CHEMICAL WASTES They Ruin the Earth and Poison Our Water!
Too few realize the tragedies just ahead if chemical wastes continue to be dumped into the earth. Even fewer realize the spiritual dimensions of the problem.
MOST of us do not live close to chemical waste dumps. But those wastes can poison us anyway. We still drink water. Half the American population takes its water supply from the ground. Yet groundwater is extremely vulnerable to pollution. Chemical wastes that seep into ground water supplies can pollute it for decades. Groundwater is far harder to cleanse than surface water. Once contaminated, it is not exposed to such factors as sunlight and motion, which clean surface water. Yet many chemical waste dumps are near, or even on top of, under-ground water supplies. Certainly chemical waste represents a terrible health hazard today. And it also represents something profound about the spiritual state of the world today.
Slimy, Toxic, Hazardous, and Deadly
The sludge dumped into chemical waste sites is some of the most deadly stuff ever manufactured. One chemical sometimes found at waste dumps is C-56. It is a by-product of making the insecticide Mirex. The chemical was once considered for use as nerve gas — but was rejected because it was too deadly! Another substance associated with chemical warfare, dioxin, has also been found at chemical dump sites. Still another chemical is acridine, found in the waste of synthetic fuel processes. When exposed to acridine, newborn crickets emerge with extra heads, eyes and antennae. And the list includes PCB, an incredibly toxic substance, which has been buried at various landfills and dump sites in quantities reaching about 300,000 tons. Some estimates are that 60,000 tons have already found their way into the water supply. The fumes alone of some of these waste chemicals are so deadly that dumpers themselves have been known to be overcome by their fumes when they discharge their cargo. Air samples near dump sites in Southern California turn up chemicals known to cause cancer, or damage the liver, lungs or nervous system. Chemical wastes also pack considerable explosive power. Sludge may be composed of a dozen substances — which together combine with unknown effects. As one state environmental official said speaking of the probability of a major explosion at a local dump, "if [that dump] ever goes up, I warn you to be nowhere near New York City, with all the unidentified chemicals in that mess. We just have no idea what might be the synergistic effect of the chemicals in the smoke that would spew out of there." In Elizabeth, New Jersey, when a chemical dump did catch fire and blow up, nearby residents came down with symptoms of chemical poisoning. And chemicals have been known to explode with little disturbance. A fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico was killed when a drum of waste that he hauled up in his net exploded. In West Virginia, the ground exploded when workers were digging near a manufacturing plant.
Each day, enough industrial waste is produced to fill the New Orleans Superdome from floor to ceiling, according to estimates based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) figures. Almost every type of manufacturer produces some kind of hazardous waste. Gasoline refining, plastics, batteries, tanning, even the clothing industries produce waste on an immense scale — 36 million tons annually. The chemical industry, as you would expect, produces the largest amount of toxic waste. The industry has enjoyed immense growth since World War II. Production and use of chemicals has increased 100 times during those years. New chemicals are produced at the rate of 1,000 a year. "We generate a... lot of [chemical waste] in this country, stuff we eventually have to put in the ground," notes a vice president of the Chemical Manufacturers' Association. Chemical dumps are altogether too likely to be on top of the local water supply or near populated areas. There are (no one knows for sure) somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 industrial dump sites in the United States alone. This is in addition to another 40,000 sites used for sewage and solid wastes from cities and towns. For its part the EPA has listed close to 32,000 sites that could contain "hazardous" waste. The estimates are uncertain because past dumping practices have been so haphazard that no one can be sure just where all the toxic wastes are buried! Some recent disclosures of hazardous dump sites came about accidentally. In one case evidence came out during the course of a legal tangle unrelated to pollution. For decades the world has dumped chemicals so carelessly as to be, in one writer's phrase, "beyond belief." Many sites went for years with very little attention. Some of the sites have been covered over. "People can be living in a gorgeous, beautiful area and be totally unaware of the dangers underneath their feet," declares one EPA administrator. In the heady days after World War II, people believed in the slogan, "Better living through chemicals." Manufacturers did not realize at that time that they were dumping substances that could find their way into the local water supply, or combine with other elements to become hazardous. In some cases, in the words of one investigator, the companies "just pour[ed] 'em out on the ground. Glub, glub, glub." Today, for example, rivers and lakes in western Michigan are polluted from dumps created decades ago. An average of half a ton of toxic wastes has seeped into White Lake every day for years from an underground stream polluted by a dump site. Yet when the dump site was created, it was created in accord with the standard, legal practices of the day! The same is true for other sites across the United States. Of course, those practices today seem like the height of irresponsibility: workers would take 55-gallon drums, turn them on end, chop holes in them, fill them with the residue from insecticide making, put them on trucks, haul them to a dump and push them off. This slipshod process allowed some of the residues to spill on the ground. And, by not sealing the dump (with clay, for example), toxic wastes ate their way out of the sides of the drums, and then into the ground and water supply. But back in the 1940s and 1950s, the simple burial seemed good enough. Yet once waste is improperly buried, it sometimes becomes even more dangerous to disturb it! At least part of the tragedy at Love Canal, for example, stems from later construction in the waste disposal area, which allowed wastes to seep out of the canal itself (see accompanying story). In another instance, at a dump in Edison, New Jersey, a bulldozer driver hit a container of flammable chemicals. It exploded and the man died with hand still on the gearshift. In effect, the site itself may become a time bomb. Ten, even 30 years, later, disaster strikes. In Triana, Alabama, production of DDT was halted more than a decade ago. Yet 4,000 tons remain undumped on the bottom of a near-by stream. Residents of Triana today carry about 10 times the "normal" amount of DDT in their bodies. In New York, in the area around Bethpage and Farmingdale, dumped chromium from war factories during the 1940s now contaminates drinking water. Writes Jimmy Breslin, "Children are in danger of being poisoned by the same war that their grandfathers fought and won."
The Midnight Dumpers
While the legitimate dumping practices of chemical companies may have been less than desirable in years gone by, a far greater problem may be found by illegal, secret dumping in just any old dump site, even roadsides or near-by ponds! A New Jersey businessman, since convicted of illegal dumping, claims that 80 percent of waste is illegally dumped. Perhaps he was overestimating to make himself look less guilty. Even so, the EPA has said there is a virtual "army" of trucks that cruise country roads at night looking for places to dispose of unwanted waste. Often they dump their cargos into the nearest sewer, stream, lake, ditch or field. Part of the problem stems from the high cost of disposing of waste properly, which can be as much as $500 a barrel. Many businessmen faced with a choice between going out of business and laying off their workers, or illegal dumping, chose dumping. Moreover, in the words of one city attorney, "there's no way to police a dump." City dumps never intended to serve as chemical waste disposal sites become easy targets for the midnight dumpers. Even organized crime has seen the enormous amounts of money to be made in illegal dumping. Operating as supposedly legitimate disposal firms, organized crime charges high prices, supposedly to bury the waste properly, and then turns around and dumps the stuff on the nearest vacant lot, city dump or ditch beside a country road. "It's so easy to mix toxic wastes with ordinary garbage," one informer told a congressional committee. Probably the worst example of illegal dumping occurred in North Carolina. A Raleigh transformer company paid a midnight dumper to dump oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The dumper sprayed the oil along 210 miles of rural roads. One resident living near to those roads had a stillborn child and another child was born with massive heart defects. Physicians in the area reportedly have noticed an upsurge in birth defects in the year after the spraying. Roadside dumping would seem to be a common practice among illegal dumpers. Chemical wastes have even been dumped along the New Jersey Turnpike.
Much of the chemical dumping practiced over the past four decades was probably legal. ("Probably," because lawyers can argue forever about these things) Yet as of 1979, only a mere 10 percent of hazardous wastes was treated in ways that would be legal under laws that went into effect in 1980. The 1980 laws require an impermeable barrier between waste and groundwater. They require monitoring of the dump site, as well as fencing of the site. They require a system for capturing escaping discharges. Violators face $25,000-a-day fine and jail sentences. Yet the laws exempt the toxic wastes of small businesses, such as dry cleaners and gasoline stations, and there are few licensed waste-disposal sites available. Moreover, in an ironic twist, the new laws may have prompted an increase in illegal, on-land dumping, as producers of waste hurried to beat the deadline by dumping waste secretly. Thus there is serious question about the possibility, much less the practicality, of proper waste disposal. Theoretically, as one state government wanted one manufacturer to do, you could dig out everything already in a dump, plus the surrounding contaminated soil, install 10-foot clay vaults on the site, and then put back the waste (most of it in barrels) and soil. Obviously this would be incredibly expensive, and only the largest and most visible manufacturers would have the money to do it. High temperature incineration is another way to dispose of waste, a method that some of the larger companies have used for 40 years. Preferably this is done in ships out in the middle of the ocean. This incineration itself results in air pollution! But there are those who believe that there is no satisfactory answer to waste dumping. An EPA official, Gary N. Dietrich, has said: "There's no completely safe land disposal. Anytime you put hazardous waste on the ground, it will eventually leak into drinking water." At any rate, the future expense of careful chemical waste dumping will entail dreadful cost, be it in higher prices, lost jobs, fallen production or a "poorer" economy.
Whenever we escape from labor, whether it be in plastic products, fossil fuels for cars or modern power to run refrigerators, limitations pop up in a new form: hazardous waste, air pollution or dangerous radiation. Wisdom to solve our problems has escaped the ingenuity of man.
Man Apart from God
Chemical waste dumping confronts this world with hard choices. People want plastics, synthetic materials, and insecticide-protected food. Were the various chemical and manufacturing companies that produce waste to stop producing the stuff tomorrow, we would all be immensely poorer. Asbestos, for example, is deadly stuff. It is highly cancer-causing. Yet it is the only effective material for brake linings. Shall we do without cars? Most of us could not without losing our homes or our jobs or both. DDT also causes cancer. Yet its use has saved millions of people from malaria. If all American farms were to stop using pesticides, herbicides and fungicides tomorrow, food output would be cut in half. Countless millions who depend on U.S. food exports would face famine. Any semblance of civilized life for millions of people depends on an industrial base that produces horrendous, toxic wastes. Why is it that, in this world, material abundance seems to create horrible pollution? Why can't we have cars and chemical goods without smog and toxic waste? Why are efforts to clean up pollution so costly — often causing either workers to lose their jobs or the price of products to skyrocket? We have, probably, overlooked how these human troubles began. When the first man, Adam, chose to eat of the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden thereby signifying his desire to live apart from God, humankind cut itself off from the ultimate source of true knowledge and also, consequently, came under certain physical limits. After Adam's sin every advance that mankind has made, it seems, is paid for in some kind of hardship. Chemicals make life easier — but they also threaten life itself. Since Adam's sin, every good thing exacts a high cost. Whenever we escape from labor, whether it be in plastic products, fossil fuels for our cars or modern power to run our refrigerators, limitations pop up in a new form: hazardous waste, air pollution or dangerous radiation. Wisdom to solve our problems has escaped the ingenuity of man.
Where There Is No Vision the Water Is Polluted
The Bible sets forth ecological laws for life in this world today. The basic principle of properly disposing of organic waste is found in Deuteronomy 23:12-13, a reference to the disposal of human waste. The principle, of course, is isolation of wastes from human contact. Thus, in extending the principle, it condemns open pit, roadside dumping or dumping into rivers, lakes or wells. Another basic ecological principle is that "without vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18). The idea is that you should try to foresee the long-range effects of your own actions. Putting acidic sludge into a barrel and sealing it may not be a good idea if, years down the road, the sludge eats through the barrel and finds its way into the ground and water system. But notice — because man has had limits set on him, he may be unable to know, today, that other-wise proper disposal methods won't work. It may be years, for example, before he knows that the barrel will leak! Compounding the problem is mankind's basically selfish human nature. People don't dump their garbage into their own swimming pools. Yet they have been known, in the classic instance, to dump their garbage over their neighbor's fence. There is no immediate tragedy when a chemical company buys its own land and properly uses it as a dump. The tragedy comes when the dump leaks and pollutes the air that someone else breathes or the water that someone else drinks. To use a common example, why is it that most private yards are much cleaner than most public parks? It is human nature to "look after one's own things," and not the things of others (see Phillipians 2:4). It is all too human to be self-oriented; to be unconcerned for the other person. When property is held in common, it is human nature to let it deteriorate. No one feels responsible for it because 'no one feels he really owns it. Ranchers often over-graze public lands, keeping their own land lush. In West Africa the absence of private property rights led to overgrazing, which in turn was one of the reasons for the eventual denuding of vegetation that led to famine. When human government is the owner of land, it may be better managed than if no one owns it, yet the lack of feeling of personal long-term responsibility for that land still may lead to bad management. Political pressures may force decisions whose long-term effects for the land are harmful. For example, one of the recent administrations in Washington, trying to cut the costs of housing (and who can quibble with that objective?) stepped up lumbering in national forests. It may or may not have been a wise decision: the point is that it was a political decision. And yet the same factors that may make human governments inadequate managers of land can apply to private corporations. The whole idea of a corporation is limited liability. The owners aren't on the hook for any more than they invested in the first place. Like governments, there isn't the element of personal responsibility in land management. While some antipollution laws do indeed personally penalize individual corporation executives who cause pollution usually only the corporation itself suffers when it is caught polluting. The executives may lose their jobs if the corporation goes bankrupt, but their personal assets aren't touched. And yet in this world, who would undertake to make plastic or any of the hundreds of goods that make life easier (or at least more convenient) without the benefit of some limitations on his liability? And if the key to curbing pollution in this world is individual private responsibility and ownership, the problem of limits makes itself felt in this area as well. How can courts enforce property rights in air? If you live in Canada, for example, the 'acid rain that falls on your property and gradually pollutes it may have come from a factory hundreds of miles away in the United States! The good news of the Kingdom of God, which we announce in The Plain Truth, is that the nature of the world and man's own "human nature" will be changed after Christ returns to this earth to set up His government. Even the nature of animals will be changed! Poisonous animals and those with violent natures will be transformed by God into nonpoisonous and non-violent creatures (Isa. 11:6-9). It will also be a time of "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21), when the "groanings" that afflict the natural creation (Rom. 8:22) will cease. While the Bible doesn't explicitly say so, the time of God's Kingdom will probably be an era when the very nature of certain physical processes will be transformed by new and surprising knowledge. Abundance can be possible without terrible, toxic, deadly wastes that threaten birth defects and cancer. But man will have to begin to live in contact with God and in harmony with God's law. If there is no really satisfactory solution for this world, there is one promised for the World Tomorrow.
Stony Hearts and Love Canal
The story of Love Canal, New York, is an interesting example of how human nature works to create an environmental tragedy. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study has turned up an abnormally high incidence of serious genetic damage among a sample of area residents. The miscarriage rate among women almost tripled from what it was before they moved in. And informal surveys by area residents show an incredibly high rate of abnormal pregnancies by women who gave birth in recent years. In the late 1800s, entrepreneur William Love began the project of digging a hydroelectric canal in the Niagara Falls area. The project was later abandoned, but not before a 3,200-foot section had been dug. It was in this section that the Hooker Chemical Company, as well as the U.S. Army, dumped thousands of 55-gallon drums containing toxic wastes beginning in World War II. Hooker claims that soil in the area — impermeable clay — made the canal a wise choice for a dump site. In 1953, Hooker sold the property to the local school board for $1. There is some dispute over whether, before the sale, Hooker covered the dump with clay or just a combination of fly ash and dirt. There is also some mystery as to why Hooker sold out so cheaply. Eric Zuesse, writing an article basically favorable to Hooker in Reason magazine, February, 1981, speculates that the company's decision to deed over the property instead of letting it be taken by threat of condemnation by the school board was an act of concern for future owners. By deeding over the property, the company was able to put a warning in the deed itself of the risk of the toxic waste dumped on the property, as well as try to absolve itself of responsibility for the site. The deed states that the buyer "assumes all risk and liability incident to the use" of the property. It also recites that the buyer (school board) has been "advised" that the site was used for chemical dumping. In any case, the local school board took over the property in 1953. Mr. Zuesse points out that on several occasions since 1953 there was construction in the dump area that disturbed the waste, possibly causing it to escape. In 1953 and 1954, dirt was removed from the canal to be used as fill at a school construction site elsewhere. In 1957, city workers installed a sewer through the canal, puncturing the walls and clay cover. (Whether chemicals were buried at that exact location is not revealed) In 1960, the school board gave part of the canal to the city and the rest was sold to a private person in 1962, who was unable to develop the property because he could not get a building permit. In 1968, the canal was again disturbed, this time to build an expressway and work on a street adjacent to the property. The point of these facts is not to fix blame (the courts will have plenty of time for that) but to point out that the responsibility for the care and good management of the Love Canal dump site was just too fuzzy. Just as communal kitchens often become dirty messes because its users figure someone else will clean up after them, no individual or group of individuals felt personally responsible for the good care of the dangerous, toxic dump at Love Canal. Was Hooker's warning on the deed good enough to absolve it of responsibility? How much exactly did the school board know about the dump? These questions are all grist for the legal mill. What they do show is that everyone assumed responsibility for the dump site was someone else's job. In this world, in which man has turned his back on his Maker, personal legal responsibility works as a substitute for genuine love. The legal system assumes people will act out of fear of a policeman coming and putting them in jail or taking away their property, but not necessarily because of a genuine concern for others as human beings. In this world, it takes ownership to create a measure of responsibility. In a better world soon to come, love would do the same — only better. Instead of endless court fights trying to pin the blame on some hapless party, all parties concerned would have tried to do right by their fellow man from the beginning. In the World Tomorrow, people's hearts will be changed. In that future world, God told the prophet Jeremiah, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jer. 31:33). In a similar message given to the prophet Ezekiel, God said, "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you..." (Ez. 36:26-27). Such a world will not need legions of property lawyers and judges to straighten out what would never have been allowed to happen in the first place.