EPA Region 2, Directorial Meeting, October 12, 1984
EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus
Regional Administrator John Bruno
Deputy Regional Administrator Richard Edlund
Chief of Staff Chuck Gaspar
Subject: Statement by Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Director Walter J. Peck
Gentlemen, I appreciate this opportunity to make a statement that will become part of the official record regarding the recent events in New York. I’m sorry they’ve brought a great deal of negative attention to the EPA. There are several misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding my handling of the situation, and I will do my best to clarify my role.
As you know from my own reports I, like many others, became aware of a number of strange occurrences in New York City in early June, occurrences which were described as “paranormal”. While we’re all familiar with ghost stories and New York, as I’ve learned, has more than its share of eccentrics, the number and nature of the occurrences was unusual. However none of them seemed to fall within the EPA’s purview. I, like many others, wrote off these stories as a passing fad.
That changed following the now infamous incident at the Sedgewick Hotel. This, as you know, was the first commercial venture by the group of paranormal investigators calling themselves “Ghostbusters”. As reported by the New York Post the havoc they wreaked in the hotel’s ballroom forced the last-minute cancellation of the Eastside Theater Guild’s annual “Midnight Buffet”. Even worse they nearly killed a maid with what appeared to be homemade flamethrowers that also left major burn marks along a wall of the thirteenth floor.
Still none of this seemed to be of concern to the EPA until I was contacted by a colleague at the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection about the unusual nature of the damage to the Sedgewick, including traces of a viscous substance and high levels of radiation.
I was further alarmed by a lengthy profile of the Ghostbusters in The Atlantic, reports of additional strange events on Larry King’s call-in show, and an issue of OMNI magazine which described the Ghostbusters’ “tools of the trade”. These included “unlicensed nuclear accelerators”.
Gentlemen, I don’t need to remind you that neither the EPA nor the Department of Energy license nuclear accelerators for personal use. With my background in physics I can also assure you that if such a device existed outside of science fiction it would be very difficult to manage. Even in a city the size of New York the mere testing of such nuclear accelerators would cause alarm, especially if the tests were unsuccessful.
The Ghostbusters’ electricity consumption, enough, for ten city blocks at their facility was cause for even further concern. This facility, a former firehouse, was never designed for such power storage, and their renovations were dangerously insufficient.
In spite of all this I decided to make my first visit to the Ghostbusters facility a casual, even friendly one. I tried several times to make an appointment but their secretary, a Ms. Janine Melnitz, was extremely overworked and asked that I simply come in. As an aside Ms. Melnitz and I are members of the same racquetball club, although she didn’t recognize me.
My concerns were also allayed somewhat when I learned that other Ghostbusters employees included Dr. Egon Spengler. Dr. Spengler and I were at MIT at the same time, although he was a few years ahead of me. He’s a brilliant polymath with degrees in physics and engineering. It’s unfortunate he turned his attention to studying the paranormal. His colleague Dr. Raymond Stantz is another brilliant, if eccentric, academic with a background in architecture and astronomy before he too turned his attention to studying the paranormal. Shortly before my first visit the Ghostbusters had also just hired Major Winston Zeddemore, formerly of the Air Force. It seems suspicious, by the way, even with high unemployment that a respected and high ranking military officer would stoop to working with such an organization.
Had I met with any of these men I believe the EPA’s concerns could have been resolved quietly. Unfortunately, as you know, I met with Dr. Peter Venkman. Dr. Venkman’s disheveled appearance and disorganized office did not, to put it mildly, inspire confidence.
Let me remind you that my first visit was casual. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions based on wild rumors and hearsay. Dr. Venkman, however, chided me for failing to say “please” when I asked to see the facilities then became belligerent when I informed him I could get a court order.
Following our meeting I spoke to Dean Yeager at Columbia University and learned Dr. Venkman’s position there had been terminated some months earlier as a result of unprofessional conduct. This included both questionable scholarship and reports of affairs with multiple students. Gentlemen, I believe Dr. Venkman is a sort of Svengali who exercises a strong influence over almost everyone he encounters. This influence resulted in the firing of Dr. Stantz, and the resignation of Dr. Spengler, presumably in protest. Dr. Venkman, I learned, acquired multiple high-risk loans using Dr. Stantz’s childhood home as collateral, in order to found the Ghostbusters as part of what I believe was an elaborate hoax or grift.
At this point I had good reason to believe Dr. Venkman was hiding something and that it was a matter for the EPA. When the public’s health is at risk because of potential hazardous waste chemicals whom are you going to contact?
I had no trouble getting a cease and desist all commerce order, seizure of premises and chattels, a ban on use of public utilities for unauthorized waste handlers, and a federal entry and inspection order from Judge Stephen Wexler, highly respected for his role in the prosecution and execution of the infamous Scoleri Brothers.
What happened next is, I admit, murky. What I still believe is that shutting down the Ghostbusters facility resulted in the release of toxic mind-altering substances that dissipated too quickly to be analyzed. I take full responsibility for my hasty actions, but I’m sure you can understand that I saw no other way to find out what Dr. Venkman was hiding. I’m sorry that, in the confusion that followed, a local accountant, Mr. Louis Tully, who’d earlier been arrested for public intoxication, disappeared into the crowd.
As you know I then attempted to plead my case to Mayor Lenny Clotch. Unfortunately he chose to hear from the Ghostbusters at the same time. This meeting was the most humiliating experience of my life. My masculinity was questioned and I was compared to some kind of rodent. Not only that Dr. Venkman was able to appeal to the mayor’s political ambitions. The mayor was able to get the assistance of the National Guard who blocked off several major streets around Central Park West and aided and abetted the Ghostbusters in what was clearly the biggest hoax in the history of New York. How they damaged a large section of street and sidewalk in front of a historic hotel, created a massive light show, convinced hundreds they were seeing an enormous Sta-Puft Marshmallow man, remains a mystery. Doctor Spengler’s engineering skills and Major Zeddemore’s expertise with munitions likely enabled much of what they were able to pull off. Somehow they even managed to target me with a massive spill of marshmallow fluff, nearly causing me serious injury.
The Ghostbusters, I am happy to say, have had their merchant licenses revoked and are now the subjects of several lawsuits. That, however, is a matter for the courts.
Gentlemen, as I said earlier, I take full responsibility for my hasty and ill-informed actions. Had I shown more restraint perhaps these events could have been avoided. I hereby resign my position as New York EPA Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Director.
I will instead be taking up a teaching and research position at Pacific Tech in Southern California, where the students, I understand, are doing some very exciting work with lasers. First, however, I plan to take some time to visit with family in Iowa.
Funny you should ask. I happen to be allergic to popcorn.