Non-polluters Forced to Pay Costs of Pollution
The Real Cost of Pollution is Kept Hidden
This article originally appeared in the Green Bay News-Chronicle (Wisconsin, USA) and is distributed by evworld.com
by Curt AndersenThe price we pay for some things is occasionally much less than their actual cost. There are numerous examples of such "external costs" or "externalities."
The example most familiar to Fox River Valley residents is the cost of papermaking. The price of paper is lower because instead of treating pollution, or not polluting in the first place, mills pass pollution costs to the consumer. This immoral shortcut has led to the pollution of the Fox River and the ruination of the fishing and tourism industries in Northeast Wisconsin.
Operating a mine in Crandon would have external costs. The ore is contained in sulfurous rock. Sulfuric acid is created when sulfurous rock comes in contact with oxygen and water. The mining companies have not proposed building a wastewater treatment plant, so the external cost of mining would include the destruction of the fish habitat in the Wolf and Fox rivers, which would lead to the thumping of the tourism industry and a reduction in property values. Those external costs would be borne by the public, not by the mining company. The use of cyanide in the mining operation would give us a cocktail of trouble for local citizens.
Burning coal to generate electric power leads to methyl mercury contamination. The molecules of methyl mercury travel on the wind and fall into our lakes, where they are taken up by microscopic plants and animals, which are eaten by various forms of marine life, then by fish, which are then eaten by people. Mercury accumulates in the body and can lead to learning disabilities in the young, paralysis, and brain and nerve damage.
The cost is not borne by the power company. It is borne by the families of children who have difficulty in school, by insurance companies who have to cover the cost of diagnosis and treatment, and by the victims, who lose time at work.
The costs of storing spent nuclear fuel and keeping it out of the hands of terrorists for 10,000 years will be externalized and exceedingly high. The cost will be borne by the public through tax dollars. The cost will not be properly accounted for.
A July-August 2000 The Other Side article by the late Jesuit peace activist Phillip Berrigan spoke of yet another external cost from radioactive materials -- the use of "depleted uranium" (U-238) for ammunition.
Not much less radioactive than raw uranium, depleted uranium is being used to coat shells used to destroy tanks. The dense material will easily penetrate tanks and armored vehicles. But as those shells hit, they shatter into zillions of particles, which can be carried on the wind for up to 25 miles and contaminate the soil for the next 4.2 billion years. These particles were ingested and/or inhaled by many Gulf War troops who came home to suffer with symptoms of radiation poisoning. More than 400 Gulf War veterans have died from cancer, respiratory, kidney or liver failure. More than 110,000 of those veterans suffer from chronic illnesses. Who knows how many babies of veterans were born with deformities because of radiation?
None of those veterans was warned about the deadly spent uranium shells.
How different our lives would be if we had to consider real costs. Maybe it's time we figure that out.
Andersen is a lifelong resident of the Green Bay area and a Navy veteran. He owns a small business and is an adjunct instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. He is vice president of Clean Water Action Council.
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