Legacy of Chemical Industry

Their names have become part of a macabre map of poisoned areas throughout America: Love Canal, N.Y., Woburn, Mass., Valley of the Drums in Kentucky, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colo., and Lathrop, California.

With few exceptions, these areas of “lethal litter,” in the words of the New York Times, are the legacy of the chemical industry. Culpable companies such as Hooker Chemical and Velsicol Chemical are not yet household words like the localities they have vic­timized. For the time being, the attention of the af­flicted people has been on getting the government to clean the mess up or at least to prevent the poisons from getting into cellars, playgrounds or drinking water. Their other demand is compensation for health bills and disability. And finally, there must be a national policy of prevention:

It is an indication of the unresponsiveness of the federal government that both Congress and the White House scarcely seem perturbed at this eruption of one chemical waste dump disaster after another. Granted, the EPA has issued hazardous waste disposal regulations. And granted, also, Congress is con­sidering Superfund legislation to develop joint government-industry compensation cleanup budget. Even the Justice Department, which rarely has sought to prosecute corporations for such en­vironmental violence, is beginning to bestir itself.

But against the backdrop of some 30000 dumpsites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the millions of people increasingly. vulnerable to contaminated drinking water supplies, the response of the state to the destructiveness of the corporation has been too little, too late and too unimaginative.

Much the ‘same could be said of the government’s policy on energy waste. The conventionally restrained estimate of the amount of energy wasted. by the economy is half of the existing consumption Some efficiency engineers project an even greater waste reduction level through innovations in the design of vehicle engines, buildings, furnaces, lighting and air conditioning systems and industrial processes.

As countless business, academic and governmental studies and model performances have shown, squeezing energy waste is not just anti-inflationary, anti-pollution and productive of more economic ac­tivity. It also creates by far more net jobs than the jobs generated through wasting energy.

Here then, are two necessary national missions already rooted in the nation’s religious traditions (remember the Bible on the Golden Rule and glut­tony) and in recent environmental and energy laws. But no national missions worthy of the name are underway.

What is even more remarkable about this default is that the people are calling for action and the politicians are looking for issues. President Carter’s political advisers reportedly are searching for new themes for, his campaign.

At the same time the official unemployment figure has hit 7.8 percent and continues to climb. What more productive and humane combination could there be than linking an employment policy with an economic and health policy to prevent toxic chemical epidemics and reduce energy waste?

In January 1977, I proposed energy conservation with jobs program to Charles Schultze, President Carter’s chief economic adviser. There was declared interest — but no action. Now the Labor Department is straining its budget of billions of dollars for “public service” jobs and unemployment compensation.

A genuine employment policy is one which fulfills clear economic needs for consumers and the overall economy and, as a byproduct, generates useful em­ployment. It perhaps is too logical for Washington and Wall Street to realize that the times call for this comprehensiveness in the use of the tax dollar and in the application of the law to ‘corporate waste and crime.

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