Mrs. Jones Goes to Washington

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Last Dec. 6, exactly one year after Vice President-elect Gore’s ringing vow that the East Liverpool incinerator would never be allowed to run without a thorough investigation, the Government Accountability Project, Greenpeace, and Mother Jones held a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. Neither Gore nor any member of his office attended. The investigation he’d promised was still proceeding with no visible progress and no end in sight.

In the stately hall, a university professor wittily told how a hazardous-waste incinerator was “coming soon to a neighborhood near you”–but only if your neighborhood was poor, populated by racial and ethnic minorities, and desperate for jobs. The GAP and Greenpeace people spoke of the legal issues involved and the appalling scientific hazards. GAP released a study describing the contamination of the national food supply by incinerator dioxin emissions as “catastrophic.” And citizen activists (from places like Jacksonville, Ark., and Rock Hill, S.C., as well as East Liverpool, Ohio) read from prepared texts.

The day before, at the rehearsal for the briefing, they told us how they’d done everything they were brought up to do. They’d noticed something wrong in their neighborhoods. They’d looked into the matter. Some of them had become experts on the subject of hazardous-waste incineration in general and the conditions in their local plants in particular. They’d taken their disturbing findings to the EPA and to their elected representatives. Nothing happened. Like good Americans, they went to the Capitol and politely spoke their minds. Then the citizens went home. And nothing went right on happening.

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