From 1965 to 1982, I worked for Occidental Chemical. In 1992 I led a team for an environmental organization bidding on work at the Pfohl Brothers dump site in Cheektowaga. I have some reason for insight into what the "remediation" at Pfohl Brothers will mean, and I think my conclusion may surprise some people.
My guess is that the overall costs associated cleaning up at Pfohl Brothers will greatly surpass the estimated $500 million spent on the notorious Love Canal. Love Canal was an old industrial disposal unit with known quantities of identified chemicals. It was contained in a clay structure built well enough to exceed the specifications required even in 1977, when its name became a household word everywhere.
When the integrity of its clay cap was compromised, the resulting contamination was limited to a few blocks of modestly priced homes in the immediate area. Whatever damage arose from contaminated water runoff was likewise limited -- to migration toward the already contaminated 102nd Street landfill. At that landfill, again, known chemicals were involved.
Although blame was grossly misappropriated, the organizations responsible for the Love Canal chemicals (Hooker/Occidental Chemical and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers) were obvious.
Love Canal wasn't a pretty story, but at least it was a straightforward one. Pfohl Brothers is different.
In 1992, in a site walk at Pfohl Brothers, I saw hundreds of drums, some of them of stainless-steel construction, through crevices on the site surface. Many of the drums were now only partially filled or were completely empty of whatever they had contained.
Nobody would spend the money for a stainless steel throwaway container unless the material to be handled in it is of a particularly nasty nature. Consider the possibilities: strongly basic or acidic industrial chemicals, radioactive materials, hospital/medical wastes.
Additionally, it was obvious that the small creek on the north side of the property had been a carrier for unknown contaminants for many, many years. Therefore, a large external area, many times that affected by Love Canal, was profoundly involved.
To all of this add the fact that all of the "dumpers" were not (are not, never will be) identified, and you can begin to understand the magnitude of the Pfohl Brothers problem.
So far the state has spent over $5 million, and initial tasks are not nearly complete. I recently read that a half-dozen obvious (Westinghouse, Ford, etc.) companies have been identified as having wastes in the site; the same article now estimated cleanup costs at $100 million -- one-tenth of the real cost as I see it.
All responsible parties will never be identified, and it should be noted that most were not breaking laws when these disposals took place.
The funds required to remediate the Pfohl Brothers site and thousands of others like it throughout the United States will come, in large part, from those companies now in business that did dispose of some wastes long, long ago. Much of this dumping occurred from 1940 to 1970, when U.S. industry was booming, unions were granted huge pay increases with fantastic fringes and retirement benefits, salaries grew at 10 percent plus a year, and management thrived on high bonuses.
The catch is that everything was based upon a false profit picture because those companies and the people working in them at the time took no cost responsibility for proper disposal of wastes.
Most of the people of that era are now very comfortably retired while the rest of us are out of work, or nearly so, owing to their mismanagement and lack of foresight.
No one disputes the need for restoring our environment. No one disputes the massive costs, including the fees of lawyers who always seem to benefit within our baffling legal system, associated with accomplishing this.
Let us at least place a significant portion of the blame where it belongs -- on our senior citizens who like to say "Give me the good old days" and "Things were a lot better than this when I was running them."
THOMAS P. LOHOUSE lives in Amherst.
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