General Electric’s plan for the rest of our PCB contaminated Housatonic River is "natural recovery." After the recent meeting in Lenox it seems like a cleanup may be watering down. GE believes, that given enough time, the river will slowly recover. PCB concentrations will become less and less. I do not doubt this. Nature is resilient. The estimates on how many years this will take range from less than 100 years to more than 100,000. My question is, what might happen to us?
Believers of the very small amount myth say less of a dangerous chemical is safer. The lower the dose the less effect the poison has, right? Up until recently I believed this. For 400 years our culture has believed this. In the 1600s, the father of toxicology, Paracelsus, set the modern toxicology standards. Essentially he said, "The dose makes the poison." Some might kill you and less is safer.
Science has changed a lot since the 1600s. The study of hormones and hormone mimicking chemicals has come a long way. In 1997, Deborah Cadbury’s book, "The Feminization of Nature’’ argued that less is not always less harmful. Chemicals, like PCBs, affect us at certain concentrations. When we test for toxicity of chemicals we start with large amounts and work our way down. We stop when the affects stop. However, there exist concentrations where the effects start again that we
At very high concentrations PCBs are immediate health concerns. Systems can shut down. We’ve known they cause harm since the ‘40s. The GE factory workers who had their bare hands in PCBs often got quick onset bladder cancer. Contrary to what GE would like us to believe PCBs don’t stay where they were dumped. In spring, some PCBs volatize and float away from the river. Some concentrations crawl away in bugs or fly away in geese. Trees three miles from the river have PCBs in the fats of their bark. Much further away, Eskimos, because of our jet stream and bio-accumulation, have the highest PCB concentrations of any population. Maybe we should take another look at what might happen to our health if we let the river naturally recover.
I am suggesting that a natural recovery may be a dangerous solution spanning the longest amount of time. Natural recovery wasn’t how GE was forced to clean up the Hudson River. PCBs are not safe in super small amounts. GE believes natural recovery will lead us to less and less amounts of PCBs. This is what I am afraid of. I am also afraid nature will likely recover fine and we may not.