Friday, March 22, 2002

hazardous materials
One of my thoughts when looking at pictures from September 11th in Manhattan has to do with all of the dust. Dust and debris everywhere, covering the streets, and coating people fortunate enough to survive.

I've heard mumbled statements from the media about the possible effects of people breathing in particles of the crumbled twin towers. Nothing too loud. Nothing that causes any positive feelings.

I don't know that I want to think about it too much.

A friend forwarded a link tonight to a story published in April, 2000, by the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's about people who responded to a fire in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is a short distance across the state line from Delaware.

The fire was in 1978. So, why a story 22 years later?

It's because those who responded to what they thought was a tire fire were really confronting a chemical nightmare run wild.
More than 200 firefighters, police and paramedics had answered the alarm, assuming a tire fire had erupted. Instead, they waded unwarned into one of the worst illegal chemical dumps in the nation - a witches' brew so poisonous that the federal Superfund was born, in part, from it.
At least one in five of those running towards harm, to put out the fire have come down with serious illnesses, and a number of those have died.

The clean-up at ground zero continues. But what about the many contaminated grounds like the one in Chester, described in the Inquirer article?

How many traps are out there just waiting to be sprung on the unsuspecting?

The article mentions that the Superfund was created to identify places that are hazardous to people's health. And to find a way to clean those up. The Chester story illustrates why it's important that they be dealt with as quickly as possible.

It looks like there's a problem with funding the Superfund.
The idea behind Superfund is simple, fair and more effective than anything that came before it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and states cooperate on identifying and designating sites that are high priorities for cleanup. Montanans who’ve followed the recent designation of Libby as a Superfund site have some inkling of the process. The government encourages parties responsible for the pollution to clean up their messes. Alternatively, the government pays for the cleanup and recovers the cost from the responsible parties. As a last resort, in cases where no responsible party is identifiable, the government pays for the cleanup out of the trust fund. That fund has been financed by a tax on polluting industries.

In 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress let the tax expire and rejected subsequent efforts by the Clinton administration to revive it. Now President Bush says he won’t seek to reinstate the tax.

As a result, the fund is drying up fast. The fund’s balance will fall to $28 million next year, down from more than $3.5 billion in 1996.

The implications are serious. EPA already has begun scaling back its cleanup work. And without money to pay for cleanup work from the fund, EPA will be at a decided disadvantage when negotiating with polluters who no longer run the risk of paying after the fact for cleanups done by the government.
Tonight's 6:00 news ran the same story, but the only place I could find it online was from this newspaper in Montana.

It's a quiet crisis, like the dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Thoughts of the Chester Fire, the ground zero clean up, and the sad shape of the superfund made me wonder where the superfund sites are in Delaware.

The EPA does have a list of Superfund sites for Delaware. I don't know what incentives exist these days to go out and identify new sites, so that rescue workers can be aware of them. But I hope that the tragedy of the Chester fire doesn't get repeated for lack of money to identify and clean up hazardous sites.

We owe it to those brave enough to run towards danger on our behalf, like firefighters and paramedics and police officers, to not let that happen.

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