Waiting for a Bhopal on the Calumet


GREAT LAKES, USA — A fire/explosion at the Chemical Waste Management facility on Stony Island in the Calumet River, near Chicago, around 12:30 a.m. on February 13 broke the door seals on the kilns burning hazardous waste and released undisclosed quantities of toxic substances into the air.

The incident comes just days after the company announced record final quarter profits for 1990 of almost $48 million.

Fortunately, there were no reported injuries to workers, who potentially suffer the most immediate consequences of the pressure to make huge profits by burning the kinds and quantities of waste that would cause such an accident.

Greenpeace pointed out that many environmental disasters seem always to happen under the cover of darkness, a time when many factories and waste management facilities exceed environmental regulations because of the lack of regulatory oversight.

"Do we have to wait for a Bhopal on the Calumet before EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] shuts this place down?", Greenpeace midwest toxics campaigner Charlie Cray asked.

"EPA claims this is the most closely monitored facility in the country. An incident like this proves that the technology is inherently unsafe and can't be made safe by regulatory oversight."

The company paid a record $3.75 million dollars in a settlement with the EPA last northern autumn. The fine resulted from charges brought against the company after a worker revealed that plant managers pressured him and others to ignore reportable spills and "burn as much as possible" while monitors were disconnected.

The facility has an extensive record of environmental violations, including occupational safety violations, violations of sewer discharge standards for heavy metals and PCBs and violations of transportation laws by trucks bringing in the waste. — Greenpeace US/PEGASUS