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Taking the heat: corporations, individuals must take responsibility for the environment.

Taking The Heat

Arizona is hotter than hell and for sure, a lot hotter than July in Arkansas. Environmental Systems Company, a Little Rock-based company, learned how hot Arizona can be. In fact, Ensco may have gotten burned in Arizona.

Ensco planned a multi-million dollar hazardous waste disposal plant in Arizona. The company has already invested about $50 million in research and planning for the disposal plant. Ensco planned to construct the plant about 35 miles south of Phoenix along the Maricopa Mountains. In truth, the hazardous waste disposal plant wouldn't be near anything. The nearest groundwater was about 700 feet down.

Something went awry. At final hearings on the "Estrella Point" project, tempers flared, protesters were arrested and the angry folks of southwest Arizona shouted, "Murderers!" at the Ensco executives from Arkansas.

The locals didn't protest a disposal plant for Arizona waste. They protested importing waste from other states and disposing of that waste in the Arizona desert. Costs to the Arizona taxpayer would be reduced if Ensco could use this waste disposal plant to serve Arizona and its neighboring states.

In a peace-making move, Ensco executives agreed to build a facility that would dispose only of hazardous waste generated in Arizona. The cost to Arizona taxpayers will increase.

Arizona Governor Rose Mofford has been asked to call a special session of the state legislature to deal with the problem. One group of voters has circulated petitions to get the Estrella Point project on the ballot for the general elections in November.

Ethical Hot Spot

This simple outline of the Ensco adventures in the Arizona desert might give you an idea of how hot hell or Arizona might be. What isn't so simple are the ethical issues involved.

You don't need to be a scientist to know that hazardous waste must be disposed of in a place some distance from population centers and away from water sources.

Bypassing By-Products

In this country we've developed a technology that produces the goods to satisfy our 1990 needs. A by-product of those goods is hazardous waste. One major problem is our refusal to pay for the infrastructure that will make disposal of that waste safer.

For example, transporting hazardous waste in a truck across a state or across the country presents elements of danger for the truck driver and others on the road. What is the problem in transporting hazardous waste? Take a look at Arkansas highways. You've seen those dips, curves, curls, holes, bumps and bottomless pits, and those are just in your lane.

Think about your neighborhood bridges the next time the water rises and a weather reporter mutters something about floods.

Second, we've Balkanized this country. We are free to travel from state to state and to sell our consumer products and produce across state lines. But God help the company that wants to dispose of hazardous waste in a central area designed to serve more than one state.

Third, technology doesn't have a good reputation. For too long technological advances have meant air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution. Technology leaders didn't remember what their mothers told them: "Don't make a mess and clean up after yourself." The collisions of oil tankers on rocks and reefs have spoiled some of this nation's most beautiful natural resources. The oil industry knows how to make oil tankers leakproof. But, it's inconvenient and expensive.

Industrial leaders dismissed what their science teachers told them about their bodies. If you've forgotten I'll refresh your memory: 60 percent of the total body weight is water. A person who weighs 155 pounds has 87.5 pints of water in his/her body. In addition, 99 percent of the molecules in your body are water. Polluted water pollutes your body and a polluted body has health problems.

Communication Gap

Technology's bad reputation stems, in part, from the inability of technocrats to explain technology to the public. Technological information should be available and understandable to the non-technician. Industry needs to hire writers who can translate technological jargon into information that's accessible to the general public.

Next, the people of this country don't think about pollution unless it's an oil spill or a leaking nuclear reactor or some other big catastrophe. You don't have to turn many pages in any publication to find lists of products that pollute and lists of products that don't pollute.

Does my little study group make a difference if the members drink coffee from a glass mug and not a styrofoam cup? Styrofoam cups aren't biodegradeable. They'll last as long as cockroaches. I don't know if 10 little styrofoam cups matter in a world of trash. But, the act of using a glass mug is important training for the members of that group.

Environmental Hygiene

Unfortunately, it's in training ourselves that we fail. I don't need to list all of those things you can do to protect the environment. You know that list. By not starting in your home and your office, you fail. A protestor in Arizona who is carrying a styrofoam cup of coffee doesn't have a legitimate right to complain about Ensco building a hazardous waste disposal plant in his/her state.

We fight our battles on our home turf. The responsible clean the air, water and soil that surround where they live and where they work.

Your mother gave you a couple of good tips for leading the ethical life: "Don't make a mess and clean up after yourself." She means individually and corporately.

Leave a mess, don't clean up after yourself and it'll get hotter than Arizona in your own backyard.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Systems Co.'s plan to build a hazardous waste plant in Arizona
Author:Ritchey, David
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 16, 1990
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