Our national EPA worried about the site of an abandoned mine in western Colorado into which water from another mine had seeped. Minerals, including water soluble lead and arsenic were known to be present. The outflow of this water had become constipated years ago by some collapse of soil around the original mine entrance, and so there was a build up of pressure and an unknown risk of a kind of “Johnstown Flood” attendant on disrupting a stable unpleasantness. For unaccountable reasons, the EPA elected to play look into this abstract problem more closely, something went wrong, and someone took the opportunity to publish the now famous pictures of a yellow stained river. The EPA promises an investigation.
We in Kentwood now confront a similar potential blunder into our own unknown, the EPA- designated toxic waste site behind the municipal complex. This had been available as a place to get rid of trash for all residents and businesses of Kent county for many years. There had been deep ravines at the site and the underlying topography remains uncharted. No one knows what’s in the piles of discarded household and industrial junk. Bill Wenzel, candidate for the first ward city commission remembers that there was for a time an informal economy at the dump in which men scavenged over the new incoming trash each day, salvaging metals and other stuff that they could recycle. The site was open to any number of Grand Rapids area brass casting, aircraft, auto, plastics and furniture manufacturing industries. My late father in law worked for Doehlar-Jarvis, a subsidiary of National Lead, an electroplating company that used violent poisons to etch and coat metals over many decades. No one seems to know what happened to the detritus or production at the picric acid (military explosives) plant built at Palmer Park during WW I.
We have recently been informed that the EPA is contemplating drilling exploratory vents into this potential mine field that sprawls within shouting distance of our civic complex and several apartment buildings.
There are vents in place that no longer produce methane for whatever that’s worth. It’s unclear what purpose is served by drilling more extensively. Do they even know where to drill? Is this drilling actually meant to allow more noxious gases to escape? Is the purpose a preparation for eradicating this dump? I doubt that whatever they do will provide a comprehensive picture of what was left there. We have no reason for spending hundreds of thousands on this venture.
My concern is that they will encounter the unexpected, providing a release point for toxins, clouds of methane and of other noxious and poisonous gases that will make the area dangerous. There may be explosives or burning organic material down there, like those reported for coal and burial grounds for trees, that the drilling could rile up.
Environmentalists are fond of the the precautionary principle, an approach to risk management that states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence strong evidence, that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action (Wikipedia.)
Our county’s municipal dump is not aggressive, metaphorically advancing on us with guns blazing or ready to spread disease. The dump is an empty field with some pipes coming to the surface, a conversation piece at best.
We have not been given any goals that justify this venture. Those Kent County commissioners and far off EPA bureaucrats who would stir this up would act ritually surprised and even convene a commission to investigate if 3 million gallons of yellow gunk emerged from their holes. It would make international headlines.
But we in Kentwood would have to live with the genie that comes out of the breach, be he benign, and useless, or the Satan himself.