Another PCA whistleblower suit

Posted by .

Naively, I kind of thought these days were behind us… 

Paul Wotzka was fired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) on May 8.  He is now suing saying that this is in retaliation for his request to testify at a legislative hearing, by request of a bill author, about the high levels of Atrazine polluting Minnesota’s water.  Sadly, this sounds all too familiar, combining the sad stories of the MPCA firing Fardin Oliaei for her research into 3M chemicals tainting Minnesota’s waters and the PCA’s/Department of Ag’s uninviting Dr. Tyrone Hayes from the PCA’s annual meeting a couple of year’s ago.

Atrazine is an herbicide – banned in the European Union – used primary on corn fields.  Dr. Hayes has dramatically raised the profile of the dangers of Atrazine with his research that demonstrates how the chemical affects the reproductive organs in frogs (he uses the term “chemical castration” quite a bit).  According to the Pioneer Press article, Atrazine is the most commonly found herbicide in our state’s water.

The bill Mr. Wotzka was asked to testify in reference to would have instructed the MN Department of Health to set better standards for exposure to Atrazine in our water.  The bill itself did not get far, but provisions were included in the Health and Human Services finance bill (hf 1078, line 444.14) related to creating health-based water level standards for “the ten most commonly detected contaminants” by March 1, 2009.

For 16 years Mr. Wotzka worked for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, where he tested water quality.  He moved over to the PCA last October.  He was suspended on March 29, one week after he requested permission to testify (which was denied).  His dismissal letter cites destroyed data and forwarding his mail from Ag to MPCA as the justification.

Brian wrote a post on this blog last April referencing Mr. Wotzka’s findings of Atrazine as high as 30 parts per billion in the Whitewater River (the EPA’s drinking water limit is 3 parts per billion).  This came from Department of Natural Resource’s Conservation Volunteer.  The Pi Press article implies that he was really ready to let loose on the dangers of Atrazine and the need for health standards – that is until he was suspended a week after requesting the opportunity and his 17 years of working for the state came to an abrupt end. 

Update: Brian sat down to talk with Mr. Wotzka since this was originally posted.  See his post for details.

10 Responses to “Another PCA whistleblower suit”

  1. Dave Dempsey

    If true, the allegations in this lawsuit should embarrass state government into dealing with atrazine more forthrightly — one can only hope.

    Reply
  2. Luna Leapold

    If you read yesterdays follow up article you would have seen that the investigation of this guy started in 2006. His testimony was requested in mid-March of 2007 so I guess it is hard to see how the two issues are related. In addition if you look on the MDA web site Paul Wotzka was a field hydrologist in SE MN and collected water quality samples. MDA puts out an annual report of all the results from those samples. Filling sample bottles is hardly “reasearch” and publishing the analytical results is hardly a coverup of the data. Irregardless he is suing MPCA?

    This looks to me like a state employee who was fired for doing something wrong going back to 2006 and using the Fereral “whisleblower” statute to claim persicution. As an ex-state employee I can tell you it takes an extrodinary effort to be fired from the State of MN.

    This lawsuit should air things out by releasing the details of why he was fired. My guess is this guy did something really terrable.

    Reply
  3. Tom

    Luna,

    In a vacuum, you may have a point, but the government’s got a few priors on its record that should give you pause. The courts will ultimately decide whether the suit has merit.

    It’s nice of you to stick up for the state though, because it sure isn’t sticking up for you.

    By the way, interesting choice of moniker.

    Reply
  4. Tom

    Luna,

    In a vacuum, you may have a point, but the government’s got a few priors on its record that should give you pause. The courts will ultimately decide whether the suit has merit.

    It’s nice of you to stick up for the state though, because it sure isn’t sticking up for you.

    By the way, interesting choice of moniker.

    Reply
  5. Kate

    I can actually see why Luna drew her conclusions, given the information provided in the article . I would likely have concluded the same, had I no personal knowledge of the situation. But I do know much about the situation, so here’s the skinny.

    Mr. Wotzka can’t possibly release the details about why he was fired, so as to clear himself, because he can’t! The state (MDA) hasn’t provided specifics as to what data it is they are claiming he mishandled. The only explanation I can see for this – and I’m looking hard – is that it is an attempt to prevent information from coming out about the rising levels of atrazine in our water.

    Anyone who knows Paul Wotzka knows he is a stand-up guy, and extremely ethical. What the Pawlenty administration is doing to discredit him is inexcusable.

    Reply
  6. Jon

    I have to admit, I was taking for granted that all data should be public anyway. My confidence in this little fundamental aspect of our democracy was severely damaged when I heard a staff member from Department of Health testify on Tuesday that employees there have been instructed by supervisors – and the Commissioner according to one article – that they should limit what is put into writing (presumably to ensure that it wouldn’t turn up in public records).

    In an unrelated note, the Governor has declared this week Minnesota Farm Bureau week.

    Reply
  7. Jeff G.

    Kate,

    I think it’s the State that is not allowed to go into specifics of Paul firing. The union contract that regulates his firing explicitly limits information release by the State in any way. Since Paul is no longer a State employee he can say whatever he wants.

    If the State is actually hiding data Paul should feel the moral obligation to tell us what is being hidden since he was apparently a part of or knew of it for 16-years he spent at MDA. We have the right to all data collected and if MPCA or MDA are withholding any data then that would be inexcusable and possibly criminal.

    Time will tell but in my experience the vast majority of water quality people who work for the state are ethical and above board. They are not the types to try to hide data. In addition State agencies are entirely too dysfunctional to hide anything for long.

    Just my thoughts?

    Jeff G.

    Reply
  8. Tom Taylor

    Stand Up For Paul Wotzka and Our State’s Waters

    WHAT: Eastside Food Co-op’s Monthly Food Forum, A Fundraiser for Paul Wotzka

    WHO: Fired state hydrologist Paul Wotzak, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, MN State Senator John Marty, MN State Representative Ken Tschumper, and special guests. Music by Paul Metsa.

    WHERE: The Ritz Theater – 345 13th Ave 13th AVE in NE Minneapolis

    WHEN: Wednesday, Oct 10th doors at 6:15, Paul Metsa performs 6:30 to 7:00
    presentation from 7:00 to 9:00

    WHY: To learn about Atrazine and support Paul Wotzka, our waters, amphibians and all of us

    You would think a state employee of Minnesota would have no problem speaking to a legislative committee about what he knows, HECK, he’s on the payroll. Well Paul Wotzka, a 16 year hydrologist with the state of MN, found out sometimes that is not the case. Paul was suspended by the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) after requesting to testify about the levels of the herbicide Atrazine in our state’s waters and then fired six weeks later.

    Dr Tyrone Hayes, renowned expert on the dangers of Atrazine, also found out about our state government’s apparent phobia about public information dealing with Atrazine when he was “uninvited” from being the keynote speaker at a 2004 MPCA sponsored conference where he had planned to speak about Atrazine and its endocrine disruption on amphibians.

    Atrazine is widely believed by the international scientific community to be dangerous, specifically for its endocrine disruption effects on amphibians and is banned in the European Union. Atrazine is the most commonly detected pesticide in Minnesota waters and has even been found in the city of Minneapolis’ storm sewers and in Lake Harriet.

    On October 10th beginning at 6:30 the Eastside Food Co-op and the Land Stewardship Project will be hosting a fundraiser for Paul Wotzka and his federal whistle-blower lawsuit at the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis. You can read more about his lawsuit here:
    http://wcco.com/local/local_story_171123618.html
    and here:
    http://looncommons.org/2007/06/18/another-pca-whistleblower-suit/

    Dr Tyrone Hayes will also be in attendance and speak about his groundbreaking research on Atrazine. You can read more about this incredible speaker and what he has come up against speaking truth to power about Atrazine, environmental, animal and human health and the corporate bottom line here:
    http://www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/2003/Syngenta-Tyrone-Hayes31oct03.htm

    After presentations by Dr. Hayes and Paul Wotzka there will be a question and answer panel with Hayes, Wotkza, MN State Senator John Marty, MN State Representative Ken Tschumper and special guests.

    There will also be a silent auction for gift certificates from the most sustainable and righteous minded chefs and restaurants in the Twin Cities. Some of those are:
    Kim Bartman and Cafe Barbette, Brenda Langton and Spoon River, Lenny Russo and Heartland, Tracey Singleton and the Birchwood Cafe, Jim Grell, Phillip Becht and The Modern Cafe, Mandy Zechmeister and Mill City Cafe, Lucia Watson and Lucia’s Restaurant.

    The Ritz Theater is located at 345 13th Ave 13th AVE in NE Minneapolis. Doors open at 6:15 with Paul Metsa performing from 6:30 to 7:00 when the presentation will begin.

    Come and hear for yourself what some have tried to suppress. The suggested donation is $20 but no one will be turned away from hearing this important information.

    If you cannot attend but would like to support Paul Wotzka donations can be made out to Paul Wotzka Defense Fund and sent to:
    Eastside Food Co-op
    atten. Kristina Gronquist
    2551 Central Ave NE
    Minneapolis, MN 55418

    There will be music, a silent auction from the finest restaurants in the Twin Cities and the free flow of information for us all.

    We hope you can make it and please come help fill the room and right the wrong.

    for frogs, water, Paul Wotzka and us all,
    Tom Taylor
    foodforum@eastsidefood.coop
    Eastside Food Co-op
    http://www.eastsidefood.coop/

    Reply
  9. Sister Joy Barth

    I heard Tyrone Hayes speak at Quarry Hill in Rochester. He had much substantial evidence. The corporations have overpowered so much in our country. They are greedy for money. They’ll go to great lengths to protect their dishonesty.
    I was unable to attend Oct. 10 and would like to receive any further developments with these 2 persons who are undeserving of such abuse.

    Reply
  10. Jeff G.

    i heard that Paul Wotzka has dropped his whistleblower lawsuit. if true where has all the $ gone from the various fundraisers he had to support his lawsuit?

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Jon

  • (will not be published)