Monday, July 28, 2008

Beware of watered-down news about the river

Back in March, local news teams covered a story about a railroad tanker car which had jumped the tracks and then buckled, spilling much of its' cargo--antifreeze--into the St. Croix River. There will be "no danger to humans" as a result of the spill, as the antifreeze was expected to "dissipate in the water." Read the story for yourself, as provided by WEAU-TV.

In June, we were told that massive flooding along the middle Mississippi River would present only "isolated risk" to the river. This, in spite of a very large river, flushing miles and miles of land within its' flood plan (think of the petroleum, fertilizers and other chemicals stored along this part of middle America). Decide for yourself, as you read this story published by USA Today.

This week, a tanker ship carrying 419,000 gallons of fuel oil collided with another vessel, spilling a huge volume of petroleum into the Mississippi River in the Port of New Orleans. Robert Thomas, director of the Center for Environmental Communication at Loyola University, was quoted by the New York Times, providing a less-than-convincing reassurance: “Here, you’re talking about an enormous amount of oil, but it’s in a river that averages about 450,000 thousand cubic feet per second of flow,” he said. “It’s going to flush this stuff out,” Mr. Thomas said. I'm not sure I agree, Mr. Thomas. But I'll invite my readers to form their own opinion, after reading this story in the New York Times.

Fossil fuel took more than a few years to form. It's been hiding under a rock for more than a few years--not "dissipating"--as it waited for us to come and get it. Please, all of you who work in media or public relations: Stop minimizing the impact of what is being dumped, spilled, and flushed into our rivers. You're all starting to sound like something else that makes a dramatic flushing noise.

I don't want to sound like an alarmist; there are plenty of other people serving in that role. In fact, I'll point to another news story... this one again from the New York Times. It reports that a record "dead zone" now exists at the mouth of the Mississippi River... estimated to be over 8,800 square miles, or larger than the area covered by the state of New Jersey. But don't take my word for it. Read the story for yourself, again, in the New York Times.

Then... when you hear someone attempt to water-down the impact of pollution on a river near you, listen closely for a flushing noise that might soon follow.

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