At a certain point, it’s safe to say GE knew better, as did others who knew GE was sending large quantities of PCBs into the Hudson River (discussed previously here).  After all, they did it far into the 1970′s, long after the toxicity of PCBs was well known.

Still, GE can argue, as they and others have, that they were simply disposing of their wastes according to accepted practices in use at the time.  Its the usual argument.  Dumping it, in other words.  Call it ignorance.  Call it greed.  Whatever. Again, at a certain point GE’s leaders knew full well that what they were doing was unacceptable. What would Thomas Edison, GE’s founder, have said?

Well, Thomas Edison did say,

Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.

Strictly from an economic perspective, GE ought not have wasted both capital (spent now on clean-up), and our priceless natural resources, although they were not alone, of course.

Later, problems at Love Canal, also in New York, came to light.  It was clear that hazardous chemicals dumped in Niagara Falls, NY were causing serious injuries, including birth defects and miscarriages, among residents nearby. Eventually, the Superfund program was created to help address many decades of rampant dumping of wastes, and that program continues.

As one resident is quoted by EPA as saying

“We knew they put chemicals into the canal and filled it over,” said one woman, a long-time resident of the Canal area., “but we had no idea the chemicals would invade our homes. We’re worried sick about the grandchildren and their children.”

Unfortunately, it seems these lessons of history are short-lived, and the state and federal government may permit injection of hazardous substances into the subsurface, in the absence of definitive proof that these substances are necessary to economically get the gas out of the Marcellus shale, among other areas.  The list of compounds that can be injected is lengthy, and includes many toxic chemicals.

People are told there’s no problem, that there’s no way these chemicals could reach water supplies, and other myths, perpetrated in an ethical lapse by many who suppress any doubt because they believe that the gas must come out at all costs.  After all, they are planning to use procedures that are accepted practices (at least to some) at this time.

New York is the home of two of the worst environmental disasters of modern times, GE’s contamination of the Hudson with PCBs and Love Canal.  It is unbelievable that New York’s leaders would even think of allowing purposeful injection of hazardous chemicals into the subsurface, without having definitive proof that the gas cannot be obtained using benign substances.  As discussed here and here, I think it is highly likely that gas can be removed using only benign chemicals, but there are a lot of vested interests, and institutional inertia, to overcome.