The Mighty Mississippi River of Mark: Twain, Huck Finn and Torn Sawyer, and long before of the diverse American Indian tribes, has become the giant American sewer. In a graphic demonstration that is a unique trademark of Greenpeace, the global environmental group, a new Report titled “We all live Downstream: The Mississippi River and the National Toxics Crisis,” shows just how disease‑ producing this tormented river has become.
Greenpeace’s voyage started on August 12, 1986 when its vessel, the M.V. Beluga, began a three and a half month voyage down the Mississippi to New Orleans from Minneapolis. The crew gathered and released information along the way.
Together with their land-based researchers and analysts, the Greenpeace expedition compiled an inventory of the major toxics vectors along the river, including those associated with industries, municipal wastewater systems, landfills, injection wells and Superfund sites.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over half of the industrial toxic pollutants pouring into U.S. surface waters are dumped directly into the Mississippi. The 150 mile stretch of river from Baton Rouge to New Orleans has the highest concentration of toxic chemicals in the U.S. A hundred and thirty six major industries line up as a petrochemical phalanx taking advantage ofthe area’s low taxes and compliant government. It is the nation’s toxic hotspot. Using a startling fold-out map, Greenpeace round that “total mortality rates and cancer mortality rates in the counties along the Mississippi River were significantly higher than in the rest of the country’s counties. The counties in the lower river showed the highest disease and death rates of all!
Filled with photographs, names of places, companies and specific toxics, the Report conveys a special warning about the heavy burden of halocarbons on the Mississippi: “Halocarbons are well known for their ecocidal properties — toxicity, persistence in the environment, and tendency to accumulate in the tissues of living organisms. … Many of the most notorious halocarbons — including CFSs, DDT, dioxins, furans, PCBs, and chlordane — have been banned, restricted, or otherwise recognized as profound ecological threats.
“The destructive impacts of halocarbons are evident at all levels of the ecosphere, ranging from the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer to the demise of birds and marine mammals.”
This Greenpeace report is a new and very hands-on type of documentation. More than relying on government reports and public health data, the M.V. Beluga absorbed the agony of the rivers and its inhabitants — the fish, wildlife and people carrying a full range of pollutants that concentrate in living tissues — and put the chief onus on “ecocidal” industries. Greenpeace concluded that the only successes have occurred when federal actions completely banned production of certain harmful chemicals.
Readers interested in a copy of the Report and its specific recommendations can write to John Mitchell, Greenpeace 1436 U Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. The national media ignored this Report when it was released earlier this month.