Saturday, July 11, 2015
July 11, 1983: Al Gore's Mercury Pollution Hearing in Oak Ridge, Tennessee -- Largest Mercury Pollution Event in World History (4.2 Million Pounds)
July 11, 1983 was a fun day in American history. If Hollywood made a film and asked about music, I would suggest, "The times they are a-changin," and "the world stood upside down" (played when Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington). 32 years ago this afternoon, shortly after lunch, I was in the Oak Ridge Museum of Atomic Energy auditorium, on stage. I was testifying in the heart of East Tennessee's Oak Ridge Oligarchy of Atomic Blunderers: I was testifying before then-Reps. Al Gore, Jr. and Marilyn Lloyd about the recently-declassified Oak Ridge Y-12 Nuclear Weapon Plant mercury pollution. Workers were forbidden to talk about health problems, mercury was promiscuously consumed and recklessly emitted, a scientist was fired for taking "unauthorized soil samples" and asking questions, and the 1977 Elwood inventory report was stamped "Business confidential" by Union Carbide (later perpetuator thousands of poisoning deaths and injuries in Bhopal, India). That's the way it was, until our tiny Appalachian Observer weekly newspaper's FOIA and declassification request was granted by DOE on May 17, 1983. Gore swore in all the witnesses, conducting an investigative hearing. Yet no one ever went to prison or jail for even a day for putting 4.2 million pounds of mercury into local creeks and groundwater, and into workers’ lungs and brains, without signs, fences, respirators, warnings or basic protections. Half the free world’s mercury was in Oak Ridge: Union Carbide and the Atomic Energy Commission and successor agencies “LOST” 10% OF IT. Years after the hearings and billions were spent on cleanup, mercury levels are rising. Read all about it, here.