Close behind the political and economic wave sweeping the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is an equally compelling environmental tide.
The Green movement is borne on a tidal wave of horror stories -- the wanton destruction of air, water and soil on a scale that may even exceed the excesses of industry in the Western Hemisphere.
Hilary F. French, a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, has given a chilling account in her report, "Green Revolutions: Environmental Reconstruction in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union." For example, she writes:
"Though their environments do not show it, both the Soviet Union and the East European countries have stringent environmental regulations on their books. Air and water quality standards actually tend to be stricter than those in the Western nations because they are based on scientific determination of the levels necessary to avoid health problems. Unlike in the West, the standards do not have to survive the vicissitudes of the political process."
Makes one wonder if it's better to have strict laws not enforced or politically weak laws that are half-enforced.
The author cites the toll of decades of neglect. In Czechoslovakia and eastern Germany life expectancy is shortened as much as five years because of gross pollution. In Poland, pollution damage costs the nation 10 to 20 percent of its gross national product. And in Estonia, kindergarten children in Sillamae lost their hair because of radioactive wastes dumped at a school site.
What has emerged along with new freedoms is a burgeoning Green movement, which by some standards may be tougher and more effective than groups in the United States and Canada.
French cites a sort of environmental imperialism that Western nations imposed on Third World countries by selling chemicals such as DDT that are banned here or by creating Bhopal-type industries.
She notes that General Electric Corp. will undertake a $150 million project to refurbish 13 Hungarian incandescent light bulb factories. Had the company invested in fluorescent bulbs instead it would have saved Hungary the $10 million cost of a new coal fire power plant to supply the extra energy required by conventional bulbs.
On the other hand, Occidental Petroleum Corp., no particular friend of the Niagara Frontier's environment, has pledged that any overseas facility must meet U.S. or local environmental standards, whichever is stricter.
A group of Eastern European environmental journalists will come to the United States soon to see how Americans are handling pollution and will include a stop on the Niagara Frontier, where they will visit Love Canal and see how Occidental Chemical Corp. is handling cleanup of its toxic dump sites, hear about the state's $1.2 billion toxic cleanup program, visit a toxic waste disposal facility and tour the Robert Moses power project. The group will also meet with environmental groups and reporters.
The nation's two largest garbage disposal companies, each with local operations, paid huge sums recently to settle a case believed to be the first of its kind in which the firms were accused of conspiring on a national basis to violate anti-trust laws.
Browning Ferris Industries Inc. paid $30.5 million to settle out of court and Waste Management Inc. paid $19.5 million. Both denied wrongdoing and said they settled to avoid prolonged litigation. The Wall Street Journal reported that Waste Management set aside money to pay, but Browning Ferris' stock plummeted as it scrambled to make up this and other losses.
Browning Ferris has extensive operations in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area and is the parent of the former CECOS International Inc., which failed in its bid to expand toxic waste disposal facilities in the Town of Niagara. BFI decided after that to get out of the toxic waste business, and that is part of a $4.3 million loss the company is swallowing. BFI is seeking approval to open a recycling center in the Town of Tonawanda, and on a statewide basis has offered to build and operate landfills in cooperation with local governments.
Waste Management has local garbage collection operations and is the parent company of CWM Chemical Waste Management that operated a toxic landfill in the Lewiston-Porter area.
CWM is applying to build twin incinerators at the Model City site to burn residual PCB-contaminated soil on the site and to handle commercial wastes.
The project was set back after the company ran into problems at its Chicago-area incinerator, where it was to conduct trial burns as a step in obtaining DEC permits.