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The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environmentby Benjamin Ross
Synopses & Reviews
Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter here tell the story of how the chemical industry, abetted by a compliant government, set loose a plague of pollution that began in the years before and directly following World War II, a plague that still lingers today. The advent of new synthetic chemical products such as Nylon and DDT created new hazards just as the expansion and mechanization of industry exacerbated old ones. Environmental dangers well known today--smog, pesticides, lead, chlorinated solvents, asbestos, and even global warming--were already recognized in that era by chemists, engineers, doctors, and business managers. A few of them spoke out about these dangers, others overlooked scientific truth in pursuit of wealth and prestige, and many struggled to find a balance between the interests of industry and the needs of the wider world.
By the mid-twentieth century, the chemical industry understood that it needed to curb its pollution. But federal government regulation, the only mechanism by which effective control could have been accomplished, faced implacable hostility from the industry. Driven by the twin forces of pecuniary interest and ideological hostility to governmental control, it exercised its considerable political and economic power to block oversight. Discovery of new environmental problems was discouraged, and research that might find them was starved of funds. When dangers did emerge, well-paid advocates concocted grounds for doubt. If a crisis exploded into public view, money and influence were deployed to steer investigations toward reassuring conclusions.
The Polluters provides a panoramic view of intertwined political and scientific struggles in which the apparatus of science was harnessed to the pursuit of political victory rather than objective truth. The chemical industry lobbied congress, suppressed unwelcome research, co-opted experts, and, on occasion, simply used endless study as an excuse for inaction. Eventually the political and bureaucratic institutions created by the industry to fight off governmental oversight took on a life of their own and obstructed adequate environmental controls.
The chemical pollution that irrevocably damages today's environment is, although many would like us to believe otherwise, the legacy of conscious choices made long ago. During the years before and just after World War II, discoveries like leaded gasoline and DDT came to market, creating new hazards even as the expansion and mechanization of industry exacerbated old ones. Dangers still felt today--smog, pesticides, lead, chromium, chlorinated solvents, asbestos, even global warming--were already recognized by chemists, engineers, doctors, and business managers of that era. A few courageous individuals spoke out without compromise, but still more ignored scientific truth in pursuit of money and prestige.
The Polluters reveals at last the crucial decisions that allowed environmental issues to be trumped by political agendas. It spotlights the leaders of the chemical industry and describes how they applied their economic and political power to prevent the creation of an effective system of environmental regulation. Research was slanted, unwelcome discoveries were suppressed, and friendly experts were placed in positions of influence, as science was subverted to serve the interests of business. The story of The Polluters is one that needs to be told, an unflinching depiction of the onslaught of chemical pollution and the chemical industry's unwillingness to face up to its devastating effects.
About the Author
Benjamin Ross is President of the Washington consulting firm, Disposal Safety, Inc. He is both environmental scientist and commentator on current affairs, and has served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences and the USEPA Science Advisory Board.
Steven Amter is a Senior Environmental Scientist at Disposal Safety, Inc. who specializes in the history of pollution.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Sorcerer's Apprentices
Part I - Summoning the Spirits
Chapter 2 - Pollution Goes to Washington
Chapter 3 - The Rise of the Chemical Industry
Chapter 4 - Royd Sayers' Service Bureau
Part II - Fetching a Flood
Chapter 5 - The Miracle Bug-Killer
Chapter 6 - Wilhelm Hueper and Environmental Cancer
Chapter 7 - Bad Air in Los Angeles
Chapter 8 - Donora's Strangler Smog
Chapter 9 - A New Deal for Clean Water
Chapter 10 - Deregulating California's Water
Chapter 11 - The Stealth Pollutants
Part III - Holding Back the Deluge
Chapter 12 - DuPont Tries to Clean Up
Chapter 13 - The Industry Responds
Chapter 14 - From Donora to Love Canal
Chapter 15 - Epilogue: Convenient Hopes and Inconvenient Truths
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Engineering » Environmental Engineering » Pollution Control