s Right to Know Law. White said he plans to appeal DEP's decision to withhold the information within the 15-day period the Right-to-Know law provides.
Although the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know law allows an agency to withhold such data, the DEP is not required to withhold the information, and could release it if they chose to do so. White pointed to Section 506(c) of the right-to-know law, which says an agency such as the DEP may exercise its discretion to make any otherwise exempt record accessible for inspection and copying if the disclosure is not prohibited by law or court order, not protected by a privilege, and the agency head determines that the public interest favoring access outweighs any individual, agency or public interest that may favor restriction of access.
"If this isn't a textbook example of the public interest benefiting from the release of information, I don't know what is," White, D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver, said. "The data DEP is withholding from the public can help Cornerstone find and eliminate the problem once and for all, and it blows my mind to see DEP's role fundamentally shift from being part of Cornerstone’s solution to being part of the problem. Playing political games with the health and well-being of Pennsylvania citizens is no way for a state agency to act, and I will continue urging DEP to stop hiding behind the right-to-know law and release its findings."
White said he and state Sen. Tim Solobay received a second analysis summary of the test results, but that the analysis has opened the door to even more unanswered questions about what the DEP knows and what other information may be unearthed through the release of the entire test results.
"The second analysis, which is disturbing on multiple levels, mysteriously reveals the presence of two new chemical compounds, carbon disulfide and methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), neither of which were mentioned in the first DEP summary," White said. "There is simply no way the DEP can justify their conclusions scientifically. Among the many concerns, there is real evidence to suggest DEP did not conduct a thorough walkthrough prior to testing to identify potential sources; they reported results on acute exposure of one hour instead of a more realistic chronic exposure; they used standards not subject to peer scientific review; and failed to disclose levels of chemicals under the DEP's own reporting standards, which are arbitrary at best."
White argues the raw testing data, including the quality control/quality assurance information by which the tests were conducted, is essential for independent scientists and researchers trying to find the source of the problems at Cornerstone.
"At this point, there are only two logical possibilities: either DEP did a shoddy job in conducting the testing and doesn’t want to be embarrassed, or the data shows something the DEP doesn't want the public to see," White said. "Either way, the DEP has a moral obligation to the people of Pennsylvania to release the raw data and let sunshine be the best disinfectant for whatever is ailing Cornerstone Care."
Cornerstone Care is currently struggling to find a new temporary home by June 30, which White says reinforces the urgent need for DEP to release the data.
"Real people are struggling because the DEP decided to cower behind the law instead of doing the right thing," White said. "How can anyone with common sense not look at the situation and wonder what DEP is trying to hide from the public?"
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CONTACT: Ann Haines