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Should Raising Your Kids in a Fouled Environment be Considered Child Abuse?

Evansville.

Recently, someone chided methat if I was so concerned about the annual emission of 40+ million pounds of toxic chemicals by regional power plants in the Ohio River valley, and still chose to raise my kids here, that I should be charged with “child abuse.”

I replied that his question deserved some community discussion.

Does exposing our children to these tons of toxins expose us, as parents to at least a moral inquisition? Is it parents who are responsible for the chemical exposures that give so many kids around here cancer, asthma and other infirmities? These are legitimate questions and go to the heart of the problem we have as residents in a sacrifice zone for the nation’s production of electricity.

Personally, I tend to place the blame on the companies that are profiting from the pollution they foist upon us, but I am sure there are people who still fail to grasp to magnitude of the problem here as compared to elsewhere.

Look at the tiny town of Rockport, IN, population-2032. In that case, just two industries- AK Steel and AEP’s Rockport Power Plant were known to emit 20,889,123 pounds of toxins into the local environment in 2009 the last year data is available. These emissions included arsenic, chlorine, dioxin, chromium, mercury, sulfuric and hydrochloric acids. And that was in a year of deep recession where those plants were far below their capacity.

Compare that to Chicago or all of Cook County, IL which is an industrial giant. All the industries in that city emitted the relatively small quantity of 8,039,100 pounds of toxins or just 38% of the toxic emissions of tiny Rockport’s two major industries. Cook County has a population of 5,194,675.

Meanwhile, Vanderburgh County, including Evansville had total toxic emissions of only 111,155 pounds and 25% of that was from Whirlpool which is now closed and will emit no more.

But the counties around us, due mainly to coal fired power plants showed the following emissions:

Posey County- 2,677,701 pounds
Warrick County- 4,168,170 pounds
Gibson County- 6,903,566 pounds
Pike County- 5,347,283 pounds
Henderson County- 35,293,139 pounds (figured differently due to onsite landfills at their power plants)
Daviess County- 1,939,160 pounds

Unfortunately, there is little discussion about this morbid data in our community as if we are trying to deny it, lest we hurt our chances for greater economic development.

But denial is not working since non polluting companies clearly understand that it is not wise to locate key personnel and other assets in a community that is so willing to foul its own nest.

Just last week, I understand that community leaders came together in an attempt to have an honest discussion of the problems we face. Even though the event took place during yet another ozone alert, there was virtually no discussion of this issue until the very end of the meeting when it was raised by a local politician who is currently seeking office.

Until we come to grips with the fact that Evansville is being severely impacted by all the pollution that is allowed to occur around us, our chances for growth are going to be limited not by our eager and ready workforce or by a lack of ideas or even capital. Instead, Evansville is being killed by the fact that we sit in the middle of astounding levels of toxic pollution that surround us from every direction.

Sadly, our local leaders seem intent on forming alliances with those same polluters in both industry and government instead of looking out for the interests of Evansville and Vanderburgh County. Perhaps that can change with the next election if those running for city office this year have the courage to point some fingers and begin the process of protecting the health of local citizens instead of the economic interests of the massive polluters around us.

If not, we surely are all guilty of child abuse and should be thusly held accountable.

John Blair is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who serves as president of the environmental health advocacy group Valley Watch in Evansville, IN. He is a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. (AK Press) His email address is ecoserve1@aol.com