Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chemical Pollutants

This is the final unit in the ENVR 2000 course and deals with, well, how chemicals affect people and the environment when improperly disposed of. I'll start off with some definitions we learned in class:

EMS: Environmental Management System ISO 14001
Triple Bottom Line reporting: Voluntary Corporate reporting, Economic, social, environmental

Essentially these definitions refer to how companies handle their relationship with the environment, for good or ill. We covered two major disasters involving improper handling of chemicals and their affects on the local population.

The first was the case of Love Canal. The canal was created in the 1890’s by a William Love and it was dubbed William Love Canal Upper Niagara to Niagara escarpment. The canal was 3000 feet long, 10 feet deep, 60 feet wide. The project was never finished and in 1942 Hooker Chemical Company purchased it and the permission to dump wastes in it until 1952. In 1953 the canal was topped with soil. Later on the land was sold and in 1955 an elementary school with playground was built right on top of the canal. By 1957 storm sewers, roads, utilities had all been put in and later on several hundred homes built. The mid 1970's saw heavy precipitation which caused viscous chemicals to seep into in basement, sumps and caused vegetation to die, and permanent puddles of filth. Holes opened in fields, where people found waste drums containing about 200 chemicals and 12 carcinogens as well as numerous unrecorded and unknown substances as well. The affects of the chemical on the local peoples is covered in my previous post titled Chapter 23: Controversy at Love Canal by Baverly Paigen. Aug 12, 1978 was when pregnant women, children under 2 were forced to leave (thankfully). The after affects of Love Canal include 300 and more homes being demolished, groundwater treatment and creeks fenced off as well as numerous studies of the area (who's results are unavailable to the public). Since 1990, over 200 people have bought renovated homes near Love Canal.

The total cost for handling Love Canal was
- Investigate, halt seepage $150 million
- Cleanup creeks, sewers, study effects, $32 million
- Cost to dispose of wastes in today’s dollars: $2 million

The second incident took place in Bhopal, India. It had a rail system, lake, and a population of 900,000 people. Union Carbide, a pesticide factory, resided in the centre of town and had been there for some years and provided numerous jobs to local peoples. Carbaryl, a chemical produced by Union Carbide is a carbonate pesticide, cholinesterase inhibitor and contains methyl isocyanate. A very toxic gas that burns the eyes and lungs.. On Dec 2, 1984 gas was released from a leak. At 10:30 pm the gas that had entered a water tank experienced a pressure release. It then spilled out as a heavier than air gas into Bopal. It is estimated that between 3,800 to 15,000 people experienced immediate death while up to 50,000 suffered chronic diabilities.

How could this have happened? Well here is a list of causes
- There were staff cuts to save money
- People who came with safety complaints were punished
- No disaster plan
- Tank alarms not functioning
- Backup system not functioning (one not four)
- Tank above capacity (27 tons released)

Currently there is are civil and criminal cases about the Boal Disaster underway in the United States District Court, Manhattan and the District Court of Bhopal, India against Union Carbide. Union Carbide is now owned by now owned Dow Chemical Company, with an Indian arrest warrant pending against Warren Anderson the CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster. No one has yet been prosecuted to date.

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