Friday, November 25, 2005

More Chinese Chemical Factory Fires, Problems Like We Had Before EPA


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

A second chemical factory blew up in China, more pollution in rivers, this time in the south. Russia and China start new accords for alerting each other if Chernoybl-style disasters occur. Europe and America have been down this road before, too.

From the BBC:
Hundreds of villagers in north-eastern China are being evacuated from their homes following the pollution of the local river by a chemical explosion.
The evacuations, from villagers in the suburbs of Harbin, came as 3.8 million people in the city centre endured a third day without mains water.

The water supply is not expected to be turned back on until Sunday.

In south-west China, another chemical factory explosion has led to warnings of more benzene pollution.
Many forms of pollution are global in impact. Water and air are the twin forces that keep us alive. We abuse both at our own peril.

Massive, out of control industrialization is very dangerous. Not too long ago, we were exactly like China is today. From the Volokh Conspiracy:

The story of the Cuyahoga River fire is a canonical tale, but my friend Jonathan Adler -- a law professor at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University -- argues in the Fordham Environmental Law Review that much of the story is a fable.

While many point to the fire as evidence of ever-worsening environmental conditions, Jonathan argues that water quality had already begun to improve before the fire. The Cuyahoga River was heavily polluted, to be sure, but it was starting to turn the corner.

From the 1880s to 1950s, fires on industrial rivers and harbors were rather common, and rarely elicited comment. Much pollution was accepted as the inevitable and unavoidable cost of industrialization. As the nation became richer, attitudes changed, and cleanup efforts began, even before the adoption of federal laws. River fires were rare by the 1960s, largely due to state and local cleanup efforts.

The 1969 fire attracted national attention more because of increased environmental consciousness than because environmental quality was steadily getting worse. It's a complex story, but quite interesting. I'm not an environmental expert, but Jonathan is, and I've found his work to be trustworthy and eminently readable.

One item of note from Jonathan's article. The fire received national attention when highlighted in Time, but the picture of a river aflame accompanying the article wasn't of the 1969 fire at all -- it was of a much worse 1952 fire. There are apparently no pictures of the 1969 fire itself because the fire was out before any photographers arrived. So the image many remember of the river on fire isn't of the famous fire at all.
This right wing site is rather funny. The spontaneous combustion of a river is OK because it burned out before it could be photographed and the much worse sponaneous fire 15 years earlier was used, but who cares?

The fact that the river caught fire REPEATEDLY is what matters! Like the Chinese today, we were willing to pay the price, we don't care. Now that we are living longer but more miserably thanks to the rapid rise in cancers, we are changing our minds. I remember the sixties and seventies! We got the government to lean on factories to clean up the water and the air which they did....By moving away! The water and air pollution in Mexico where all those factories moved is horrific in the extreme. Now, they are moving to China with similar results. This is why true "free trade" people advocated uniform pollution controls. Namely, we shouldn't get a free ride transfering our pollution to other, poorer nations.

Europe is no better. They have tried shipping out all sorts of toxins to dump in Africa and all nations allow their decommissioned ships to be torn apart in India, in a very primative, polluting fashion we don't dare do here! And as for river pollution and factory fires, here is another story I remembered, from Google: From Kent UK:
The Rhine and pollution

Many years ago, the Rhine was considered as one of the most polluted rivers in Europe. In 1986 the river was severely polluted by a chemical factory fire. 30 tonnes of pesticides (used for farming) ended up in the river killing many animals and fish for 100-200 kilometres downstream of the spill. But the governments of the countries through which the Rhine flows cleaned up the river and made it habitable again for wildlife. The Rhine Action Programme has been set up to check the levels of pollution in the river.
Many factories need gastly amounts of water to function. So they tend to hug rivers so when they fall apart, so do the rivers and all the living things nearby.

This is why very strict controls over how chemicals are stored and used are so vital. I used to say, all OSHA rules are written in blood, namely not one of them gets inplimented unless people actually die, in the case of asbestos, lots of people die. The Bush machine is rapidly dismantling the EPA and OSHA because it interfers with making profits. This is their plan: to turn back the clock so the USA is like China, whole cities becoming uninhabitable because of cheap, careless handling of toxic materials!

Way to go! Of course, Bush and his loopy buddies can't figure out, pollution travels far and kills many including possibly themselves.

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