Monday, January 6, 2014


I'm currently reading "Toms River" by Dan Fagin. This book chronicles the horrors of chemical pollution that occurred in Toms River, New Jersey from 1952 onwards. The leading polluter was Ciba-Geigy with only honourable mention to Union Carbide who allowed their toxic waste in drums to be removed by a small entrepreneur whose idea of hazardous waste disposal was to surrepticiously bury drums illegally at the back of a local farm. Yes this is the same Union Carbide who were responsible for 8,000 or more deaths in Bhopal, India in 1984. Yes this is the same Ciba-Geigy now known as Novartis who falsely claimed that they'd had but a single spill of Dinoseb on their property in Cambridge, Ontario back in the 90's. They also claimed a year or two prior to their chemicals being found in the deeper municipal aquifer that it would take a hundred years for their chemicals to reach that deep due to a wonderful clay aquitard inbetween. Not surprisingly both municipal and regional governments did not dispute this nonsense. Nor of course did the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Yours truly estimated ten years was a more likely scenario and I overestimated by about eight years. Shame on me.

I have previously read books such as Chemical Nightmare (Jackson & Weiler), A Civil Trial (TCE in Woburn, Massachutsets), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson) and far too many hydrogeological reports for the Northstar Aerospace contamination in the Bishop St. community in Cambridge, Ontario. The rest of the list here in Waterloo Region is far too long to enumerate now. There are however so very many commonalities. Firstly polluters lie like dogs. Secondly they have ingratiated themselves into the community both with jobs, charitable donations and political involvement. Thirdly they are invariably insulated, supported and protected from legitimate criticism by the local power structure. Afterall they pay taxes and employ locals. Fourthly the provincial/state environmental authorities lack serious enforcement capabilities. Again they are the creation of these same political bodies who are very long on appearance and very short on seriousness. This lack of seriousness includes intentional inadequate budgets as well as managers who do as they are told by the heads of their agencies and their political masters.

Pollution is simply a form of corporations externalizing their costs. In other words a corporation has a competitive advantage when they can either minimize their waste disposal costs or even essentially reduce them to zero. They do this by inflicting their relatively initial small waste disposal costs upon society who end up paying much greater costs through remediation, health and environmental damage. This infliction upon society is usually done with typical CIA "plausible deniability". We (the polluter) didn't know. We didn't intend to hurt anybody/anything. Generally speaking these claims aren't even good enough to be called wishful thinking. They knew even back in the 60's because some of them have pollution histories going back to the turn of the 20th century. Companies like Ciba polluted in Switzerland, Germany and other European countries before coming here. There is a pattern of geographical industrial/chemical pollution starting in Europe progressing to North america and then moving on to Asia and third world countries around the world. It's all about lower labour costs as well as much lower or zero environmental costs. The chemical industries sins have caught up with them wherever they operate. They however and their supporters think that they can reinvent the wheel each and every time they relocate. They feel they somehow deserve the benefit of the doubt simply because they have moved. And the whole disgusting, lieing, deceiving mess starts anew.

There are companies who adhere honestly to the tenets of the Chemical Industry Association of Canada (CIAC). There are many who do not and they are members nevertheless. For them it's essentially nothing more than public relations. The CIAC allow recalcitrants in their midst on the hope that being "under the tent" is better than not. They hope that the likes of Chemtura for example will improve simply by rubbing shoulders with more ethical and honest companies.

Last but not least is the effect of support from the local power structure here in Elmira, Ontario. This includes the likes of former Woolwich councillors sitting on Sulco's (CCC) citizens liason committee. Ruby Weber and Pat McLean sucessfully lobbied to remove comparisons with Chemtura in a *Responsible Care study written by a Mcmaster University graduate student. His draft report for the CIAC basically pointed out how superior Sulco (CCC) were to their neighbour Chemtura as far as following the rules and spirit of *Responsible Care. His final report sadly dropped that comparison.


  1. I wonder why he dropped the comparison in the final report?

  2. More than likely the lobbying efforts of Ruby & Pat were assisted by Chemtura contacting McMaster University. I'm guessing but financial donations to either university research or other research can dry up quickly when chemical companies are unhappy.