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Toxins and other hazards stalk receding Mississippi.

After the biblical flood waters receded, "all the wild beasts, all the cattle, all the birds and all the reptiles" could "swarm on the earth." And God said, "Let them be fruitful and multiply."

As the Midwestern flood waters recede, the birds, beasts and fish and, at the upper end of that lifeline, humans are more likely to find life-limiting or - destroying chemicals: atrazine, phenol, benzene, lead, xyline, chlorine, ammonia, methanol and sulfuric acid.

Without even looking at the pending problems from radioactive or heavy metals wastes, it is known that the "dead zone" of the Mississippi delta is now rapidly expanding as the water-dependent biochain of life is killed by chemical runoff.

It is only a matter of time before reports on fish and wildlife repeat what Rachel Carson tried to tell us nearly three decades ago in The Silent Spring. And yet, it seems, we Americans are as much at risk from our own "gullibility chain" and "comfort chains" as we are from what"s happening to the biochain.

For a democracy of many astute and well-educated people, we're incredibly slow environmental learners. We are too ready to accept governmental promises that problems will be taken care of. Before that, we are too willing to believe agro-chemo-petro-industries' assurances that there are no problems.

We are all willing to ignore something we would rather not confront. That is human nature. We avoid.

We still do not investigate for ourselves (or do not react to) the extent to which never-elected government--the federal agency government -- is usually business' government, not the people's government. We don't do anything about the lobby-bought Congress' inability or unwillingness to change the arrangement.

Again, for a nation of independents and activists, we're remarkably slow to seriously face our environmental breakdown.

Our water is contaminated? We don't fix the problem. We avoid it and create a bottled water industry with $2 billion in sales annually. We're mad!

The environment has become -- like sports, personal achievement and the "Peanuts" comic strip -- a marketing ploy. More than the water-diluted chemicals threatening us, it is the materialistic culture's ability to dilute the original message of common good that seems to hold us hostage.

Joseph de Naistre wrote in 1811 that "every nation gets the government its deserves." Maybe we've already gotten the environment we deserve.

We know it, and still we are co-opted by comfort. It's more comforting not to know the real prices we're paying for the lifestyles we enjoy; nor the expense to others whose lives support but do not cross ours; nor the cost to those whose futures have not yet begun and who deserve better.

Americans are people who like facts and lists of facts. And America does have a minority of environmentally active people; we know many of them through out networks. We know how many people it takes to make changes. We wrestle with how to get people to put down the channel-zapper and pick up the phone, or the placard and to mobilize. And "just the facts" is one answer. Facts can convince the comfortable and maybe the skeptical.

But there are no easy answers to gathering the toxic flood facts. The investigations and responsibilities are scattered among a staggering variety and diversity of agencies, federal and state.

The Department of Defense (which has not revealed whether any of its sites were inundated), the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, this department, that department, all contain agencies that have flood-related environmental duties to perform.

The states along the flood plains have their own agencies responsible for investigating and reporting back. University study groups and nonprofit agencies -- these too will unleash their technological expertise in their own regions and specialties of concern.

At what point, if any, will all this come together to tell us what really happened and is likely to happen? And will we do anything then?

Long ago, God also told Noah: "I give you everything ... (and) I will demand an account of every main's life from his fellow man."

From floods and their consequences, but mainly from ourselves, deliver us. (The amen was Noah's.)
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 17, 1993
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