21. THE UNITED STATES AND OUR GLOBAL DUMPING GROUNDS
Each year 2.2 million tons of hazardous waste cross national
borders, turning the world into a global dumping ground. Looking at just one toxic
target, Taiwan, provides an insight to the enormity of the problem. Shipments
of scrap metal, 70% of it from the United States, arrive nearly every day on the
docks of Taiwan's Kaohsiung Harbor. These shipments contain transformers filled
with PCB-contaminated oil, old electrical equipment insulated with asbestos, and
used batteries containing poisonous lead and acid. Because most scrap-metal exports
are exempt from environmental controls in the U.S., and other countries, it is
left to the importing countries, like Taiwan, to deal with the dangers of recycling
this waste. As the search to find more toxic waste dump sites becomes more intense,
there is rising concern that the waste now being exported is producing potential
Love Canals all over the world.
Eugene Chien, head of Taiwan's newly formed
Environmental Protection Agency, claims that his country's problem has become
so serious, that in the past year, students, in schools near scrap-burning sites,
have had to wear masks in the classroom to cope with the pollution.
situation, in terms of health hazards, is so critical that Taiwan's EPA decided
to phase out the country's scrap-metal industry by 1993. So far, Chien has met
with resistance from government representatives from the United States. Officials
from the U.S. Trade Representative's office refused his initial plea for help
in eliminating export licenses from scrap companies in the U.S. "To our surprise,"
Chien said "the U.S. government says that because of the free trade ... (Taiwan
must) open the door for scrap metal."
Meanwhile, toxic waste kings,
such as Joe Chen, look for new sites to pollute. Chen, owner of Tung Tai Trading
Corporation with headquarters just south of San Francisco, constantly travels
around the U.S. to visit his scrap suppliers and then flies to Asia to supervise
deliveries. A major importer of Taiwan's toxic waste, Chen readily concedes that
the scrap-metal industry has profited at the expense of Taiwan's rivers, air,
and soil. Nonetheless, incensed over Taiwan's decision to phase out the industry,
Chen protests "For the last thirty years, the reason why Taiwan is so rich
is by buying this kind of junk. This is what makes Taiwan what it is today."
However, as space becomes limited and opposition increases, Chen has been forced
to look elsewhere for dumping locations. His latest target: The People's Republic
Taiwan and China are not alone in facing the Faustian bargain,
receiving much-needed hard currency in exchange for assuming the task of disposing
of hazardous waste that the United States and the rest of the developed world
does not want. Developing countries as diverse as Nigeria and Brazil face the
same bitter choice.
The United States alone generates more than 500 million
tons of hazardous waste a year, more than two tons a year for every man, woman,
and child in the country, and nearly ten times that of any other nation.
CENSORED RESEARCHER: DAN PARR
SOURCE: Center for Investigative Reporting, 530 Howard St., 2nd Floor,
San Francisco, CA 94105
DATE: November/December 1990 (Mother Jones Magazine)
TITLE: "Toxics `R Us"
AUTHOR: DAN NOYES
COMMENTS: The "Toxics `R Us" article in Mother Jones
was the result of a larger investigation conducted by the San Francisco-based
Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) since 1986 concerning the export
of hazardous waste around the world. In 1990, CIR's efforts in this
area produced a Public Broadcasting System "Frontline" special
hosted by Bill Moyers called "Global Dumping Ground," and
a companion book by the same title. The "Toxics `R Us" article
is a special treatment of information contained in both the book and
the documentary that resulted from investigative reporting by Dan Noyes,
Lowell Bergman, and William Kistner at CIR. This reporting on the global
effects of "recycling" was new and original work that had
not appeared in the mainstream U.S. press before. Investigative journalist
Dan Noyes said that while "The American press and public widely
believe that `recycling' is a major solution to our environmental problems
with waste disposal, the far-reaching effects of sending U.S. scrap
metal wastes to Third World nations for reprocessing has been completely
overlooked. After years of sending U.S. waste overseas, particularly
to Latin America and Taiwan, for `recycling,' this story reveals just
how dangerous this seemingly benign business can be and how the export
of this waste has been debated heatedly by U.S. government officials,
who have sided with business and free trade concerns over environmental
destruction and harmful health effects." Noyes believes that "The
general public needs to know that their own problems with waste are
actually international concerns that could affect relations between
countries and the quality of health and the environment worldwide."
The importance of publicizing issues that have been overlooked or underreported
by the mass media was reinforced by what happened since the PBS documentary
and the article appeared. As Noyes points out "Since our reporting
on battery exports and scrap metal recycling appeared in late 1990,
we have received calls from newspapers and television stations nationwide
asking for help in following up on the story. We are also negotiating
to produce a version of the documentary and book in Great Britain, to
be available by mid-1991 in bookstores and to air on the BBC's Channel
Four. The story elicited interest from the United Nations, the U.S.
and Taiwan EPAs (where a top official in Taiwan wrote back `to applaud
your wonderful program' and to `hope that enough of the American public
have had the opportunity to view it and be informed of the reality of
the global dumping ground'), and from other countries."