Gutter Grunt Contact Info and Bio 

To contact Denis O'Brien, the Gutter Grunt. 
Em -- denis[at]thepatentguy[dot]net    That's anti-spam code.  If you're human, you know that [at] is @ and [dot] is .  -- as in the website link below.

I was originally trained as a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia and Harvard, but the more I studied brains, the more I realized I didn't have one.  So I decided to become a lawyer.  Currently I'm a US patent lawyer living and practicing in Langley, B.C, near Vancouver.  Here's a link to my professional site, which gives my fractured professional history:  www.ThePatentGuy.net 

But more relevant is my career as a gutter grunt, which predates my academic paper-chase, beginning about 1970 when I got my first taste of sludge, literally.   I was just out of the Marine Corps and working as a pollution peon in the wastewater engineering division of the brand new Ohio EPA.  Next thing I knew I was pulling filthy, smelly, oily water samples out of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland where US Steel and about 1000 huge-to-tiny chemical plants were dumping every nasty thing you could imagine straight into the river.  The Cuyahoga became internationally famous for catching on fire, but it wasn't my cigarette that lit the river up.  Really.  I don't even smoke.  

In one case I remember too well, a bunch of us minimum-wage sewer-gophers flipped a coin and I came up the loser. . . again.  So the boys from the local fire department tied an oxygen bottle to my back and a rope around one ankle and sent me about 200 feet back into a 3-foot diameter pipe with sample bottles to sample about four different chemical and paint plant effluents that we could hear splashing into the pipe.  This was before OSHA.  I believe benzene was the main pollutant in the stream and we were trying to figure which plant was the guilty one.  It's a wonder I have a liver or a working kidney left.  Note of advice: never try to pull a 180 degree turn in a sewer pipe with an oxygen tank strapped to your back, especially if you're claustrophobic.  Thought I'd never get unstuck.

The scariest case I worked on while in the OEPA, particularly with reference to the current sludge-wars, was one in which we suspected that a small plant -- some sort of rubber processor, I believe -- was dumping acid into a small river that ran along the plant's property and killing thousands of fish down stream over the period of a few years.  Often you can pin-point a river polluter by following the dead fish upstream until you don't see any more of them.  My boss set up a sting by placing a couple of engineers and peons with binocs on a hill overlooking the plant and then calling the plant and telling them we had information that they were holding illegal amounts of pollutants and we were on our way over with a warrant.  Sure enough, these idiots immediately fired up the fork-lifts and started carting 55 gallon drums of pollutants out back to the river and emptying them into the river.  In my mind's eye, forty years later, I can still see them frantically tipping the drums off the fork-lifts and into the river. 

The point of this story, and the reason it was so scary, is that my experiences in the OEPA really opened my eyes as to how some of the morons who run industry are willing to put the public's health in serious jeopardy just to save the money it costs to dispose of toxic waste properly.   Having witnessed the illegal dumping of toxics -- as opposed to just the results of the dumping -- there is no question in my mind that these sorts of morons actually exist, and that they are illegally dumping toxics down the sewers of every major city in the country.  There is absolutely no question that illegal "contributions" are being made to the sewage sludge in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC that ends up on fields in Virginia counties such as Appomattox and Buckingham.   

Forty years later, here I am, schlepping around in the poo again.  I became an unwilling gutter grunt in the sludge-wars when a farmer applied for a permit to spread sludge next to a rails-to-trails project I was involved with for a number of years in Amherst County, Va.   

This is a fight no one in their right mind would take on for fun.  My experience over the last 12 years has been that people don't find the sludge-war, the sludge-war finds them, but I have a lot of very intelligent and dedicated comrades in this war.  Most of the anti-sludge activists I know have been directly and adversely affected by sludge spread near or next to their homes.  Unlike the sludge farmers and professional sludge proponents, these anti-sludge activists are not making a dime in this fight, and many of them are contributing large sums of their own money and huge sums of their time in order to try and protect the environment and the public from sewage sludge.  I am proud to be standing with them, and I am ashamed that the U.S. EPA, the Virginia Dept. of Health, and Virginia's state and federal courts have taken an overtly pro-sludge, pro-industry position in the face of mounting evidence that the policy of spreading sewage sludge on farmland is a health and environmental disaster waiting to happen.


Copyright, 2005 - 2012, Denis O'Brien (aka The Gutter Grunt).  All rights reserved.