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May 23, 1979 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1979-05-23

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Page 4-Wednesday, May 22, 1979-The Michigan Daily
i Michigan Daily
Eighty-nine Years of Editorial Freedom
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI. 48109
Vol. LXXXIX, No. 16-S News Phone: 764-0552
Edited and managed by students
at the University of Michigan
Tunnel vision
sustains oil pinch
W HETHER OR NOT the gasoline shortage is
a ploy, or even a contrived situation, it is no
longer relevant to American consumers. Instead,
alleviating insufficient supplies in the short run
and altering circumstances which contribute to
them in the distant future comprise consumers'
most pressing needs.
But it is difficult for consumers to swallow the
rising prices and uncertain supplies when their
elected officials shirk their duties and expend
their energies seeking scapegoats. May 10, the
U.S. House of Representatives defeated President
Carter's emergency gas rationing proposal after
the Senate had approved the coupon plan. The
only part of Mr. Carter's energy package which
squeaked through unscathed regulates ther-
mostats in government buildings-hardly the
stuff of cogent conservation measures.
Eventually Congress must deal with America's
pendent reliance on oil. It must enact some type of
plan for emergency rationing in view of the oil
leaders' warnings that supply shortfalls may last
for another decade.
Price ceilings must be lifted from gasoline so
that Americans realize the extended severity of
the situation. This country has enjoyed syn-
thetically low prices far too long. If Americans
pay prices comparable to ones Europeans face,
wastefulness might be curbed.
But prices must rise gradually, for consumers'
purchasing power will be dwarfed by
shyrocketing costs. And although price elevation
would force lifestyle changes, drastic hikes might
produce economic crisis or devastate low income
Government and the involved industries can no
longer delay the shift to alternate energy sources
and the development of public transportation.
California's freeways and auto-oriented culture
have contributed greatly to rising consumption
there. But foresight saved cities such as Chicago,
which sports an extensive public transportation
network, from having to contend with such
calamities. A substantial portion of the windfalls
profits tax, if approved, should be put toward
public transport development.
Diesel-powered vehicles and fuel-saving im-
provements on the internal combustion engine are
merely procrastination ploys intended to boost
auto and oil company profits, not to answer
energy questions. Gasahol, shale oil, and coal are
also welcome but transitory remedies.
Expanding solar and wood energy industries
would open up low-skilled jobs and. reduce the
foreign debt as well. Beaming solar energy to ear-
th via space station collectors is another
unlimited source of power for which the necessary
technology already exists.4
The wealth of options suggests that government
and industry must face their responsibility to the
public instead of dumping on it. The question is
not what can be done to solve the problem, but
how. Only controlling parties'self-intersts stand
in theaway'..

Chemical garbage may be
a second-hand goldmine

Hazardous waste, ranging
from toxic chemicals to ex-
plosives, is fast emerging as one
of the nation's greatest environ-
mental problems. Abandoned
disposal sites are surfacing
across the country, while millions
of tons of mismanaged poisons
each year turn more land and
water into death zones.
In the rush to deal with the
crisis, however, decision makers
are often overlooking what might
be the only long-term
"PEOPLE TAKE it for granted
that you have to dump things,"
says Paul Palmer, operator of a
unique chemical recycling firm
in Oakland, Ca. "But if it hurts to
throw it out-and it does hurt no
matter how regulated the
disposal system is-why not keep
the waste and reuse it?"
The answer, quite simple, is a
lack of incentives, No laws to
require or encourage recycling
exist. It is cheaper and easier to
dump than reclaim hazardous in-
dustrial by-products.
Public awareness of the hazar-
dous waste menace has been at
Love Canal in Niagara Falls,
New York, where 200 families
living on top of a 30-year-old
chemical dump were evacuated
after they reported miscarriages,
neurological disorders and birth
defects. Thousands of drums of
cancer-causing chemicals buried
by Hooker Chemical and Plastics
Corporation have leaked into
back yards and basements.
Other tragic incidentsvare
springing up in almost every
IN LOUISVILLE, Kentucky, an
abandoned site known as "The
Valley of the Drums" holds as
many as 100,000 steel drums con-
taining a variety of unidentifiable
hazardous wastes. Many drums
are leaking and a creek running
through the site on its way to the
Ohio River reportedly once
caught fire; water tested by state
officials was "almost pure oil or
In Riverside, Cal., a 23-year-old
hazardous waste site containing
chromium, cadmium, zinc, lead
and DDT is leaking toxic wastes
into the groundwater table.
In Parrish, La., a young truck
driver died from inhaling toxic
fumes while discharging hazar-
dous wastes from his truck into
an open pit. Local citizens, told
that the state was powerless to
correct the situation, took mat-
ters in their own hands and bur-
ned down the bridge leading to
the site.
tection Agency (EPA) estimates
that of 344 million tons of in-
dustrial waste produced every
year, 10 to 15 per cent is hazar-
dous-defined as those wastes
that are toxic, chemically reac-
tive, flammable or corrosive.
(Radioactive wastes, covered by
other laws, are not included). It
has been-estimated there are
more than 32,000 dangerous
chemical dumps.
Most of the hazardous waste is
generated by a dozen industries,
including producers of iron and
steel, pestidsl, pharmaceutic-

By Michael Moss
als, petroleum, rubber, plastics
and textiles. Other major
producers include hospitals and
the Department of Defense. Up to
90 per cent is disposed of im-
properly, usually by dumping in
insecure ponds and landfills; ac-
cording to the EPA.
"New time bombs are created
every day while we are still
waiting for the old ones to blow
up," Leslie Dach of the Environ-
mental Defense Fund points out.
IN RESPONSE to growing
public concern, EPA has issued
proposed rules under the Resour-
ce Conservation and Recovery
Act of 1976 to control hazardous
waste disposal. These define
hazardous- wastes, require the
producer to keep track of their
disposal, and sets standards for
treatment, storage, and disposal
facilities. They do not require
recycling. "We haven't even
defined yet what hazardous
waste is," an EPA spokesman
Ironically, these new EPA
rules also fail to deal with the
most visible and pressing
problem-the abandoned
disposal sites such as Love Canal
and the Valley of the Drums.
The cost of both cleaning up
existing sites and controlling
future waste disposal is
staggering. EPA estimates are
as high as $50 billion and the
question of who should pay is
The General Accounting Office,
in a report issued earlier this
year, found that neither EPA nor
the states charged with im-
plementing the regulations have
the money to do a good job. The
study recommends the use of
waste disposal fees to make
regulatory programs self-
LAST YEAR, Michigan tried to
compel waste generators to pay
for the cleanup of hazardous
sites. The state went to court to
try to recoup $1 million spent to
clean out a site in Pontiac.
Chemicals dumped there
threatened to explode in hot
weather and send a toxic cloud
over the well-to-do suburbs. The
issue was sidetracked, however,
when 17 big waste generators
came up with an out-of-court set-
In light of the high cost and en-
vironmental damage associated

with hazardous waste disposal,
recycling should be a logical
alternative. But no federal laws
encouraging recycling exist, and
only one state has proposed such
"A main reason for this," says
Palmer, whose Zero Waste
Systems employs six staff per-
sons in recycling chemical
wastes, "is the throwaway men-
tality of Americans: 'I have
something that I don't want;
therefore it is garbageand
disgusting, and I should kick it
over the edge of the earth and
forget about it.'
"WE ARE PROVING that it is
technologically and economically
feasible to recycle hazardous
wastes," says Palmer, whose
company finds used or unwanted
chemicals that would normally
be thrown away and resells them
to other firms.
But the company is largely
restricted to unmixed or
unaltered substances, a small
fraction of the potential market.
The research needed for
developing new separation and
purifiction processes is simply
too expensive for his operation.
Government-funded research is
needed to develop that
technology, he argues.
In California, which has the
strongest lazardous waste
regulatory program in the coun-
try, the state health department
has operated a small recycling
pilot program for about a year.
Basically a state-supported con-
suting service,-it encourages
recycling by connecting waste
generators with chemical buyers.
But it has only one full-time em-
"We need more funding, staf-
fing, and thecommitment to
scale our program up," says
David Storm, regional director of
the hazardous materials section.
New state rules, effective in
late June, would encourage waste
producers to recycle by listing
those wastes that are presently
recyclable, and requiring
producers of those wastes to
justify not recycling. Storm says
however, that legislation is
neededto create aresearch
program that might develop the
processes that firms like Zero
Waste Systems need to recycle
hazardous wastes.
Michael Moss is an environmental
writer who did this piece for Pacific
News Service.

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