A study in contrast

by Robert Gardner

October 12, 2010

RobertAt the heart of injustice is a certain amount of outrage.

Yesterday, the New York Times is reporting that Zoltan Bakonyi, the managing director of the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, has been arrested and charged with criminal negligence leading to a public catastrophe. If he is convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison.

On October 4th, a burst earthen dam unleashed a massive flow of toxic red sludge on the villages of Kolontar, Devecser and other villages. Eight people have died already. Nearly 150 people have been injured. Nearly 24.7m cubic feet of sludge has inundated nearly 16 square miles. This is an ongoing catastrophe.

It is good to see that there is some accountability for environmental criminals in Hungary, though it is not enough. We have serious doubts about whether there will be future breaches and about the volume of mercury and arsenic in the sludge. There is more work to do in Hungary and we are doing it.

toxic sludge in Hungary

Here in America, industrial pollution waste has unfortunately not been addressed in the same manner despite some disastrous recent episodes.

Early in the morning of December 22, 2008 approximately 1.1 billion gallons of toxic fly ash slurry burst its earthen boundaries. Six feet of ash covered an area of approximately 300 acres. Not a single individual was prosecuted for this failure. The ash still remains on site in Tennessee. It is two years later and the EPA is just now proposing a rule to protect people from the hazards of toxic coal ash.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) President and CEO Tom D. Kilgore faced no penalties and instead, was awarded with a million-dollar bonus.

Shortly before ten p.m. on April 20, 2010, highly pressurized methane gas rose towards the Deepwater Horizon rig, sparking a massive blast. After 36 hours the well was destroyed. 11 people are no longer alive because of BP’s negligent behavior. Environmental damage to the Gulf is severe and ongoing. The Gulf will never be the same.

Tony Hayward resigned but no charges were filed.

Why can’t we hold polluters accountable, instead of anointing them the solution? Industry continues to weave its tangled web of deception and our elected officials let them off the hook.

There are 2,000 ash dump sites across the nation and hundreds of abandoned and active mines (as fill). These are unregulated and largely unknown ticking time bombs. Oh, and currently it’s not regulated as hazardous despite the fact that it contains mercury, lead and arsenic among other heavy metals .

In the Gulf, there are 122 rigs currently operating and an unknown number of abandoned rigs. Some leak slowly, others wait for a catalyst – be it age or dislodging. All of these wells pose a danger – and the moratorium was just lifted today.

We’ve been buried underneath a deluge of polluting industry lies since they began operation. The status quo is outrageous. We must expose the truth. We must ensure that people and the environment are protected. We must challenge polluting industry to protect us from their waste, whether it is from coal or oil.

And when they fail, let us hold them accountable.

– Robert

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