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#182 - Chemical Dumps Make Good Homes For Poor Families, EPA Decision Indicates, 22-May-1990

William Reilly, chief of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
last week declared homes bordering the Love Canal chemical dump in
Niagara Falls, NY, safe for families to move back into. Some 200
families have already taken the bait and are standing in line to buy
the dilapidated, boarded-up buildings abandoned 12 years ago by
terrified residents. One of the houses soon to be reinhabited is the
former home of Jon Kenny, a child who died in 1978 at age seven,
despite a history of apparent good health, after he played in heavily-
contaminated Black Creek, which bordered his back yard. Black Creek has
since been dredged to remove the worst contamination, but the house
itself stands as it did 12 years ago, its basement still embedded in
the same contaminated ground, a boarded-up symbol of sickness, death
and unregenerate corporate crime. The door of Jon Kenny's brick home
will get a shiny coat of paint, and the community in which it stands
will be given an upbeat new name, "Sunrise City." The 236 homes are
being offered at 10% to 15% below market value, compared to homes not
built near chemical dumps. Apparently, the nation's housing shortage is
so urgent that young families desperate for a home will settle almost
anywhere, even next to the notorious Love Canal, where the New York
State Health Department found birth defects and miscarriages occurring
at twice the national average 12 years ago. And equally apparently, the
Bush administration is determined to send a message to the nation that
chemical dumps will not be cleaned up, but nevertheless can still be
packaged as useful property because dumps can be given new names by
public relations slicksters, then can be successfully peddled to the
poor and the poorly-educated. Welcome to environmental protection in
the '90s.

The toxic chemical dump at Love Canal, which drove families out in
1978, has not been cleaned up. Twenty thousand tons of paint residues,
dyes, epoxy byproducts, solvents, glop, crud, and black oily goo laced
with dioxins, still lie buried in the ground. New York state
environmental officials have covered the chemicals with a temporary
clay cap to try to keep rain out, and have installed drains and pumps
in the ground to divert the flow of chemicals that would otherwise
continue seeping into the basements of nearby homes. President Bush's
EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
(DEC)--indeed, all scientists and engineers who understand the second
law of thermodynamics--agree that these are temporary measures which
will eventually fail, allowing chemicals to flow from the dump as they
have flowed in the past, which is into the basements of the homes now
being sold to families who are being bamboozled and misled by use of
the words 'habitable' and 'safe.' But these government burrowcrats
evidently judge it more important to send a message to America--
"Chemical Dumps Make Good Homes for Poor People"--than to protect all
Americans equally. It's a very '80s message, begun by the me-me Reagan
regime and followed up with vigor by understudy George Bush, who says
he wants to be remembered as "the environmental President." He will be
remembered all right.

Would-be residents of Love Canal express two thoughts: an abiding faith
in their government, and resignation that the earth has been totally
contaminated anyway, so Love Canal is no worse than anywhere else.
Philip Palmisano, a retired tavern owner in nearby North Tonawonda told
the New York Times, "I'm no scientist or chemist, but you have to take
someone's word on it. The government wouldn't let us move in there if
it weren't safe, would they?" He ended with a verbal shrug of the
shoulders: "We live in a contaminated world anyway."

What of this persistent notion that our government will protect us? How
quickly we forget. There were actually three separate evacuations of
people from homes at Love Canal. After each evacuation, the government
declared the remaining homes "100% safe" and pigheadedly refused to
study the health of the remaining residents. Residents, who knew they
themselves, their children, and their neighbors were getting sick at
unusual rates, had to find outside experts to do their own health
assessments because government at all levels doggedly refused. When the
residents came forward with maps showing clusters of birth defects,
urinary tract disease, miscarriages and crib deaths, all suspiciously
linked to the chemical dump, New York State Health Department officials
first said they would take the data seriously, but within hours
announced to newspapers that the data were not worth studying because
they were based on interviews with sick people and not on interviews
with doctors treating the sick people. It was as cynical a manipulation
of science and medicine as has ever been witnessed in America.

Fortunately, the story of Love Canal cannot be completely rewritten by
William Reilly and his smiley-faced public relations counterfeiters
because the true story has been recorded on an excellent video tape,
available for commercial sale or rental. Bullfrog Films distributes IN
OUR OWN BACK YARD: LOVE CANAL, produced and directed by Lynn Corcoran
in 1981. It is the story of a three-year fight by residents to escape
from their contaminated homes, some of which are about to be sold once
again to gullible families, creating the next Love Canal disaster.

IN OUR OWN BACK YARD records government officials providing
explanations--back in 1978--of why governments tried not to study the
health of residents, and providing forward-looking explanations of why,
a decade later, Love Canal must now be reinhabited by the poor. The
video opens with New York's attorney general, Robert Abrams, saying,
"Love Canal, tragically, has become a national symbol of corporate
irresponsibility. Industrial producers and users of chemicals have too
often disposed of highly toxic materials with utter disregard for the
danger which these materials pose to the environment and to future
generations." U.S. Representative Joseph Tyree explains why it was
important for the federal government not to buy homes at Love Canal:
"Once they set a precedent of giving the money to buy out these houses,
then they've got the whole country [to consider buying out] because
these wastes are all over." These are still the true meanings of Love
Canal and these are the meanings that George Bush, William Reilly and
their public relations muggers have set out to blur or, better yet, to
erase. Anyone who remained awake through earth day knows that the
smiley-faced new slogan from the Chemical Manufacturers' Association is
"Responsible Care of the Earth" (with the implied assumption that the
earth is theirs, and they get to 'care' for it as they see fit).
Although the chemical industry continues to bury millions of tons of
toxic chemicals in the ground each year with the fawning collaboration
of William Reilly's EPA, their public relations mercenaries now call
this not "poisoning the planet" but "responsible care." George Orwell
is winking at us from his grave.

The Bush administration on May 8 issued a major landfill regulation
that guarantees the creation of many more Love Canals throughout the
'90s. The new regulation cuts the heart out of a six-year effort,
initiated by Congress in 1984, to stem the flow of raw toxics into
underground burial sites. Congress had ordered EPA to require that
wastes be treated with "best available technology" prior to landfill
burial. The May 8 regulation simply abandons all pretense of complying
with Congress's directive. "This proposal ensures that the waste
management practices of today will become the Superfund sites of
tomorrow," says a critique of the regulations issued jointly by Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Hazardous Waste Treatment
Council (HWTC), an incineration industry trade association. Richard
Fortuna of HWTC termed the new Bush-Reilly regulations the "What--me
worry?" approach to hazardous waste management, pointing out that the
new rule--called the "third-third" rule--allows hazardous wastes to
continue to be placed in unlined and leaking lagoons, and treatment
residues (such as ash) can be placed in unlined, unmonitored, and
leaking landfills. It represents the biggest step backward in 20 years
or more.

For our part, we feel relieved that a Bush-Reilly pattern has finally
and unmistakably emerged: poor people, middle-class people, and the
natural environment had better watch out because the chemical industry
and its public relations goons have taken control in Washington. It's
gloves off time for advocates of environmental justice. And it's
opportunity time for the Democrats, who, if they play their cards
right, can sweep into office like crusaders against satan. (If NY
Governor Mario Cuomo isn't careful, Republican PR bandits will hang
Love Canal around his neck, a toxic mill-stone to drag him down into
the ooze of oblivion. Remember Boston harbor.)

Get: A most valuable video about Love Canal IN OUR OWN BACK YARD from:
Bullfrog Films, Oley, PA; phone (800) 543-3764. $200 purchase, unless
you're a citizen action group, in which case it's $75 purchase or $25
rental. We recommend you buy this video and show it everywhere you can
until you just plain wear it out.

For a copy of the "third-third" rule (which has not yet appeared in the
FEDERAL REGISTER though it became effective May 8, 1990), call the
EPA's RCRA/Superfund hotline at (800) 424-9346. NRDC's and HWTC's
critique is available from Jackie Warren (NRDC) at (212) 727-2700, or
from Rich Fortuna (HWTC) at (202) 783-0870. Environmental Defense Fund
(EDF) has also critiqued the rule; phone Karen Florini at (202) 387-
3500.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: edf; nrdc; hazardous waste treatment council; third
third rule; remedial action; reinhabiting love canal; george bush;
william reilly; niagara falls, ny; health effects; lynn corcoran;
policies;