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Where I Stand -- Brian Greenspun: Dumping on Nevada

Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas SUN - March 14, 2000

We've been down this road before.

There are 18,000 drums of toxic wastes sitting on a dock in Taiwan -- that's on the other side of the world -- just waiting for someone to take that deadly stuff and bury it, guess where?

After you guess where they want to put the mercury laden sludge that fills those drums, ask yourself who the fellow is who will be dumping that health threatening garbage in our back yard. First things first. The only thing stopping the people at the Formosa Plastics Group from finding a permanent home away from home for the mess they have made, as it turns out, is the state of Nevada.

Whoops! I have given a major clue to those of you who haven't followed this story in the Las Vegas Sun and who haven't been able to guess the answer to the first question. OK. The folks who have filled 18,000 drums full of PCBs, and are now looking for a place to dump this disaster waiting to happen, are looking squarely at our back yard as a final resting place.

That shouldn't be much of a surprise because Nevada seems to be the dumpsite of choice for everything bad that people all over the world don't want. As the Sun's editorial Monday night suggested, Nevada must have a "dump here" sign posted because that's the way the rest of the world sees us.

The good news may be that the Environmental Protection Agency won't allow Taiwan to send that stuff our way unless Nevada provides the company that will handle the waste with a permit to treat the sludge once it arrives. Just how likely that eventuality is can be anybody's guess but, at least, it puts Nevada somewhat firmly in the driver's seat.

Now it is time to answer the "who" question. And that would be: Who is the company that will be paid a small fortune to bring Taiwan's deadly dirt to the United States to bury it in our back yard? For that answer we need only go back 20 years to a Nevada that was all too eager to accept toxic garbage from other states because -- and I hope this is the reason -- we didn't know any better.

When I saw the name of the "environmental" waste company, I immediately went to the Sun's archives to make sure that history was repeating itself. It was and it is. I found many stories and columns about the company that was burying nuclear and toxic wastes near Beatty. That's the same place Taiwan is looking at for its sludge.

One of my columns from May 20, 1981, talked about a made for television movie called "Bitter Harvest," which starred Ron Howard. The story, based on a factual incident, was dangerously close to what could have been happening at the Beatty dumpsite and the downstream Nevada residents of the Amargosa Valley. That's home to a large part of the dairy producing industry in Nevada.

What was ironic at the time was that while the movie showed an environmental disaster caused by toxins entering the food chain through the cattle feed, PCBs -- known carcinogens -- were being allowed to be transported and dumped at the Beatty site. So, what was the name of the company that was dumping the PCBs and all manner of toxins that could possibly make their way into Nevada's food chain, just like it was portrayed in "Bitter Harvest?" It was called Nuclear Engineering Company, and it ran the Beatty site in which it dumped nuclear wastes on one side of an underground river and toxic wastes on the other.

The company stopped the nuke dumping after the state said, "No more, never again." Now, US Ecology wants to dump Taiwan's deadly doo at the Beatty site. As Yogi Berra said, this is deja vu happening all over again. Twenty years ago Nuclear Engineering was the bad guy destroying Nevada's environment for a few dollars.

Today, it is US Ecology trying to do the same thing. There must be some connection between the two, right? Of course, you're right. Nuclear Engineering, in an effort to change its luck and its image, changed its name almost 20 years ago. The new name? Why, US Ecology, of course.

Some things never change. And some companies just change their names. And many of those things just get worse with time.

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