Our long history with mining and its consequences should have wised us up.
Reckless, cavalier, indifferent treatment of the environment always comes back on us, and the price is severe — incalculable environmental wreckage, inestimable human misery.
It’s worth keeping in mind as we talk about the latest environmental threat.
More than 170 years after mining first got underway in the Tri-State Mining District, more than a half-century since the last of it ended, we’re still cleaning up.
We’re at $700 million and counting so far, and if you take a casual Sunday drive around the region you can see how far we have yet to go.
Known expenses and financial commitments going forward are pushing another $250 million.
It’s a good bet we’ll still be cleaning up the Tri-State Mining District when we’re 200 years out from the discovery of lead in the region.
In terms of time, money and human health, it is an expensive lesson to ignore.
Which is why we can’t afford to be reckless, cavalier or indifferent about the latest study from the federal Government Accountability Office.
The GAO examined links between climate change and Superfund sites — such as those that were handed down to us within the Tri-State Mining District — and concluded that worsening storms as a result of climate change are threatening environmental and human health by spreading pollution from these sites to our air, water and soil.
Two years ago, Hurricane Harvey flooded more than a dozen Superfund sites in the Houston area, with breaches reported at two. East of Houston along the San Jacinto River, record rains as part of Harvey washed away a temporary cap on a 40-acre Superfund site, exposing contaminated material.
Testing afterward found dioxin at more than 2,000 times the maximum recommended level.
In effect, one generation of pollution — greenhouse gases causing climate change — stir up, aggravate and disseminate an earlier generation of pollutants.
The GAO report concluded that at least 60% of U.S. Superfund sites are in areas vulnerable to worsening weather disasters — hurricanes, wildfires and flooding.
The latter is putting sites in the Midwest at risk. Scientists aren’t as confident about the link between climate change and tornadoes, so they didn’t include that risk — but it wouldn’t take much to convince us.
Thirty years ago, in some of the Globe’s first interviews with climate scientists developing models for what to expect in our corner of the world, we were warned what would happen. They told us then that our weather would swing toward extremes — that whatever kind of weather we get normally, we would get in spades.
They were right.
We didn’t take the environment seriously when it came to mining. We’re failing to act aggressively now.
Copyright Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.