Each year some 78 billion pounds of poisonous chemicals are dumped into 51,000 sites throughout this country where they enter the underground water supply. Many of these mixtures are lethal on contact, many are carcinogenic, and many can last in the environment for up to 100 years.
Despite the enormity of this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to monitor where toxic wastes go. Rusting chemical barrels have been found in forests in South Carolina, vacant homes in Louisiana, beneath elevated skyways in New Jersey, and in abandoned lots in virtually every state.
On August 2nd, 1978, a truck intentionally leaked polychlorinate biphenyls (PCBs) along 200 miles of a North Carolina road. The chemical was leaked to avoid expensive waste disposal. Small doses of PCBs can cause liver damage, skin disorders, and cancer. The EPA states a level of 50 parts per million (ppm) of PCBs as cause for immediate action. At saw of the North Carolina sites, levels were as high as 7,000 ppm.
While PCBs are now starting to receive some media attention, they are said to represent merely the tip of a chemical iceberg, a graphic illustration of the consequences of unchecked industrial protection.
Aside from direct contact, the greatest threat from careless toxic waste disposal is through the water supply. Ground wells often are located near chemical waste deposits. By the government’s own estimate, 90 per cent of our waste materials are improperly disposed of. Ironically, one of the most serious threats to a rural watershed was caused by the federal government itself. At the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, between the cities of Denver and Brighton, wastes from the manufacture of defoliants, pesticides and chemical warfare agents were transported and stored in unlined canals and ponds in a region where effluents were readily absorbed into the ground. An area of 30 square miles was poisoned, killing grain, vegetables, and livestock. Trace contaminations were found one mile south of the public water supply for the town of Brighton.
While a federal consultant has estimated it would cost up to 50 billion dollars just to clean up existing dumps, the EPA is nearly two years behind in implementing regulations covering current toxic waste disposal.
The scope of this problem and the lack of media attention devoted to it qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
Penthouse, May 1980, “Poisoned Water,” by Michael N. Browne; and The Progressive, July, 1980, “Poisoned Land,” by Barry Jacobs.