I recently finished reading the book "A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr. It was an excellent book and I had a hard time putting it down. For those of you who read this blog that enjoy a legal read every once in a while, definitely grab this book. For those of you who grew up in the Pine Street Neighborhood of Woburn, MA during the 1960's, if you haven't read this book already you might not want to because it will force you to relive a sad era in that neighborhood. Why? The book is about said Woburn neighborhood during the 1960-70s. During that time, the city of Woburn was periodically pumping water from the municipal wells G & H into the homes of that area. During that time, people experienced a number of various ailments including miscarriages, digestive tract issues, and the one that caused the most alarm and for a case to be born in the first place - leukemia. The book is about the ensuing legal drama that unfolded during the 1980's as a result.
At any rate, whenever I read a non-fiction book that grabs me like this I inevitably end up doing some research on my own to learn more when I've finished. I hopped online and did a Google search. Of course there was a Wikipedia article that offered a synopsis of the movie as well as links that brought me to lots of other places (including a laughable court decision on John J. Riley v. Harr/Random House where one of the antagonists in the book sues the author for basically defamation of character). I also stumbled upon the EPA's Superfund site, which I found the most intriguing and disturbing at the same time.
The first thing I did of course was read the EPA's account of the Wells G & H site as well as the Woburn Industri-Plex site. This was an entire area of Woburn around the Aberjona River that had a bunch of industry that did a fine job of polluting the land and water. As I read about what was found there and the huge area that this whole thing covered, I became pretty disturbed. Mind you, I had already been disturbed when I read the book about some of the dumping that went on not only as far as directly dumping chemicals into a water supply, but also just the general dumping that went on in Woburn during the age of the tanneries.
I became curious after reading about these two Woburn sites, and did a full search for the EPA's NPL projects (National Priority List/Long Term projects) in Massachusetts. There are 37 NPL projects in Massachusetts, and 21 in New Hampshire. Going through them you see the same basic thing over and over and over again - companies having management that permitted them to either dispose of chemicals improperly damaging the environment around it or improper storage in containers that eventually corroded and THEN damaged the environment around it.
I experienced a mix of emotions while I was reading through some of the various projects on the NPL list and learning about all the different ways that corporations, companies, and sometimes individuals performed these ignorant acts of disposal. The first thing I experienced was a gut-wrenching disgust; I almost stopped eating my lunch (I did all this during a lunch break this week) when I read about some of the things that were being dumped. To me it seemed like common sense: if it burns your nose and eyes when you breathe it in, or if it causes your skin to hurt or you have to wear gloves to handle it - you probably should NOT be dumping it all willy-nilly wherever you feel like. If you're storing it in 55-gallon drums that are known to rust over time - you should probably call someone to come and pick it up. I understand that this all happened in a lifetime I don't know; I was born in the same year as the Superfund program so I don't know anything before the age of "Save the Planet". Maybe people thought it was OK to dump the chemicals, that Mother Nature would take care of it. I don't know, but it still saddens me to learn about the damage that happened before my lifetime.
The second feeling I experienced was a sort of relief and gratefulness that the EPA established the Superfund program back in 1980. If they hadn't, what would the United States be like today? Since the establishment of the Superfund program, there have been a number of laws that have passed to protect the environment and allow more penalties for illegal dumping of hazardous materials. Also, in the 27 years since its inception, there have been a huge number of clean-up efforts across the country as well as an increased awareness of the importance of not polluting. Because of the EPA Superfund, a number of sites across the country have been cleaned up and reverted back into usable space or drinkable water.
I am certainly going to be more concientious about my own actions from here on out too. As citizens, we can be careful to properly dispose of paint we might have left over or automotive oil left over from changing it ourselves. We can use household chemicals that are less damaging to the environment. And most importantly, we can educate others and encourage each other to protect the environment around us. After all - it doesn't belong to us anyways.