“Just the Tip of the Iceberg”
How many more “Love Canals” are in the making?
“THERE are thousands of these dumps all over the country. The Love Canal could be a forerunner of many similar incidents to come.” So reported Dr. Clark Heath of the Federal Center for Disease Control. “The Love Canal situation is just the tip of the iceberg.” Exaggeration? Consider the following:
LOUISIANA—Deadly swamps. Devil’s Swamp, formerly teeming with wildlife, was virtually destroyed by the dumping of millions of gallons of deadly chemicals. Nearby pasture land was contaminated resulting in 149 cattle deaths. Over 540 acres (220 ha) were totally poisoned. In a residential area near another swamp people waked in the night choking. Dogs who ran into the woods came out with parts of their hair falling off. In one of the reported 40,000 dump sites in the state, a truck driver was killed while dumping wastes because of the toxic fumes.
IOWA—“It’ll make Love Canal look like a picnic.” Near Charles City, Salsbury Laboratories dumped countless tons of chemical wastes into a former sand and gravel pit. Included were reportedly nearly a million cubic feet (28,300 m3) of deadly arsenic waste. Chemical contamination has now been found in the surrounding groundwater, a nearby river and in wells of the city of Waterloo, 50 miles (80 km) away! The area has a “higher-than-normal incidence of bladder cancer.” But of immediate danger is the nearby water aquifer (natural groundwater) that supplies over 300,000 people. “If this stuff gets into the aquifer and spreads, it’ll make Love Canal look like a picnic,” warned Department of Environmental Quality official Charles Miller.
TENNESSEE—300,000 barrels of poison. In Hardeman County, Velsicol Chemical Corporation reportedly buried these in trenches under three feet (1 m) of dirt. Banned pesticides, 40 times as powerful as DDT, leached out into the groundwater. Nearby wells were closed when residents complained of dizziness, loss of hair, kidney pains, liver disorders, respiratory problems, nausea, limb numbness, even birth defects.
NEW JERSEY—“One of the most hazardous spots in the United States,” is how one public official described the place where 34,000 barrels of leaking chemical waste were stored by the Chemical Control Corporation near Elizabeth. The recent removal of 10,000 of these containing the most lethal chemicals, prevented a disaster of monstrous extent. On April 22, 1980, the worst happened. Just minutes away from the 8 million people of New York city, the site exploded into flames. The intense heat caused some of the barrels to rocket 200 feet (60 m) into the air. There was fear of widespread chemical contamination as a huge black cloud formed. Favorable winds saved the situation. “We were within a hairsbreadth of disaster,” stated the director of Health, Welfare and Housing in Elizabeth. In less than a week another chemical fire struck in Bayonne. Other sites have burned since. Residents reportedly have one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.
England, Mexico, Japan and Canada have also reported problems with the storage and illegal dumping of toxic wastes. Chemical wastes are now considered the worst water contaminants because they resist natural breaking-down processes and tend to collect in animal and human bodies.
Yet “the drinking water in many cities has hundreds of chemicals in it,” reports a federal health official. “We don’t know how they act together. Do they add, multiply or cancel?” Their long-term effects are so gradual they are hard to detect, until the damage—cancer, birth defects, and so forth—becomes obvious, then it is usually too late!
Thousands of acres of land world wide have been contaminated. “It’s like a nightmare,” bemoaned David Evill, a resident of Louisiana. “Only the nightmare is real and it’s our own land and it’s destroyed for all time.”
However, are there any solutions for the handling of chemical wastes? What can be done? Is there a satisfying answer to this critical situation?
[Picture on page 13]
According to the EPA, there are 32,000 to 51,000 chemical dump sites in the United States. Upward of 2,000 have rotting, leaking barrels and could become “imminent health hazards”
[Picture on page 13]
Could this dump site be another Love Canal in the making? It is one of 215 listed by the EPA in two counties of New York State