Monday, April 21, 2014

Apply the counterfactual

What if? What if the famous National Security Agency discovered that Cuban agents poisoned the water supply of the most populous city in a southwestern US state? The poison would have dire consequences, amounting to a chemical attack on US civilians. Indeed, according to the newspaper of record for that town:
Ethylene dibromide, once a common ingredient in motor fuels and used as a fumigant and pesticide, has posed difficult environmental cleanup problems around the United States. Long-term consumption at extremely low levels can cause liver, stomach, reproductive system and kidney problems, and may cause an increased risk of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA has set a safety standard of just 50 parts per trillion of EDB in drinking water, with a goal of zero.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is notoriously weak on protecting US citizens from many pollutants that other nations have banned or restrict much more, so when we learn that a particular chemical is that alarming to the EPA we know it's deadly serious.

What would we do to Cuba if the NSA proved they did that to a US town of half a million, with another half million in the greater metro area? What would John McCain recommend? What would the Republicans, and many Democrats, demand? This is a thought experiment, but only in one aspect. It was not Cuba who did this. This was done to Albuquerque by the US Air Force.

Military Industrial Complex v Albuquerque
When EPA learns of a LUST issue (leaking underground storage tank) they get excited. The dangers to  water that will be pumped up through wells affected by the leak are serious and require containment and remediation.
But in the case of Albuquerque, this is no leak from one relatively small underground tank at one gas station, this is a huge spill, presenting problems many orders of magnitude greater.

A giant plume of military pollution from a massive fuel spill at nearby Kirtland Air Force base is threatening the drinking water of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The city has a great sense of foreboding about this and is searching for ideas. Although the military has claimed again and again that it will take all necessary proactive measures to protect the water supply for the city, it has done nothing to date.

If some method could be found to treat the spill before it reaches the city water aquifer, that would clearly be best, far better than waiting to try to treat a lethally contaminated city water supply. Some hope is taken from a relatively tiny project in Santa Fe that uses multiple treatments of the gasoline-polluted water from one well. It is complex and expensive, but produces water acceptable to the EPA. Santa Fe has been doing this for many years after discovering the problem in the 1980s.

Why, then, some seven years after the fuel spill pollution from Kirtland was discovered in the migrating groundwater, has nothing been done? It's complex and expensive. The military has little money for that sort of thing. Indeed, when sequestration hit last year, pollution remediation was not even mentioned as an effect, it is so far down the list of concern to the military.

The patently obvious priorities of the US military are to spend a few US taxpayer dollars on a PR attempt to assuage public worries while continuing to spend gargantuan amounts on arsenals, field testing weaponry (taking that expense so the weaponeer war profiteers don't have to, thus boosting private owner profits at taxpayer expense), and sending threatening forces around the world to posture and sometimes strike at foreigners who anger them.

With "protectors" like these, one might wonder, who needs foreign enemies?

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