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A Quota of Daily Pollution

Evaggelos Vallianatos

From the moment of its inception, in December 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was caught in a trap. It could not honestly protect “human health and the environment” from the perpetual onslaught of toxins and outright pollution of the industrial behemoth of the United States.

The federal government organizations that tried to protect human health and the environment before 1970 were the giant Departments of Agriculture; Interior; and Health, Education and Welfare. They had failed miserably, which was the real reason for the establishment of EPA.

The most EPA could do was to learn from its predecessors by “regulating” pollution, i.e., allowing factories a quota of pollution every day and prohibit the most life-threatening practices of those making poisons and other dangerous products.

Under these conditions, EPA puts some limits to pollution and the rivers no longer catch fire and the air is free of dark pollution, but not free of smog and soot, very small toxic particles that come out of the pipes of cars, trucks, airplanes, incinerators, large farms and factories. Some of these microscopic particles kill people as well as cause inflammation and injury to the lungs and the blood.


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EPA delays the implementation of advanced environmental protection technologies among industries affecting the atmosphere and water. These technologies, such that could power factories, mining, public transport, aircraft and automobiles, would reduce pollution significantly, which would then become a tremendous boost to public health, including lessening the country’s contribution to global warming.

EPA, however, does not even enforce the law, propping polluters and giving additional savings to old factories.

In 1988, EPA had 14,000 technical staff and a $ 2.7 billion budget for programs dealing with hazardous waste, water, air and radiation, pesticides and other toxic substances. By 2005, EPA had more than 18,000 employees and a budget of $ 7.6 billion.

Most of the technical people working for EPA are stationed in Washington, DC. They act like emergency doctors who fail to heal or lawyers preparing for a trial that never takes place.

Polluters fund hundreds of trips by EPA staff to universities, research organizations and farms.

The excuse for this blatant exercise in influence peddling is always wrapped around science.

Other routine work of EPA scientists includes incomprehensive cost-benefit assessments, useless risk evaluations, cut-and-paste reviews, which lift wholesale the conclusions of polluters, making them conclusions of the government, figuring out triage scenarios, funding studies no one reads, funding travel for political appointees, training managers and those scheduled for the senior executive service and reinventing themselves and their organizations often enough to be timely and in accord with the political demands of the party in power.

In 1978, an EPA scientist, Dwight Welch, revealed that “spray bombs,” used in homes for the extermination of insects, were responsible for fires instead. He accused EPA of being an accessory to the terrible effects of the pesticide bombs. Instead of taking his recommendations seriously, his EPA supervisors made his life miserable and, in 1987, forced him out of the program.

In 1979, aldicarb or temic, a neurotoxin of Union Carbide sprayed by the potato farmers of the East End of Long Island, New York, poisoned the drinking water of their neighbors and came pretty close to killing them. The same poison contaminated the drinking water of Virginia and Wisconsin.

This indifference to public health and nature at EPA is no accident. It continues to this day. For example, the news of August 2009 that excess amount of the weed killer atrazine contaminated the drinking water of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas is not news at all. The poisoning of the drinking water of millions of Americans by agrotoxins happens every growing season. We don’t know about it because EPA has become a master in covering-up this and a thousand other infractions of the chemical industry, including environmental and public health crimes.

Corporations and their White House and Congressional allies, including the president’s political appointee administering EPA, have institutionalized the interests and priorities of America’s business into the fabric of EPA.

Public health has become a slogan in the risk assessors’ vocabulary. As for nature – my EPA colleagues preferred to talk of birds and bunnies instead -- “Silent spring” is the answer. This is the ceaseless crippling and killing of wildlife, including an invisible cloud of disease and death surrounding farms and lawns drifting to the rest of the country. Millions of Americans read Rachel Carson, but, strangely, they failed to understand the urgent message of this passionate woman scientist.

We need to make EPA work for us, not the polluters. Americans need to be outraged enough to take their health and the environment seriously, electing people in office who will protect both nature and their health from the toxins of America’s businesses.

To start this struggle would require three things: One, abolish private contributions to the election of federal and state officials; second, forbid lobbying of these officials; and, third, enforce the anti-trust laws, which means breaking up large farmers and agribusinesses, doing away with animal factories, favoring small family agriculture and organic farming, and remaining ever vigilant with any business or organization trying to dominate agriculture.

Health scientists, especially at the universities, need to demythologize agribusiness and other large corporations affecting public health. Finally, a new EPA must be created that is an organization independent of corporate influence and political appointees, something like a Supreme Court for nature and health.

Dr. Evaggelos Vallianatos, a former EPA analyst, is the author of "This Land is Their Land" and "The Passion of the Greeks."

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