"That's Grumman Airport," my dad used to say. "Late at night, I can hear them testing engines over there."
Okay, Grumman was never an "airport." But it certainly was big enough to be one. Grumman was an aerospace equipment manufacturer that was in business in central Long Island from 1930 to 1994, when it sold to Northrop and closed up that particular shop.Their heyday was during the Cold War. Their products were so durable and reliable, many people just referred to them as an "iron factory."
Inevitably, a large-scale manufacturer in the late 20th century was going to use chemicals, and before the 1970s, no one gave a thought to what those chemicals were, where they could go, and what they could do when they got there. We started learning about environmental pollution when we were in middle school, and part of the uneasy feeling it gave us could be articulated as "Man, that's awful! ...But what exactly are we supposed to do about it?"
We knew better than to litter, or to buy aerosol products with CFCs (and fortunately, that dilemma was taken out of our hands after the government mandated that aerosols be reformulated, so we could use them without enlarging the hole in the ozone layer). But the heavy lifting, we knew, would have to be done by these manufacturers, and we assumed that the EPA would have enough authority to make them comply.
Well, surprise... there are some people out there who want to eliminate the EPA. It doesn't much help the agency's cause to have precipitated a huge spill into a Colorado river just this summer...
But why should we NEED government regulation in the first place? No one can claim ignorance of environmental impact any longer. You would THINK that people running factories would know that they and their families were just as vulnerable to toxic runoff in the water supply as anyone else, but sadly, the love of money seems to have blinded them to this simple biological fact. Not just for Grumman, but for every large-scale polluter anywhere in the world -- down here in Tennessee, we're still waiting to see how the 2008 coal-ash spill in Kingston TN will change the lives of everyone between there and the Atlantic ocean. The most horrifying thing about this, to me, is how the people responsible seem to have an attitude of "Oh, well, shit happens, whaddya gonna do?" In the South, it's more likely to be phrased as "It's God's will."
Growing up on Long Island in the 1960s and 1970s, we were often told about our water -- how amazingly pure and clean it was. New York City got theirs via a network of reservoirs that stretched all the way up to the Canadian border. You don't normally think of New York City in connection with "clean and pure," but them's was the facts back then. You didn't even have to look it up -- the water in New York really did taste better than in most other places. A classmate moved to Florida, where their water is often drawn from sulfur-infused wells -- she came back to visit and couldn't get enough of the tap water that we took so for granted. It was good stuff.
Fast-forward to this weekend. I was checking a Facebook page related to my home town, in preparation for my 40th high school reunion in October. My friends who still live there are talking about mysterious rashes they've been getting (by process of elimination, they've had to conclude that the problem lies in their shower water). The water even looks funny now. Sales of bottled water are going through the roof, like they are everywhere else.
Diagrams show what have come to be known as The Plumes. Sounds so pretty, doesn't it? But The Plumes are pools of carcinogenic pollutants that sullied the groundwater directly under Grumman for decades. And Grumman was so huge, the problem stayed largely confined to their property for the longest time. But when Grumman closed up shop and the land it sat on was converted to residential and commercial property, the usual surveys and studies revealed the extent of this "plume." More horrifying, the sludge had traveled much farther than anyone suspected. People many miles south were going about their business, innocent of what was bearing down on them, right under their feet.
I think it's a fairy tale that scientists and government officials can make this poisonous crap go away. The only place for it to go is the ocean, and we already know that our oceans have been gasping for breath since the mid-20th century. They've been besieged from all sides with fanatical over-fishing; islands of plastic landfill rejects that strangle sea birds, fish and mammals; raw sewage being pumped straight in from places that don't have the money to construct purification plants (which is most places, even in the US), nuclear bomb tests in the 1940s and 1950s, and large-scale disasters like the BP oil spill in 2010, and Fukushima in 2011.
The land's a mess; the water is a mess... And where does all that bottled water come from, anyway? And what happens when that "where" is used up?
Yes, this post is a bummer. I'm angry that my kid and his kids stand to inherit the ignorance and carelessness of their ancestors, who are now gone and don't have to take responsibility. And it looks like people my age and younger are taking the same "Oh, well, at least we've got money in the bank, fuck everyone else" attitude. I fear we've reached a point of no return. One day, all the taps are going to dry up and the world is going to turn into one big Scooby-Doo, with a "Rut-roh!" on its lips.
Where's Godzilla when we need him?