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Student Essay-- A Legacy of Industrial Pollution


Ryan Vincent

Dr. Collins and Dr. Patterson


Final Paper - Environment in East St. Louis

No one can deny the progress made during the United States' industrial revolution, but after some industries left American cities, they left behind a cesspool of toxic waste (Hurley). The waste left behind holds particularly true for East St. Louis, and the decades of damage upon the air, water, and soil of the city need repair. After nearly a century of industrial waste being dumped in or near the city, citizens became aware of the implications of these industries on their health and wellness (Colten 23). The factories, which surround East St. Louis, spew smoke and particulate matter into the air and may correlate to a heightened rate of asthma (Kozol 20) . This legacy of dumping industrial wastes within the city has left parts of the city with heavy metals (i.e. lead, mercury, etc.) in the soil (Kaminski and Landsberger). The lead in the soil, most of which has been removed and replaced in recent years, became a major concern of the area due to the high rates of lead poisoning in children, which has been known to cause mental handicaps (Marcus).

Monsanto and Lanson Chemical Companies dumped their wastes in and around East St. Louis. Since the 1930s, Illinois has worked toward cleaning up the pollution of the East St. Louis area with limited success. The major problem in the past had been the possible displacement of jobs if Illinois asked the industries to better regulate their emissions. In recent years however, a number of issues have been addressed, including the replacement (and bioremediation) of lead-contaminated soil and the stronger regulations of an incinerator near the city. This recent clean-up of the city's environmental problems provides a hope for a brighter and safer future. The rise and fall of industry in East St. Louis showcases the necessity of holding corporations accountable for the pollution they have created. Corporations which have polluted the environment should be held liable for the cleanup of their own mess; furthermore these corporations should be held responsible for the health of the citizens that have been affected by the pollution.

The legacy of industrial pollution in East St. Louis haunts the city, ever since the industries began operating in and around the area. Although many industries operated in the vicinity during various times, Monsanto and Lanson Chemical companies produced immense amounts of industrial waste during the twentieth century. In the nearby town of Sauget, which the Monsanto Corporation founded, the Environmental Protection Agency established two Superfund Sites; a Superfund site is:

"…any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment (Environmental Protection Agency)."

These Superfund Sites, which have been found to contain dioxins, polychlorinated byphenols (PCBs), and a variety of other dangerous chemicals (Environmental Protection Agency), pose an obvious health risk to the nearby town of East St. Louis and show Industrial wastes exist in the environment. Although the government should identify Superfund sites, the fiscal responsibility lies with the polluting corporation to clean up their industrial pollution. Furthermore, the government should institute a policy requiring any companies which operated in the area to pay for most, if not all, of the pollution clean-up. Another corporation, Lanson Chemical Company, dumped extreme amounts of toxins into the environment of East St. Louis and the surrounding locale. In 1990, approximately 100,000 gallons of toxins still existed on the Lanson Chemical Company site, even though the company stopped chemical production in 1978 (Illinois Department of Public Health). Although the company properly stored some toxins, an investigation by the Illinois Environmental Agency found many toxins (i.e. lead and PCBs) on the grounds of the complex and in nearby waterways (Illinois Department of Public Health). In addition to industrial wastes being dumped into the ground, pollutants from these companies escape into the environment through the smokestacks on their factories and fumes from chemical storage leaks.

The Lanson Chemical Company released many such toxins into the air; complaints of strong odors occurred as early as the 1970s and continued through its entire operation. No specific data exists for during or after the company's operation, however, a study done in 1991-1992 revealed that nearly 10,000 pounds of ammonia and 121,000 pounds of sulfuric acid had been released into the air in and around East St. Louis (Illinois Department of Public Health).

The Monsanto facility around the city also spews many pollutants into the air. According to Scorecard, the Pollution Information Site, Monsanto's factory in Sauget released approximately 5000 tons of pollutants in 1999 and ranked among the worst factories in the United States for emissions (Green Media Toolshed). Furthermore, the Monsanto facility in East St. Louis produced chemicals containing PCBs up until their outlaw in 1977; this explains the large amounts of PCBs in the soil in and around the city. In addition to both ground and air pollution, the industries in and around East St. Louis polluted many waterways, including the Mississippi River.

According to Craig Colten, in the Environmental History Review, "By 1929 there were 116 industries which commonly used hazardous materials in Madison and St. Clair counties…[these] industries began to release their liquid and semi-liquid effluent into the numerous abandoned channels and backwater lakes" (100). This quotation shows many companies would dump their hazardous wastes into nearby bodies of water, which polluted them to extreme measures; a waterway, known as Dead Creek, used for such dumping held a rumor for glowing at night and held reports of spontaneous combustion (Kozol 17). Although specific information on the amounts of Monsanto and Lanson Chemical's water pollution cannot be found in the East St. Louis area; the companies' history of dumping wastes both onto land and into the air, proves they would not hesitate to rid their industrials wastes into water. One account of Monsanto dumping pollutants into a pond occurred in Alabama; on the site of the pond in 1966 Monsanto officials noted, "…fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water" (Grunwald). This disturbing discovery shows that in 1966 Monsanto knew the dangers of PCBs, but still produced them for another decade. Monsanto published an advertisement, in the East St. Louis Monitor, directed at African Americans in 1976; which basically said that the opportunity for young African Americans to work in their factories will be available upon adulthood (Monsanto). This advertisement, featured in an African American Newspaper, shows an obvious concern over the reputation of the company within predominantly African American communities (i.e. East St. Louis).

Since circa the 1930s, Illinois has tried to clean up and prevent pollution of the areas in, and around East St. Louis. The first such attempt to create a less polluted environment occurred with the Sanitary Water Board in 1929. This board sought to convince factories in the area to clean up the pollution they created, instead of forcing them to, which would probably decrease the number of jobs in the factories (Colten 103). The board succeeded in reducing the number of oil slicks on the Mississippi River because of the encouragement to install skimmers; however, the fact this board dealt primarily with waterways, many of the companies simply began dumping their wastes onto nearby land (Colten 103). Although the Illinois Sanitary Water Board attempted to somewhat limit the dumping of industrial effluent in the area, the court system worked against them by permitting industries the right to dump relatively unlimited amounts of waste. In a court case decision, the International Shoe Company appealed a court verdict that its wastes posed as a nuisance to nearby residents; the court eventually sided with the International Shoe Company by deciding the court expected wastes from any given factory, and stated if they had sided for the residents, court cases would be filed all across the United States (Colten 104). According to Colten, "…the judges granted license for unchecked releases of industrial wastes into the atmosphere and into waterways…" (Colten 104). This court case decision shows that during this time, little hope existed for any regulations or restrictions to be placed on industries in regards to the wastes they produced and dumped.

Moving into later twentieth and twenty-first century East St. Louis pollution, Illinois has significantly renovated its stance on industrial pollution, and encouraged the forming of groups (statewide, locally, and even nationally) to help clean up East St. Louis. One such organization, known as the Community Environmental Resource Program (CERP), has information dealing with high lead content in soils and citizens' illegally dumped trash (because of no trash pickup). They provide detailed maps of problem spots within the city of East St. Louis, and give information on various subjects, such as the dangers of lead and lead poisoning. CERP states its purpose is to help citizens, "…learn about environmental problems in your neighborhood, how conditions are changing over time, and what you can do be done about them" (CERP). In a 2002 news release by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the agency began the removal of lead contaminated soil in two sites within East St. Louis (Carson). In a follow-up article, the IEPA declared the removal of the lead tainted soil a success and promptly and safely disposed of the soil (and other dumped trash on the sites) in a nearby dump (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency). This removal process shows that the state of Illinois has a strong dedication to helping its citizens' long term health and the environment. One more victory, which furthers proves Illinois' commitment to cleaning up the environment, occurred in February 2006 when the Environmental Protection Agency ruled an incinerator in East St. Louis must "clean up its act" (Illinois Sierra Club).

The report stated the Onyx Hazardous Waste Incinerator did not protect the citizens in the surrounding areas due to the fact they did even try to filter out particulate matter, mercury, or dioxin emissions; the company merely let these toxins release into the atmosphere and then rain back down on citizens in adjacent towns (Illinois Sierra Club). The state of Illinois forced this incinerator to begin properly filtering and disposing of its wastes. Even though the clean-up is far from being over, many things continue to address the issue and, in time, East St. Louis will be within Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and a much healthier place to live.

The use of government funds to clean up industrial-polluted areas should not continue, as the polluting corporation should take responsibility for this financial burden. As a response to a study performed in 1999, which found lead levels in the soil to be in excess of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, the Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation and Deployment, Inc. received a 50,000 dollar grant, from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) to use towards the clean-up of the Western Forge Works Site, in East St. Louis (Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation and Deployment Incorporated). Governmental money used towards the clean-up of an area polluted by a factory's operation does not make sense. Although the identification of sites which need to be renewed has importance in the government, the responsibility of paying for the clean-up should fall on the factory (corporation) that polluted the site in the first place. Furthermore, the health costs of the citizens harmed by the pollution should be the fiscal duty of the companies which polluted the environment to such an extent that the soil around a citizen's home or school can be potentially life threatening. The disturbing rate of lead poisoning in children within the city created the need for lead-infected soil to be fixed or removed however, no data collection occurred on the monetary support given for people whom have been infected with lead poisoning. Also, theories arose that the pollution in the city may heighten rates of cancer and asthma, although no data exists to confirm these propositions.

After the progression through the industrial age and into the age of information, the world now notices the tons of industrial waste left in the environment. This dumping of industrial wastes occurred in East St. Louis since the beginning of the twentieth century, and needs to be cleaned up. This clean-up must be regarded as the corporations' responsibility because these companies put the dangerous substances into the ground, water, and the air around their factories. In addition to cleaning up the mess these companies have made, it should also be their responsibility to support anyone poisoned, harmed, or otherwise adversely affected from the pollution the corporations have willing made, in the sake of profit.


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