The Hightower Lowdown

Dubya lets polluters make messes, but we pay for the clean-up; the computer industry isn't as clean as it would like us to think; and the National Academy of Scientists calls for closer scrutiny of biotech.

Why Shouldn't Polluters Pay?

Did your mother ever tell you that if you made a mess it was yours to clean up?

Toxic polluters prefer to make the mess, grab the profits, and run. That's why the Superfund waste cleanup law was passed in 1980. "The polluter pays" was the rallying cry, and the law was needed because polluters engaged in so many shell games to avoid their clean-up responsibilities. This law assessed a tax on corporations that contaminate our air, water, and communities, with the money going into a trust fund that pays for clean-ups at especially nasty industrial sites.

Of course industry executives threw little tantrums about being taxed, but the Superfund law has worked to clean up about 500 of their messes. In 1995, however, Congress finally caved in to the industry's whining and eliminated the tax, which had amassed a fund of nearly $4 billion. Now, however, that fund is down to $28 million, and there are still huge "megasites" to clean up that will cost more than $200 million each -- plus, industry is creating more toxic messes all the time.

So here comes George W. to the rescue ... of the polluters! Despite the obvious need, his new budget specifically rejects any restoration of the corporate tax to bolster the Superfund. He says the polluter tax is "burdensome" to industry, so instead of making polluters pay, he'll simply clean up fewer places and shift the cost to us taxpayers.

If George thinks the tax is "burdensome," he ought to try being among the polluted who live next to industry's Super-messes.

Dumping Toxic Trash on the Poor

Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and the other poobahs of high techery not only like to gloat about their computer wizardry and business success, but they also brag that theirs is a "clean industry" and that they are corporate environmentalists.

They might try selling that load of crap to the people around Guiya, China. This is one of the low-wage hellholes that America's high tech executives use as a dumping ground for their electronics waste, which includes some 45 million computers that are discarded annually. The dirty little secret of the industry is that our computers are loaded with toxins, and a new report called "Exporting Harm: The Techno-Trashing of Asia" reveals that these poisons are causing environmental and health disasters in the lands where they're dumped, far from the sight and out of the minds of the billionaires who profit from selling them.

Technically, says the industry, the discarded electronics are not dumped, but "recycled." In reality what happens is that poor Asians are paid a pittance to scavenge various metals and other resellable compounds out of these machines. Indeed, about 100,000 people -- including thousands of children -- in Guiya toil in the midst of piles of electronic trash, smelting circuit boards, using acid to extract traces of gold, dumping cathode ray tubes filled with lead, opening toner cartridges by hand to brush the toxic toner into buckets, and burning plastic components. Guiyu's groundwater is now so polluted that the people have to truck in water for human use.

While Europe is moving to require its computer makers to accept disposal responsibility for their hazardous products, industry lobbyists here have stifled any such moves. Also, while there's a 1989 international treaty to limit the export of toxic wastes, the U.S. is the only developed country that has refused to sign it.

There's nothing clean about exporting toxics. For a copy of this report, call: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, 408/287-6707.

Trusting Monsanto

For years, the global biotech giants like Monsanto have been altering the genetic makeup of our food supply for their own fun and profit -- without thorough testing and without bothering to tell us consumers that they've spliced assorted bacteria, pesticides, and animal genes into the foods we're eating.

But a group has just stepped forward to say: Not so fast, bub. This is not a Naderite or Luddite group, but the National Academy of Sciences, more establishment than which you cannot get. Two years ago, the NAS convened a panel of biologists and ag scientists to conduct a study of the process by which the Monsantos are rushing these genetically altered plants into production, into the environment, onto our grocery shelves, and into our bodies.

The study is out, and it finds that there should be "significantly more transparent and rigorous" review of the testing, monitoring, and assessment of these genetic manipulations before they're unleashed on an unsuspecting and vulnerable world. As one critic of the current regulatory system noted in welcoming the NAS findings: "It has been a cakewalk for the industry in terms of getting products approved."

For example, the scientific panel pointed out that the agriculture department presently allows the corporations to plant unlimited acreages to test its experimental plants, with no independent evaluation of the danger this poses to our environment and food supply. The department simply accepts the corporation's word that it's safe! The NAS wants this slipshod process to end, calling for independent reviews of all tests, less secrecy by the corporations, more involvement of the public before these experimental foods are approved, and long-term regulatory monitoring of any approved crops.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To book Jim, visit To subscribe to his monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, send $15, your name, and address to: Lowdown, PO Box 20596, New York, NY 10011

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Superfund, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Guiya, China, Michael Dell, Exporting Harm: The Techno-Trashing of Asia, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Monsanto, biotech, National Academy of Sciences

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