A Sept. 26 letter writer, responding to my Sept. 8 Viewpoints cover story on the slag-covered beach at Bethlehem Steel, said she "resented" my portrayal of Bethlehem as a "monster."
I understand her resentment and appreciate her loyalty to Bethlehem Steel. My family, too, worked in the Bethlehem Plant for generations. I personally worked there for about a year before World War II.
The writer says Bethlehem Steel has helped put food on her table, buy her home, put her husband through college and provide a good pension. I agree, but should respectfully remind her that there were other forces helping to bring these blessings into her home, most significantly her husband's hard work and admirable determination.
Her blessings were also made possible by the sacrifice of many others over the years. Each nickel in pay raise (pay began at 35 cents an hour), each lowering in hours of work per day (they began at 14), each improvement in working conditions (they began as inhuman), and the very idea of a pension (which began at zero) -- were fiercely contested by the company and often resolved only by brutal strikes.
I, too, am grateful that the plant settled here almost a century ago and provided thousands of jobs. More to the point, Bethlehem Steel and its predecessor, Lackawanna Iron and Steel, operated within the framework of local, state and federal laws regarding its dumping toxic waste into the lake. The plant was looking out for its own interest. Obviously, it's cheaper to dump waste into the lake just on the other side of your back yard than pay to have it hauled away.
At any given time, the practice of dumping the waste into the lake could have been stopped. The question is, where were our scientists and medical people who could not but understand the consequences of pollution? Where were the conservationists and civic-minded citizens in the course of eight decades? Above all, where were our elected officials?
Finally, how do we assess fault? Who was responsible for the continuing mess at our waterfront? Bethlehem Steel obviously must bear some of the blame. But the prime responsibilities lie with our local, state and national representatives who, with a few notable exceptions, continue to demonstrate an appalling lack of concern for our environment.
In the meantime, Bethlehem Steel continues to conceal and stall on cleanup, our politicians continue to make promises and write papers, and we, the citizens, continue to sit on our hands and complain. And that peninsula of toxic waste continues to jut 200 yards into the lake.
Eugene J. Covelli Lackawanna