Balance / Nature

Happy Earth Day

Several days ago I completed a report on a property located within an NPL site in southern California. The NPL site is contaminated primarily with trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, as well as many other contaminants, in a plume covering around 30 square miles.

Thirty miles.

As many as 11 cities are impacted. Next to the property I was assessing were two adjoining properties that had issues with leaking underground storage tanks (affectionately known in my industry as LUST sites), contributing to the contaminant plume.  Within a half-mile of this property were 24 other LUST sites, leaking diesel fuel, gasoline, or various solvents into our groundwater like a bunch of lusty pigs.

The other day I inspected a site in Arizona, and it, too, is located within an NPL site, with similar contaminants, in a plume that runs roughly seven miles long. The half-mile radius contained 36 LUST sites.

For people who do what I do, this is humdrum, everyday stuff. I seldom – maybe every other year or so – inspect a property that isn’t located near numerous contaminated properties.

Many of these LUST sites will never get cleaned up. It’s not uncommon for them to have a case closed status, not because they were successfully remediated, but because they were granted closure due to engineering or institutional controls, which sounds as if they are controlling the pollution.  It’s actually just a fancy way of saying nothing is going to be done.  In most cases, the engineering control is concrete pavement, meaning the pollution is located in a commercial area covered by pavement and buildings, so no immediate exposure pathway to the public, so the hell with it.  I mean, why bother when so much of the planet is polluted?  The institutional control is often a statement in a deed, warning of the contaminated ground and insisting the concrete be maintained while eliminating any future use of the water.

The contamination in the California NPL site was first detected in 1979. Thirty-eight years later, they are still trying to define the full extent of the contaminant plume, and for many areas, they have yet to design treatment systems to deal with it.

This is the condition of our planet. The big spills get all of the media attention.  Everyone gets up in arms, oblivious to what’s under their feet.

Those areas in which the groundwater is treated are granted closure when the contaminants are reduced to “permissible” levels, presumed to be safe. They probably are, for the most part.  But when you take a drink of water, how many contaminants does it contain that are considered to be at safe, permissible levels?  Who studies the accumulative effect of all of these pollutants in our water, not to mention all the permissible levels of numerous contaminants allowed to be released into our air, none of which you can see, taste, or smell?

Consider that when someone is inexplicably diagnosed with a cancer they shouldn’t get, such as in the lungs of a non-smoker, or when a health nut succumbs to breast, testicular, thyroid, or some other cancerous horror.

I suspect most people have no idea how polluted our planet is, or have closed their eyes to it. For most it’s out of sight, out of mind.  You can watch a documentary about an oil spill in the ocean or a river and gasp at the thick gobs of crude killing the wildlife.  It’s easy to see.  It’s black gooey oil contrasted against the wonders of nature.  You can watch it from the safety of a theater, or while luxuriating in a hotel or restaurant, and be appalled at the conditions and at what the responsible party did, and then go out and shop in retail heaven, and never realize similar conditions exist below the pavement – and that we are all the responsible party, all of it caused by the products we insist on having.

At least now we can consume these pollutants, with every breath we take, at a time when they are limited thanks to regulations, enforced by a stressed out EPA staff. I’m always surprised when a regulatory agent is friendly and helpful and answers my questions.  Sometimes they never return my call, or they direct me to a website for general information, or they simply tell me to request the records I seek through the Freedom of Information Act so they can be done with me.  It’s easy to imagine the stacks of reports on their desks and the desire to find a way to close a case and move on to another before the pile grows even higher.  Imagine cutting their funding and staff by half, or eliminating them completely, along with those pesky regulations, so businesses can make more money without environmental constraints, something the current administration hopes to make happen.

A lot of conservatives dwell in the country, those “fly-over” places, those small towns far from the polluted cities. But I inspect properties in their towns, too.  The last one I looked at was a donut shop in a small mountainous town in Arizona well-known for its conservative politics.  The donut shop, once a gas station, was a closed LUST site, closed because they actually managed to clean up the spill, but in the adjacent street sat a monitoring well, in place to monitor the contaminants of a huge plume underlying that town.

I’d like to think that if most people were aware of these issues, knowing the groundwater under their feet was contaminated with various carcinogens, slowly making its way to larger waters and the fish they like to eat, that as they indulged in their coffee and donuts they’d reconsider voting for the trumps of the world, or the other conservative candidates, who want to cut regulatory funding and make it easier for corporations to pollute even more. That is what I would like to think, but I know many people in my field who are fully aware of these issues and still vote for republicans.  They even support our current “president.”

How is that possible?

It’s hard to understand, but all of these contaminated sites become nothing more than numbers on a data sheet that must be slogged through to determine if the property we’re assessing could be impacted by the surrounding madness. It becomes an exhausting process, a mindless task we’ve done a thousand times before while the next project and deadline await.

But more importantly, I think they support these politicians because, as a species, we have become detached from nature. It’s the only explanation.  Instead of being the nature-based creatures we are, fully dependent on a healthy planet and in tune with its cycles and rhythms and delicate balance, we have become money-based creatures, oblivious to our impact on nature.  All that matters are greenbacks instead of green living.  Almost all of us, except perhaps the indigenous, live in a bubble that floats above nature.  As long as we keep floating, we can do anything we want to the world below because we’re no longer spiritually connected to it.  We can exploit it freely as a way of life.  We can actually believe we have dominion over all without consequences.  And nothing will stop us until our bubble bursts, when nature finally has its authoritarian say.  It will humble us back into balance with the planet, as it does to all species.  Reality will come calling, and it won’t be pretty.  It’ll be ugly and horrifying – heat, drought, famine, flooding, fire, sickness, war, etc., and it’s already begun.

Happy Earth Day (and the fact that we have a single day, instead of celebrating it as a way of life, further reveals our disconnection).


2 thoughts on “Happy Earth Day

  1. I wish I had an argument against what you say but unfortunately you are right. Having an ignorant President that won’t even consider we have a problem & in fact makes it worse but cutting almost all funding is just sickening. Well written article Jim. How about sending it to the Manistee News – I would love to see it printed in the paper.

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