When Macro Meets Micro
by art holscher
Welcome to Utah. This is a land steeped in Native American history, blessed with the highest percentage of U.S. sunny days per year, and of course home to the greatest snow on earth. In Park City, November wanes without snow, but collectively we know that few days separate us from the soothing white blanket that will offer blissful days of skiing.
To the west, from my vantage atop the Canyons Ski Resort, lies a seedy side of Utah. Just passed Salt Lake City, on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, lies the Magnesium Corporation of America, ranked by the EPA as the #1 toxic air polluter in the country. It was the impressive 57.7 million pounds of chlorine gas released in 1997 that helped win them that honor. Have you ever tasted chlorine in your face shots?
There are also those pesky dioxin-contaminated waste ditches that are leeching into the Salt Lake. Who cares about dioxins anyway? After all, for 15 years, the Davis County garbage incinerator, north of Salt Lake, has released 1000 times the level of dioxin known to cause developmental, reproductive, and immunological dysfunction in humans. It seems strange to think that dioxin is considered one of the twelve most toxic, human-made chemicals on earth. Why would 90 countries sign an international treaty to ban its emissions? Why would there be 40 cases of brain cancer within five miles of the incinerator?
Gazing again to the west, I realize that details of the “environmental sacrifice zone” are tedious. Two chemical weapons incinerators, half of our nations stockpile of chemical weapons, a hazardous waste incinerator, a radioactive waste landfill, a hazardous waste landfill, a bombing range, and a proving ground for biological and chemical warfare agents, all lie within 100 miles of this ski resort. Hopefully, none of these entities will affect the snow or my ability to ski it. I’ve got this great pro-form deal on some Rossignol skis this year.
Here in Utah, I feel safe. My governor’s Division of Radiation Control just issued a license to Envirocare to accept low-level radioactive waste into the “sacrifice area” with no restrictions on where it comes from. This will include any of 700 possible radioactive substances, including Iodine 129 with a half-life of 16 million years, and Strontium-90, which follows the chemical pathways of calcium. You might remember Strontium-90 from the cadaver testing that demonstrated the dangers of nuclear testing. If you are under 50, there is likely some in your teeth, gently radiating into your face.
In the last election cycle, Envirocare contributed $90,000 to Utah politicians, of which $50,000 went to Governor Leavitt’s campaign. Envirocare presently operates the radioactive tailings landfill and the mixed waste landfill 60 miles west of Salt Lake. Safety Kleen operates the hazardous waste landfill and incinerators west of the Envirocare sites along I-80.
As their name suggests, Envirocare cares about the environment. They were, however, fined $44,000 last year, in part for improperly disposing of radioactive and hazardous waste. The year before, they were fined $160,000. Envirocare’s owner, Khosrow Semnani, paid the former Director of Radiation Control, Larry F. Anderson $600,000 in cash, gold coins, and real estate and was fined $100,000 as a result. This trustworthy company only lacks legislative and gubernatorial approval to begin shipping radioactive material from around the country and the world into Utah.
With Utah’s west desert as a repository for radioactive waste, our country’s energy plan calling for more nuclear power plants will proceed smoothly. The 83 percent decrease in federal funding for research into renewable energy is money well saved. We have plenty of room to store this type of waste. After all, only four of the six commercial low-level radioactive waste landfills are closed because of problems with leakage and environmental contamination. That shouldn’t happen in Utah, and if it does, how could it affect me, a hundred miles away, high in the mountains.
Storms from the west will soon cover this peak. I can then join hands with gravity and really feel alive. A human in motion, controlling his destiny for the moment, turn by turn, safe in the fluffy powder that insulates him from daily reminders of our callous society. Snow crystals pricking my rosy cheeks, unconcerned, truly living in the present, skiing through a sea of chlorine gas, dioxin, and radiation.