Field of Science

Business as usual – the Beautiful “purple” Danube

Here’s a real blot on the landscape as seen from space, the toxic sludge spill in Hungary. If you mix enough toxic red sludge with a beautiful blue you must get a purple color, but any way you want to look at it heavy metal pollution is an environmental disaster even before reaching the region’s major river, which it now has done. Top to bottom you can see the red stain several kilometers downstream from the alumina plant sludge reservoir. The terrible thing about this is how impossible it is to clean up. Organisms accumulate heavy metals, so any such pollution will remain in the biosphere for a long, long time. Not only that but heavy metals accumulate up a food chain, a phenomenon called biological magnification. And even without the spill, we may ask what was the alumina plant, and indeed any such industry, going to do with this toxic sludge? The Phactor figures that at some point in the future, when the resources feeding the plant are depleted or the equipment out-dated, the corporation will just waltz away from their lake of toxic sludge with a shrug and an oh well, that’s the cost of doing business. And it’s not just in foreign countries; beneath Kodak Park in Rochester NY a plume of toxic materials is spreading toward the nearby Genesee River that empties into Lake Ontario just a few miles to the north. Business plans and indeed the price of many commodities fail to include the environmental damage and clean up costs, but in the end we all pay. Of course the corporation will have made money by ignoring the fact that their profits came at the expense of the environment and people. And any and all attempts to increase regulations and impose such rules bring out the GnopeP screaming that’s anti-business legislation. So this is a good question to ask aspiring politicians everywhere, “Does being pro-business means being anti-environment, or is the only way to make money by despoiling nature?”

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