Chemical Waste Management (ChemWaste), a subsidiary of Waste
Management, Inc. (the nation's largest waste hauler) announced new
year's eve 1987 they were abandoning their six-year effort to gain
permission to burn hazardous liquid wastes on ocean-going ships.
Citizens on both coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico rang in the new
year celebrating a major victory. William Y. Brown, a spokesperson for
Waste Management, blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
for the firm's decision to give up its effort to burn liquid hazardous
wastes from 26 states off the coast of New Jersey and Maryland. Mr.
Brown said EPA's tortuous regulatory process forced ChemWaste to give
up its quest. He criticized the agency for an "unending series of
maneuvers to avoid making a decision" on ocean burning, in reaction to
Mr. Brown also said EPA's May, 1987, proposal to regulate on- shore
incineration killed ocean burning economically. Last May the EPA
proposed regulations to control the burning of hazardous wastes in
industrial boilers on land; the proposed regulations would
"grandfather" boilers built before a certain date, allowing them to
operate under less stringent rules. According to Mr. Brown, this
grandfather clause will allow older incinerators to burn liquid wastes
more cheaply than ChemWaste could do it at sea, thus destroying the
economic incentive for ocean burning. "The same kind of waste we'd
proposed to incinerate 100 miles out at sea will now be burned, if the
[EPA's May] proposal goes forward, in hospital boilers 100 feet from
the neonatal unit and around the corner from the emphysema ward," Mr.
Brown said. An EPA spokesperson responded testily, calling Mr. Brown's
assertions "patently untrue and apparently self-serving."
MR. BROWN IS RIGHT. EPA'S PROPOSED BOILER RULES ARE NOT STRINGENT
ENOUGH TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH. MR. BROWN IS ALSO CORRECT IN HIS
ASSERTION THAT THE EPA HAS BEEN RESPONDING TO CITIZEN PRESSURE. AT
PUBLIC HEARINGS ALONG THE GULF COAST, 6000 PEOPLE SHOWED UP TO OPPOSE
THE CHEMWASTE BURNING SCHEME. IT WAS THE LARGEST PUBLIC HEARING EVER
HELD. A YEAR LATER, 3000 PEOPLE APPEARED AT HEARINGS ALONG THE EAST
COAST. EPA GOT THE MESSAGE LOUD AND CLEAR.
INTERNATIONAL TREATY SIGNED, TO SAVE EARTH'S PROTECTIVE OZONE
For the first time in history, nations and businesses have agreed to
curb their production of a class of dangerous chemicals before serious
irreversible damage has been done to the earth. In December, 1987,
President Reagan sent to the U.S. Senate for ratification a treaty
signed last September by 24 nations meeting in Montreal. The treaty
calls for a freeze on production of several chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)
and bromine (halon) compounds now believed to be depleting the earth's
protective ozone layer six to 20 miles in the sky.
The treaty will freeze CFC and halon production in 1990 at 1986 levels,
then reduce production 20% further by 1994 and an additional 30% by
1999. Even the full 50% cut, by itself, will not suffice to save the
ozone layer, but it is expected to create a market for substitute
chemicals, thus stimulating competitive research on alternatives. Once
alternatives become widely available, a total ban might be imposed, or
nations and businesses may abandon the harmful chemicals voluntarily.
The ozone layer filters out much of the sun's ultraviolet light before
it strikes Earth's surface. Depletion of the ozone layer, causing even
a small (a few percent) increase in ultraviolet striking Earth could
significantly increase skin cancers, eye cataracts, and immune system
deficiencies among humans. Increased ultraviolet light would also have
far-reaching ecological effects on other living things. Many insects,
for example, can see light in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum;
thus ozone loss would make the earth "look" different to insects,
possibly disrupting the food chains that insects participate in.
Even as it completed work on this significant and praiseworthy treaty,
the Reagan administration appeared clumsy and clownish. Last July
Interior Secretary Donald Hodel argued strongly for abandoning the
treaty and establishing instead a policy of "personal protection"--he
wanted Americans to wear more hats, sunburn cream and dark glasses.
This humancentered (indeed, American-centered) "solution" to global
ecological disruption brought explosions of laughter from
environmentalists and Congress. Secretary of State George Shultz saw
his treaty negotiations going down the tubes because foreign
governments couldn't take American proposals seriously so long as the
Hodel sun cream solution was being talked up by doctrinaire Reaganites.
Mr. Schultz put a muzzle on Mr. Hodel and friends.
As the treaty was being signed in Montreal in September, scientific
evidence continued to mount, indicating that human chemical production
is destroying the earth's ozone shield. (SCIENCE MAGAZINE, Sept. 25,
pg. 1557; Oct. 9, pgs. 156-158; Dec. 11, pg. 1505.) A large hole in the
ozone layer--larger than the United States in area--has been measured
each fall over the south pole since the mid-1970s. This year the hole
was the biggest it's ever been and it stayed around longer than usual.
University of California scientist F. Sherwood Rowland, a well-known
expert on stratospheric ozone depletion, said the 1987 data "could be
the first indication of major climatic change.... it's an ominous
trend," he said. (WASHINGTON POST, Dec. 19, pg. A8.)
CFCs are used as refrigerants (Freon, for example), as solvents, and as
foaming agents for plastics. Americans use about 3 pounds of CFCs per
person each year. (The Citizens' Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste
[CCHW] in Arlington, VA has been conducting a nationwide campaign
against McDonalds, to force them to abandon CFC using Styrofoam
The ozone treaty showed science and international cooperation at their
best. The United Nations' Environment Program (UNEP) played a critical
role, sponsoring a series of scientific workshops, where international
agreement on the nature of the problem was reached using satellite data
and computer models. Then UNEP arranged the negotiations leading to the
treaty. The whole process was a model of how these things should and
can go--with rancorous political debate left aside. For its part, the
United States played an important role in the treaty and we all have
reason to be proud.
Descriptor terms: ozone; cfcs; treaties; source reduction; waste
treatment technologies; alternative treatment technologies; cancer;
immune system; ultraviolet radiation; ronald reagan; donald hodel;
environmentalists; congress; george shultz; chemical production; unep;
united nations; cwmi; ocean incineration;