Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: Excellent response to the mining/tourism post

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Excellent response to the mining/tourism post

This is in response to the post The tourism industry wants to lower their standards...again. But their stooges want different standards for mining? Patti Greene is one of the "before the Earthquake" Alaskans who lived on the Kenai Peninsula and in Kodiak "back in the day." Her experiences are an important addition to the discussion.

Hey baby, your most recent posting has my heart rate up. Why? Because I used to work for the Alaska Division of Tourism -- and I was part of the group in Juneau trying to (ahem) influence the outcome of the gold mine project slated for downtown Juneau. A substantial portion of my life has been spent researching the myriad issues related to these two industries.

If there's a common theme running through the issues -- and waste -- generated by mining and tourism, it's "the solution to pollution is dilution". Both industries ultimately say whatever amount of effluent/byproduct/waste they generate is effectively diluted to the point of being harmless, and therefore that should allow them to dump it into the local environment.

"The effluent will achieve drinking water quality," the mining officials reassured us --- though we were quick to point out that drinking water quality is pretty crappy compared to habitat or fish 'n' wildlife quality. "We only drink this stuff," is how we explained it to an anxious group at a Town Hall Meeting, "but fish have to live in it."

There must be zero discharge, zero effluent from any industry, period.

At this point, I must add the following. My family has lived in Alaska since 1963, in Homer, Anchor Point, Kenai, Kodiak, Juneau and Anchorage. Seven years ago, my father died far too young from some unknown cancer that destroyed his bone marrow. We suspect heavy metal poisoning as, in retrospect, we realized he had showed all the symptoms. My mother has leukemia, and suffers toxic levels of heavy metals, including astronomical levels of lead. My younger brother has the same type of leukemia and similarly suffers toxic levels of heavy metals. My own lead levels are the highest ever seen in someone my age, or so says my health care provider. My body is toxic with heavy metals. It is unknown whether I'll develop leukemia.

A bit of research into cancer hotspots in Alaska shows that we are a state of elevated statistics. In Kodiak, breast cancer is twice the national average. In Juneau -- home of the AJ gold mine and its 100 year old legacy of mercury and mining waste leaching into the environment -- leukemia is abnormally prevalent. A bit more research into SuperFund Sites shows that Alaska was for years the convenient dumping ground for industrial and military waste. And because of our location on the planet, we are continually dusted with airborne chemicals from Japan and Russia, Canada and the agricultural states of the Lower 48. The very winds in Alaska pose dangers to our health.

Could I tie this all together and prove that my family is suffering because of old mining waste draining into Juneau's aquifer, or because there are thousands of barrels of toxic crap buried next to Boy Scout Lake in Kodiak? No. But then, I don't have to. What's done is done.

One question remains to be answered, however. How many other Alaskan families who live in Homer, Anchor Point, Kenai, Kodiak, Juneau or Anchorage are suffering heavy metal toxicity and don't yet know it? How many of our friends and loved ones have passed on, helping to expand the hotspot dots on Alaska's cancer map? Perhaps the only unusual thing about my family is that we decided to undergo heavy metal testing. Maybe everbody in Alaska is poisoned.

The environmental is personal and is political. My family and I stand as witness to the fallacy -- the lunacy -- of past practices as regards the environment. No longer is mercury dumped onto the ground in the gold mine heap leaching process. No longer is untreated sewage dumped out at sea. No longer should we assume our ocean environment or atmosphere can handle, much less dilute, the endless trickle of poison. No longer should we accept the promises of industry that they will leave only a small footprint in our environment.

One day, not too long ago, I heard Ted Stevens on the radio. He was addressing the Southeast Alaska business community, or maybe it was the Legislature. He pointed out that the mining industry in Southeast Alaska had been dealt a crippling blow by "extreme environmentalists". Funny, I never thought of myself -- or the hundreds of volunteer members of the community -- as extreme in anything except our concern for the health of our families, our economy, and our community. Quite frankly, we worked very hard to distance ourselves from purely environmental issues, pointing out that the project would deplete Juneau's water supply, put the landfill over capacity, and had potential to blow the entire town to Kingdom Come. What got my attention and spurred my involvement was the fact that they planned to put their surface facility in an avalanche zone and their tailings pond and dam on an active earthquake fault.

If this is extreme environmentalism, then, in the name of my father and my family, I'll accept Uncle Ted's label because goddammit, I think we've earned it. If I'm the new face of extreme environmentalism, Big Business had better gear up for a new kind of fight, because everybody is extremly concerned about fresh air, clean water, safe food, healthy children, long lives, and good health to enjoy the splendor and beauty that is Alaska.

Linda, there are people whose job it is to put a big, shiny, happy smiley face on some rather dirty industries, and we -- being dumbshit optimist human beans -- we believe 'em. But I remember the Exxon Valdez. I've learned to look behind the smiley face, and I don't like what I see.

[ And of course Pebble is "bribing" the local residents -- in other circles, it's called "public relations" and being a "good corporate neighbor". You shoulda seen the dollars the Large Canadian Mining Company spread around Juneau. Having watched Exxon, we learned to see behind that smiley face. ]

The Pebble Mine is a slow-motion environmental and economical disaster waiting to inundate every resident in the region. Period. It will benefit only the mining company. Anybody who says any different -- about anything -- stands to make some money and doesn't have to clean it up. Mark my words. Don't talk to me about mining new minerals when we can't even figure out how to recycle the old ones.

And if the cruise industry is using our scenic splendor for their Alaska cruise marketing campaigns, they should at the very least have the good sense not to shit in the hand that feeds 'em. Period. Alaska needs to wake up and realize that the cruise industry is to Alaska tourism what them L.A. "See The Stars Homes!" bus tours are to the magic and make-believe of Hollywood's movie biz.

Thanks for giving me something interesting to think about on this lovely day.

Patti Greene


Anonymous Polarbear said...

I read Patti's comments. Hers are hard words. With respect, has Patti documented her assertions about heavy metal levels in her and her family?

6/19/2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...

Hey Polar...email me: celticdivaak@yahoo.com

6/20/2008 12:24 AM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...

The point of posting Patti's response was because her experience is a valuable contribution to the discussion and there are many, many people in this state who agree with her 100%. The point of my original post was to adamantly demand that we hold the tourist/cruise ship industry to the same environmental standards that they insist we hold the mining industry.

I am not automatically enthralled by environmental organizations. My years at the Corps of Engineers (especially working with and for "Environmental Engineering") exposed me to manipulation of the public by "environmentalists" who play on the poor communication skills of many scientists/engineers and the scientific ignorance of the general public. I also learned a great deal about the reality of naturally-occurring "toxins" in our environment.

Something on which I believe all of us can agree: anyone doing business that effects the delicate Alaska environment should be held to the strictest standards possible and punished severely when that environment is put at risk. Development should occur with great care, long-term scientific study and constant monitoring.

6/20/2008 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Polarbear said...

CelticDiva: While I was emailing you, I swear I could hear the sound of a Louisville Slugger swishing by, just over my head :) At least it makes that great hickory sound - the bat that is... Happy Solstice.

6/20/2008 4:15 PM  

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