Hazardous Waste — again

The number of deaths from cancer near the town of Frederick, MD, are reminiscent of the movie “Erin Brokovich,” and in fact, the law office where the famous lawyer works has been tapped to manage a class action lawsuit brought by Frederick residents against the nearby Army post, Fort Detrick.

Agent Orange, a well known defoliant and carcinogen, was researched and developed by the military at Fort Detrick (and other locations) during the ’70s.  Testing of groundwater near the fort has shown contamination by Agent Orange and other related chemicals.

Fort Detrick has just recently finished capping its hazardous waste dumps to prevent them from entering the groundwater — a task it began back in 1992.

This is another example of technology rushing ahead with no thought of the possible consequences.  Technology typically develops much faster than safe practices and morals; thus humanity is forever cleaning up messes that could have been prevented. The BP oil spill is another good example.

Right now there is a great debate on who should be responsible for making sure that safety rules are followed: should it be the company itself (or similar entity), or should a governmental agency set standards and provide accountability through inspections?

The question isn’t easy to answer. Government can get out of control, particularly if a gung-ho over the top employee is head of the agency. On the other hand, companies look out for their shareholders interests first. They have to. A conflict develops between doing things safely and doing them cheaply. Typically the scale tips towards cheaply, and the company just prays that nothing will ever happen….

Until it does, at which time they begin chasing their tails, trying to find someone to blame, and maybe spending a bit of time and money on fixing the actual problem.

I know that Stockholders Are People Too. I don’t disparage their right to make money in the stock market — that’s what it’s there for. However, companies and agencies (like Fort Detrick) cannot, must not forget that there is a larger world beyond their stockholders. And this larger world deserves consideration.