Monday, October 17, 2011

The Unregulated, Kepone Truckin’ Blues

With the economy struggling Republicans are demanding lower taxes on so-called job creators and less government regulation. They want the feds off of the backs of the energy industry, Wall Street, etc. Although history tells us they‘ve been calling for the same things for a hundred years -- no matter what else was going on -- it hasn’t stopped Tea Party devotees from pretending those are fresh, tailor-made solutions to current problems.

So, the GOP would want job-creators the likes of BP and Massey Energy to worry less about government regulators. Never mind those corporate citizens' recent records for disasters.

Conservatives of a certain stripe still like to claim the marketplace will always take care of correcting for problems, mistakes and so forth. They say consumers will buy what proves to be the best medicine, dog food and automobile every time. Such conservatives blithely ignore the effects false advertising and withholding scary product information can have on their precious marketplace. So, it's a snap to go own pretending that when capitalists fail the system reacts quickly to correct for the dangers that stem from blunders and bad luck.

To bring it closer to home, consider how easily Allied Chemical’s top dogs got off for deliberately flushing truckloads of a powdered pesticide, Kepone, into the James River (1966-75). Production was suddenly shut down when employees packaging the stuff for shipment were discovered to be alarmingly sick -- some of those workers were trembling so badly they couldn't work.

This bizarre episode dealt a serious blow to Virginia’s seafood industry for years. Moreover, a lot of that now-banned pesticide still rests on the bottoms of the James and the Chesapeake Bay. So, we Virginians hope nothing, dredging or a storm, will stir up the old poison.

In the late-70s, as some millions of dollars changed hands, nobody at Allied ever did a day in jail for what Kepone did to harm innocent Virginians in a myriad of ways, some we’re still finding out about.

Recent news from France offers evidence that Allied’s recklessness dramatically increased the chance its employees, who stood ankle deep in Kepone as they shoveled it into bags, would get prostate cancer. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published findings last year that bear on this matter:

Although it was totally banned in the USA in 1976, from 1973 to 1993 chlordecone (Kepone) was used as an insecticide to fight banana weevils in the French West Indies. A significant number of the population of Martinique and Guadeloupe were directly exposed to chlordecone for years. The JCO cites a telling study which says chlordecone is responsible for at least half of the epidemic of prostate cancers found on the two islands.

One is left to wonder at what point does a reckless disregard for the health of others become criminal? Is there some point where the wanton poisoning of the planet is so egregious it should be considered criminal?

Moreover, how did the marketplace do anything to react to the problems Kepone in our water presented?

Nobody said, "I'm buying a different pesticide because Allied's stuff is too nasty for the environment." If its production hadn't been outlawed by the government in 1976, nobody knows how much more Kepone would have been dumped into the James before the marketplace would have made a correction.

Here’s a serious question that should be considered by lawmakers: If a big cheese at Allied Chemical had pulled a year or two for poisoning the Bay, how much might it have changed the culture in this country?

If that episode of bad acting had been criminalized, how much would that have curbed some would-be polluters over the last 35 years? For instance, would the explosion at Massey Energy's mine in West Virginia that killed 29 have happened? Is it possible the BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused the spilling of untold zillions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico wouldn’t have happened?

Instead of less government oversight, doesn’t society need more federal protection from the next batch of risky shortcuts the most aggressive capitalists -- the Allieds, Masseys and BPs -- have always been willing to take?

Of course, if you think miners have always been killed on the job, so it doesn’t matter, then such questions may not concern you sufficiently to open your eyes to reality. If you don’t believe pollution is anything to worry about, not when it takes one dollar out of a billionaire’s clutches, then your answer to the question in the paragraph above is “no.”

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