Friday, January 20, 2012

Not in My Backyard. But It Already Is.

By: Duane Craig

You don't find refineries placed near homes worth millions of dollars, and homes with ocean vistas don't have their views obstructed by polluting industries. It's an economic fact that some properties are worth more than others, and it's also a fact that high-value properties face less environmental contamination issues than low-value properties -- with perhaps the exception of air pollution.
While there is talk of class warfare being waged on the rich these days, class warfare through environmental degradation has always been waged on lower-income people, and that was publicly recognized in the U.S. as far back as the 1960s, according to this archival reference.

As developed nations glanced around at their legacies of contamination, they started to strengthen their environmental rules to tranquilize the madness. But an unintended consequence was that polluters just started shifting their operations to countries where regulations were not as strict. They also started to simply ship the wastes and pollutants to other lands, as written about here and here. The "not in my backyard" syndrome continues playing out globally, just as it does locally, with polluting companies, and countries, discovering new ways to unload their pollution on others.

While it's true that contamination in America disproportionately affects middle- and lower-income people, the powerful, famous and wealthy are not immune. What's more, many of the privileged might be surprised to learn just how close they live and work to contaminated soil, air and water, a quiet trend that promises to evenly spread the effects and threats of pollution across all of America's classes. Here are some specific cases that show just how cozy everyone is becoming with contamination.

Current and past residents of the nation's White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. might be interested in knowing there have been 131 spills, incidents and releases of toxic substances within a half-mile radius of the building since 2001, according to this report.
Environmental Data Resources reports that the residence made famous by the woman who gave birth to eight kids in California has an illegal drug lab minutes from its front door. That residence also has had spills, releases and/or incidents related to hazardous substances within a half-mile radius, and within the same distance, there is a landfill and eight entities permitted to store, transport or generate chemicals that may be hazardous to human health.

The Trump Plaza Residences in Jersey City, New Jersey, bills its location as offering "a vibrant neighborhood" right at residents' doorsteps. What the sales pitch doesn't tell aspiring tenants is that at their doorsteps they'll also have a vibrant collection of 220 spills, releases and/or incidents related to hazardous substances. Included in that mix is one Superfund site. Then too, there are 63 places within a half mile that are permitted to store, transport or generate chemicals that may be hazardous to human health, according to this report.

It may be that we are beginning to run out of places where we can dispose of contamination to keep it out of our own backyards, regardless of social stature and economic power. Even the idea of "dumping it over there, far away from me" is just a comforting illusion because the earth is everyone's backyard -- and the only one we all have.

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