Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When access to an online response feature is denied

I am normally not a  paranoid or suspicious person.  But since I have been blogging about some touchy issues recently, I have joked with friends and colleagues wondering when I will be put on some sort of watch list.  Well, today, I received an email from Sandra Steingraber about an article that appeared in a Lancaster newspaper questioning the partnership between a company involved in hydraulic fracking and a breash cancer coalition:

Some phrases in the piece struck a chord, so I tried to use the online "talk back" feature to provide a response, and was denied.  I had been given an account, but received a notice indicating that I was denied permission to respond to this article.  Hmmmm.  I haven't ever written Letters to the Editor for this paper.  I want to, but can't find an online submission portal.

So I will have to be content with posting my thoughts here:

There was a time when we didn’t realize that the processes employed to extract, purify, or convert natural resources into products that we use might have negative consequences.  The products helped us win World War II, protect millions from death by malaria, and power our nation to become the most powerful and wealthiest in the world.   But soon we learned that there were consequences to our actions – pollution that threatened habitat and public health. 

The people of this nation demanded clean air and water as a basic right.  When the rivers caught fire and the concealed landfills resulted in cancer clusters, the citizenry rightfully also demanded cleanup.  The 1970’s brought a wave of federal legislation to protect our environment and our health and in 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund to identify and hopefully clean up (or at least contain the risk at) the most contaminated sites.  Of the tens of thousands of sites identified, priorities had to be made, so the potential risk to human health became a major factor in determining the worse of the worst, the sites added to the National Priorities List.

Decades of scientific research and casualities from the contaminants have validated the claims that environmental contaminants were impacting human health.  But what have we learned?  Corporations now know that they must have close connections with those in power so that they can obtain exemptions from the federal laws aimed at protecting us.  They know that they have to frame the risk-benefit analysis in terms of the economy, jobs, and energy-independence, playing on the short-term fears that we have in this country – a country no longer secure in its  power or wealth.  Industry not only donates to political candidates, but also to non-profits that are as American as apple pie.  Who would dare question a breast cancer coalition that now partners with a major energy company that uses hydraulic fracking solutions containing a mixture of chemicals?  Some of the chemicals in these solutions are known to be hazardous to human health; others are labeled proprietary.  In other words, the companies don’t have to tell us their trade secrets.  And the mixtures are exempt from all of those environmental regulations that hold companies accountable should something go terribly wrong.

Do I really have to be a Pennsylvania resident to raise my eyebrows over an odd partnershp?  Or to demand that the public has a right to know what chemicals are being mixed with our water and then forced into the ground beneath our feet?  Dr. Steingraber and I both have Ph.D.s in relevant areas of biology and years of experience researching the impact of environmental contaminants on the health of living organisms.  Both of us live in states sitting on top of Marcellus Shale beds and thus, threatened by fracking. But our expertise or where we live are not the point.  Anyone with the ability to think critically should notice that there are some red flags that we should all be paying attention to because we all need to care about our health.