The Socialist 5 January 2011
We’ll resist Cameron’s ‘hard times’
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Private ownership, public pollution
A STUDY in the USA has found that tap water in 31 out of 35 major cities contains exceedingly high levels of chromium 6 - a highly toxic and carcinogenic substance associated with waste contamination from the heavy metals industry.
Water pumped from Lake Michigan which supplies seven million people in Chicago, for example, was found to contain three times the safety limit proposed last year by California government officials.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by contrast doesn't require US cities to test for the pollutant, nor does the EPA specifically limit its levels in tap water under the agency's existing rules passed back in 1992. The EPA only limits total chromium content, conveniently for capitalist heavy industries which produce chromium 6 waste as a by-product, which also includes chromium 3 - an essential nutrient for humans.
The dangers of chromium 6 were highlighted in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts. The film centred on the town of Hinkley north of Los Angeles whose residents, led by the real Erin Brockovich, fought a legal battle against the Pacific Gas and Electric company after the local water supply was contaminated by industrial waste containing chromium 6.
The town once again made the headlines in November 2010 when the underground plume of chromium 6 was found to be spreading, and thereby continuing to pollute the town's water supply.
It is technically possible to eliminate chromium 6 and other industrial and agricultural pollutants from drinking water if the water companies invested in clean-up processes, something that is unlikely to happen without tough regulation. But tough regulation doesn't appear to be part of the remit of the EPA.
Also, it is vital that capitalist industry is prevented from allowing polluting and toxic run-offs into rivers and aquifers in the first place. But once again the problem here is not technical but one of private ownership of the means of production. Clearly only socialist nationalisation of major industry and the water utilities can prevent long-term damage to human health.
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