The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment

The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment

The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment

The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment


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.


Uncontrolled one, born in Hell
Will you drown our house entire
In the flood already streaming
Out every door and windowsill?
Corrupted broom that will not heed
Be lifeless stick again, I plead!

—J. W. von Goethe, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

DONORA, PENNSYLVANIA, BURIED ITS dead on Election Day. On Tuesday morning, November 2, 1948, the sun shone brightly on a gritty mill town that just two days earlier had emerged from a siege of poisonous smoke. For four days, stagnant air had trapped smelter fumes in the steep-sided valley where houses nestled alongside factory buildings. As the air grew thick with smoky fog, it took an effort just to breathe, and many sought refuge on higher ground. On Sunday, when the air at last cleared, nearly half the population was ill and 20 victims lay dead or dying. The homes of the dead were clustered around the zinc works, one of two metal plants that sustained the community.

Since Saturday, the town had been sending urgent calls for help to Washington. The appeals were rebuffed. On Tuesday morning, an official of the . . .

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