Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paying for pollution

Today’s morning paper had this headline, “Fish Fail Mercury Test” with the subhead, “Toxin found in 100 percent of samples from streams across the U.S.; industrial pollution blamed.”

Basically, a federal study of mercury contamination released Wednesday described testing fish from nearly 300 streams across the country and finding mercury in EVERY SINGLE FISH of over the 1,000 fish that were examined. In what was apparently supposed to pass as the good news in this story, the Federal study also noted that ONLY 25% of fish had mercury levels exceeding what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for people eating “average” amounts of fish. The EPA defines average as about one fish meal every two weeks, which is far less than many people living on the east and west coast would eat, and a fraction of what many Asian Americans eat.

To me, this kind of study reinforces the fact that water must be seen as part of the commons, and our water commons has been enclosed by pollution. In order to clean up water (and air, and over a long period of time, fish), corporations must be required to pay for the total cost of all they produce, from acquisition to disposal. Waste created by production of goods (or in this case energy, as most of the mercury came from coal fired power plants) is called “externalities.” But many of us commoners believe that if industry had to take responsibility for the waste it produces, it would figure out how not to produce it. Simply trading carbon credits is not going to solve the waste problem ultimately. A high tax on waste and a high tax deduction on no-waste, and tax credits for waste reduction will cause corporations to use their research arms and their vast creativity to create clean ways to produce goods, and to recycle or re-use the by products of production.

The good news for me in this article? 100 percent. No one, no matter how rich or how protected, is safe from fish with mercury. No one can possibly eat fish from the United States that does not have at least a trace of mercury. I can only hope that this means that corporate owners, shareholders and the Congress people they support will look at their own children and want them to grow up healthy, smart and active, which is only really possible when water—a basic need—is pollution free.

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