Thursday, June 08, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Chemical Valley

I stepped in it a bit with today's column. Sarnia is a city about 45 minutes to the west of London. It is the center of a region known as Chemical Valley. Lots of petrochemical firms have located there, and it has enjoyed a bit of a reputation for environmental messiness. OK, maybe "a bit" is understating it. According to some studies, its pollution levels contribute to some frightening health-related consequences.

Of course, according to many supporters of the area's industries, everything's been cleaned up, and it's now a lovely green part of the world.

It is these people who have responded in fairly vocal protest to this piece. I've been called names, and I've even been asked to print a retraction. The language used in the process has been nothing short of profane. Fun stuff...I love when I strike a chord with readers. Here's what I published:
Chemical Valley, chemical world
Published Thursday, June 8, 2006
The London Free Press

Canary, meet your coal mine.

Members of two Sarnia families found out this week that their bodies are laced with a wicked brew of poisonous chemicals. I’d wager that similar tests on anyone else in southern Ontario would yield similar results.

It’s no secret that Sarnia is an environmental quagmire. Overrun by the petrochemical industry, the city’s residents quite literally make a deal with the devil: The engine of their economy might also be slowly poisoning them.

But London shouldn’t be so smug. We’re just downwind, and our own record of environmental abuse is nothing to be proud of. While evidence mounts that cosmetic pesticide spraying is already making us sick in ways we barely understand, we waste years debating the merits of pretty lawns.

London City Council votes on our proposed pesticide bylaw next Monday. But the Sarnia family’s experience suggests the damage is already being done.

It’s time to dispense with the chemical pushers’ agenda and recognize that our head-in-the-sand approach to environmental management is likely killing us.

-30-
Your turn: I know I pushed it a bit with the language. I wanted folks to pay attention, and they did. But am I being unfair or is it within my journalistic rights to tweak the noses of industry to bring light to our blase environmental awareness policies and attitudes?

One more thing: I'm looking forward to your feedback. I'll post some content from readers in the days to come. I suspect I haven't heard the last from folks just yet.

12 comments:

kimananda said...

Michele sent me...o.k., now that part's out of the way!

I think what you wrote is very interesting...as an academic, I always question where the specific facts/numbers/etc. are when I read something like this, though. But I know that the idea of most journalism is more to raise interest than to provide evidence of anything. And you've raised my interest to find out more, so well done.

Sherry said...

You question whether or not you pushed the language too far. In my estimation, you could push much harder. We (North Americans) have become desensitized to all the ways chemicals saturate our environments. Think of the chemicals used by the cosmetics industry: make-up, perfumes, hair dyes. What about the fire retardants sprayed on mattresses, furniture, cribs, clothing? Never mind the turn agriculture took 50-60 years ago when it began embracing pesticides, herbicides and genetically engineered food as a means to increasing yields, and therefore profit. You might ask yourself ‘what aspect of my life is not touched by chemicals” because it certainly isn’t your house, you car, your electronics, your clothes, or your food, never mind the air you breathe.

sherryc@athabascau.ca

Sparkling Diamond said...

I don't know any of the facts, but I am glad for journalists such as you...to not be afraid to look at 'the other side'. When it comes to the health and well-being of the human family, (vs. the bottom line of some corp)someone has to take a stand. I didn't think your language was harsh at all!

Here from Michele's

ribbiticus said...

excellent job! i don't think you pushed the issue too far. freedom of speech is best exercised when it is done in favor of the common good. and what cause is more worthwhile than saving the environment? people in government, even ordinary folk, have to get a waker-upper once in a while so that constructive action may be taken. it will be a very sad day indeed when no one cares enough to speak out about such issues. am eagerly awaiting your next post about this. :)

CanEragon said...

If memory serves, not only are the plants poisoning the land, they are also poisoning th air. They might say that "greenhouse" emissions are nominal and non-threatening, or that they must stay in operation because it may be the lifeblood of the area, but at what cost to the population and the environment?

If Canada pulls out of the Kyoto accord these "bug ticket" plants get the green light to persue their means in the fashion they always have.

I think Canadians are able to take some more direct pressuring with a little stronger language. I think as others have stated that language could be stepped up a little and we should see "shock value" coming from the pens of journalists and writers.

I also think that a BIG dose of reality is what complacent readers and arm chair observers need to see and read to stir them into action to stop this environmental abuse by big industrial companies such as these you wrote about.

Those who seek and speak the truth are usually ridiculed for their work, but You my friend have a tougher skin that that I think. Intimidation needs to to stemmed out if progress is to be made in "Cleaning Up" Canada.

if memory serves...

Michael Manning said...

Carmi: As a first-class journalist whose work I have read for some time now I can say you have nothing to apologize for. Nuclear power plants scare the hell out of me. All we hear in the US is how "Clean" they are. One must ask how "Clean" it is to have the as yet unsolved problem of what to do with the nuclear waste! It goes beyond the ken of human imagining that we store it in double insulated lead "caskets" placed on railroad tracks that lead it inside of a New Mexico Mountain. The waste is literally boiling for an estimated 1,000 years. One need only examine the documentary PBS did on Chernobyl. Two workers (one of whom refuses to wear protective garments) walk the leaking and faulty facility that nearly melted to the core 25 years ago. Now the concrete encasing the mess is crumbling. We must harnes the suns energy! Thanks Carmi, for yet another subject that needs vigorous debate!

craziequeen said...

To the wrong-doers, the truth hurts too much.......

as Shakespear put it so well 'Methinks they do protest too much!'

Well done, Carmi my friend. Well said...

cq

kenju said...

I drove through Sarnia when I was 16. We were on our way to Niagara Falls from St. Johns, Michigan. How about that!?

wendela said...

I don't see how you pushed a bit with the language. It wasn't harsh at all. I'm interested in hearing more about this and how the industries' supporters can validate their objections to what you wrote.

(Found you through Naomi's blog.)

Chas Ravndal said...

It's an interesting read. These situations are almost everywhere. It is somewhat sad that the industry you are working and the source of your livelihood can also be your own poison.

emiel emanuel said...

use of the word "wicked" seems a bit unnecesssary....you mention the waste is poisonous. just seems a bit redundant.

good, to the point quib though.

i always feel awkward reading stuff like this though. its like complaining or celebrating without really offering viable alternatives or without seriously considering other perspectives.

should people from toronto stop creating garbage? just makes it seem like London could never have a waste management problem...

for that, its not convincing.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that neither of these women work at any chemical plant, raising the assumption that their exposure is just from proximity. Why has there been no further testing of other families in Sarnia to ensure this isn't just the new norm...