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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Foul Mess

The Republican War on Superfund directly caused New Orleans to become a deadly chemical dump.

The official death count in New Orleans has already topped 400. Bodies are still being recovered. Yet the most frightening aspect of Katrina could be that the vast majority of those who will die have yet to get sick. The reason is that Katrina turned New Orleans' existing toxic waste into a deadly toxic dump.

Some of the toxic waste seeping into water in New Orleans could not have been prevented. The grease and gas from 350,000 automobiles; cleaning supplies in 160,000 homes; the spread of raw sewage. Many of the 66 chemical plants surrounding New Orleans were damaged and leaked chemicals into the floodwater.

The tragedy, however, lies in the preventable toxic damage. The Agricultural Street Landfill takes up 95 acres of New Orleans. It contains both city garbage and industrial waste. The site was sprayed with tons of DDT in the 40s and 50s. For a few years the area has been fenced and covered with soil. Unfortunately, the landfill now lies three feet below water. A real fear exists that the contents of the landfill will now spread into the floodwaters and pollute large areas of New Orleans.

The landfill is a Superfund site, just waiting to get cleaned up. 2 other Superfund sites were also flooded: Bayou Bonfouca site in Slidell, La., and the Madisonville Creosote Works.

Cancer and other health problems are certain to result from the seepage of toxic waste in New Orleans. These deaths can be traced back to actions taken by the Republican Party. In 1980, the Democratic Congress created Superfund to clean up toxic waste dumps left by corporate interests. Superfund created a tax on oil and chemical companies that funded a trust fund used to clean up toxic waste dumps. The idea of the tax made a lot of sense -- for some companies, they would be better off going bankrupt than cleaning up their mess, but the American people still had an interest in cleaning up the toxic waste. Pooling the resources of the polluters and forcing them to pay a tax -- a kind of toxic waste insurance -- is the most efficient, effective way of ensuring the cleanup of toxic waste dumps. Tax dollars from American citizens supplemented the fund, but the vast majority was paid by polluters.

In 1995, the Republicans retook Congress after Newt Gingrich's infamous "Contract with America." One of their first acts was to repay their corporate cronies. As such, Congress failed to renew the tax on polluters that made up the vast majority of Superfund's resources.

In 1995, taxpayers paid only 18% of Superfund. On September 30, 2003, Superfund ran out of polluter contributed funds due to the Republican abolishment of the tax in 1995. As such, today taxpayers pay 100% of Superfund. Funding has become insufficient and many locations simply aren't getting cleaned up now. 46 sites this year alone received inadequate funding.

The Republicans deny the moral responsibility of polluters to clean up their own mess. Murdering citizens by exposing them to toxic waste so that your corporate cronies can buy that 4th vacation home constitutes absolute moral bankruptcy. The Democratic Party created Superfund, the Republican Party defunded it and allowed toxic waste sites to increase. My final logical connection cannot be denied: The Republican Party bears responsibility for the coming deaths in New Orleans due to its reckless war on Superfund.

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