Nov 1 1991

Toxic Times

“A decade after Washington declared war on businesses that expose the public to hazardous wastes,” began a New York Times front-page article (9/1/91), “environmental experts are questioning the unquestionable: Is it worth spending a staggering $300 billion to $700 billion to restore waste sites to pristine condition?” Leaving aside the question of when the U.S. declared “war” on corporate polluters — a battle presumably launched by Interior Secretary James Watt — it’s interesting to note who the Times considers an “environmental expert.”

Aside from unidentified “experts” and “analysts,” the reporter, Peter Passell, mainly depended on government, corporate and right-wing sources: An employee of General Electric was quoted approvingly, with no mention of the fact that GE created more of the EPA’s “Superfund” toxic waste sites than any other company.

The “environmentalist” perspective was mostly represented by one source: Tom Grumbly, described as “an environmentalist who is president of Clean Sites, a nonprofit organization in Virginia that advises communities on hazardous waste cleanups.” (There’s also a quote from an analyst from the “environmental research group” Resources for the Future, described by In These Times, 9/11/91, as “an industry-funded organization promot[ing] the idea that dangers from toxic contamination have been vastly overrated.”)

The article’s chief spokesperson for environmentalism, however, denies being an environmentalist: In a letter to the New York Times (9/11/91), Grumbly rejected the paper’s description of him. “We…do not represent an ‘environmentalist’ constituency,” he wrote. “Our financing comes from reimbursements for services, and grants from corporations, foundations and government.” It’s little wonder, when he’s given the final word in the article, that he described restoring toxic waste sites completely as “wasting other people’s money.”