Sunday, June 17, 2018
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One Man's Poison. . .
Walter Salm, Editor
I grew up in a rather picturesque mill town in Upstate New York, many, many years before manufacturers had to think about environmental issues. The entire county was given over to one principal industry — the manufacture of leather gloves — and the numerous leather tanneries that supported this industry dumped their effluent into a body of water with a picturesque Native American name: Cayadutta Creek. The creek was walled in by concrete where it wound through town, and at some of the narrower points, there was a convenient 4 x 6 or a log stretched across those walls as a footbridge. My cronies and I would dare each other to walk across the "plank" but none of us took the dare. The fear was not of drowning but of being eaten alive by the horrendous components of this roiling witches brew.

This was pollution in the extreme. Even years after I moved away, I spotted an article in the New York Times titled "The Creek at Gloversville, A Picturesque Meandering Sewer." It took several things to clean up Cayadutta Creek, not the least of which was the collapse of the domestic leather glove industry in the early 1950s. The lesson here was that the local citizens put up with this dangerous, smelly creek because it helped to support thousands of local jobs.

A more up-to-date industrial pollution fable is unfolding today in Irwindale, California, a small (population 1,700) heavily industrialized city east of Los Angeles. The culprit here is a single factory that makes Sriracha, a very hot, spicy condiment that has an enthusiastic worldwide clientele. It's made from some very, very hot California chile peppers that are shipped to the plant and processed mostly during the month of August. During that month, the plant processes some 40 truckloads a day of these chiles, and apparently the resulting air pollution makes life difficult for some residents. There have been four (4) complaints about this airborne toxicity to the City Council — the first one coming from someone who is related to one of the Councilmen.

There has been a lot of talk about forcing the Sriracha plant — which employs 70 people year-round and another 200 every August — to move elsewhere, and this comes after owner David Tran obtained a $40 million loan to build his company's spanking new production plant in Irwindale.

Some analysts see this as an example of a California mentality that is anti-business, or more simply the attitude of, "Sure build the plant, but not in my neighborhood." Other states are getting in line offering sites for a relocated Sriracha plant, but relocating at this point would be a prohibitively costly proposition for Mr. Tran. And, big surprise, none of the four complainants has come forward and offered to pay for the move.

The U.S.A. has very strict environmental controls in place, and apparently Mr. Tran has complied with them all. Yet the plant still produces airborne irritants. The answer is not to shut down or move the plant, but to install even more filtering on the processing operations. It's a good bet that someone, somewhere makes a filtering system that will effectively trap those airborne irritants. Closing the plant should definitely not be an option.

This type of air pollution is relatively easy to contain when compared with the levels of pollution in today's industrialized China. Protective masks and respirators are the order of the day in most industrial centers. China's main problem stems from a paucity of clean energy sources. Oil and gas must be imported, but China has enormous deposits of coal which it continues to burn in prodigious quantities. Is Sriracha poisoning the atmosphere? I guess the answer depends on where you live, and where you earn your living.  

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