The geologist who supervised test drilling at Love Canal and two other toxic waste dump sites in New York, and who was imposing enough to appear in court as an expert witness for the government, has no academic degrees in geology, The Washington Post has learned.
The revelations about David B. Twedell, 28, now a private consultant in Virginia, caused consternation at the Environmental Protection Agency and at the Department of Justice, which immediately moved to have Twedell's testimony stricken from the record in the pending Hyde Park, N.Y., case against Hooker Chemical Co.
EPA and Justice officials insist, however, that Twedell's activities are "not central" in Hyde Park, where a multimillion-dollar case may hang in the balance, or in a forthcoming study aimed at settling some of the most sensitive issues at Love Canal, including the decision whether the area is safe for resettlement. Citizens' groups in the Hyde Park case disagree, saying Twedell had a key role there.
Twedell is traveling, and repeated messages left with his answering service over the past several days have gone unanswered.
Justice Department attorneys and EPA officials are combing their records looking for Twedell's name in all their toxic waste dump enforcement actions.
Twedell worked from December 1979 until last September as a staff geologist for JRB Associates Inc. of McLean, a scientific and engineering services firm. The 11-year-old company does studies, field work and in-plant surveys under government contracts.
JRB was one of several firms subcontracted by EPA to sink test wells, do soil core samples and other work last year at four Hooker Chemical Co. sites around Niagara Falls, N.Y., which are the targets of a $124 million federal suit by EPA and the Justice Department. The terms of the cleanup Hooker must perform are the main points of contention.
Twedell "represented himself to hold a Ph.D. in geology from Houston University," JRB president Greg Woods said in a formal statement. He came through a recruiting firm which said his references had been checked. The recruiters, whom Woods declined to name, received a fee for finding Twedell, Woods said.
After a competing firm raised questions about Twedell, however, Woods said the University of Houston confirmed that in 1979 its Clear Lake City campus had awarded Twedell a bachelor of arts degree in physical sciences, which included courses in chemistry, geology and physics. Twedell did not get any other degrees there.
"I think he was the key witness, the linchpin," said Barbara Morrison, attorney for the Ecumenical Task Force of the Niagara Frontier, a coalition of citizen and religious groups formed in the wake of last year's Love Canal episode to try to speak for the community.
The task force is a formal party opposing the Justice Department's proposed settlement of the suit in U.S. District Court in Buffalo.
Morrison recalled Twedell as the sole hydro-geologist called to testify on groundwater movement through the earth under the Hyde Park site and on whether the cleanup terms of the proposed agreement would be adequate to keep chemicals from moving out of the area.
She recalled that the Justice Department asked the judge to consider its expert witnesses more competent than the Task Force witnesses who disagreed with Twedell.
Now, Morrison said, Twedell's lack of academic credentials in geology "renders his opinions completely irrelevant and invalid."
Stephen D. Ramsey, chief of environmental enforcement at the Justice Department, disagreed. "Nothing he did was not done by someone else," said Ramsey. "Any testimony or evidence he gave was duplicated by other people."
Justice is checking to see if any criminal action occurred, he added.
Woods of JRB said Twedell's work, like that of other scientists at the site, was routinely verified by other scientists.
At JRB, Twedell also supervised the drilling of test wells for a $5.5 million study EPA is doing at the infamous Love Canal waste dump site. The report, overdue since June and expected next month, is to evaluate remaining chemical dangers in the air, water and groundwater in the ravaged neighborhood outside the canal itself.
EPA said Twedell supervised a team of geologists who drilled 170 wells around the Love Canal area so that EPA scientists could obtain groundwater samples to analyze for chemical contamination.
Dr. John Deegan, EPA's Love Canal project officer, said Twedell monitored only the drilling, notifying EPA workers of the various soil layers being penetrated. He was not responsible for choosing the drilling sites, selecting the samples or testing them afterward, Deegan said.
Twedell attended the University of Houston central campus from the fall of 1973 through the spring of 1975, studying geology and other subjects, but received no degree, according to university registration director Mario C. Lucchesi.