Saturday, May 24, 2008

Your kids are poisoned. Deal with it.

The Australian newspaper reports that:

“Queensland health has refused to conduct extensive soil and water testing in Mount Isa despite its own study confirming 11 percent of children in the town have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood…
...Instead, the Queensland Health report recommended that a “living with lead” alliance – made up of government, council, and mine representatives – develop more “mitigation strategies”...

Lead poisoning causes brain damage in children, resulting in behavioral and learning problems. Traditionally, it is prevented by not poisoning the kids in the first place, but actually asking Xstrata to meet the same environmental standards as the rest of us must be economically disadvantageous, so they want to mitigate instead. I wonder, how do you mitigate against brain damage?

Some possibilities:
  • Remedial math lessons for kids (remedial ethics for mine execs is optional).
  • Heavy metal scavenger hunt (according to the report, they “could not find a source of the contamination”).
  • Brain damage? Well duh! They’re from Queensland!
  • Give the kids careers as labor ministers, or Queensland Health professionals.
On a more serious note, this sort of thing makes me wonder how much “economies of scale” are actually “economies of graft”. The theory says that bigger companies can be more profitable because they can use size to be more efficient. But in the case of Mt. Isa, the company simply uses its size to ignore environmental laws and poison any children that get in its way. If a company is the biggest dog in town, then it is not surprising that, as was the case here, Xstrata was able to vet the government press releases on this matter. As local labor MP Betty Kiernan said, “We wanted a partnership.”

Needless to say, if big companies can have “partnerships” instead of compliance, they have an advantage over those of us who actually have to obey laws. But the real pisser is when well meaning but ignorant activists assume that the answer is more regulation. Because then we end up with one more layer of rules that we have to follow while the bad guys can simply ignore, vet, or mitigate.


Schlupp said...

The one set of regulation that is needed is by no means new: Bring back the anti-trust laws. Almost everywhere, they were abolished because business convinced everyone that they were no longer needed. Turns out they wee mistaken or lied.

coconino said...

I remember (way back when working at an environmental regulatory agency) talking to a coworker involved in the mine and mill clean-ups in Northern Idaho. He/she indicated the local populace was deadset against mill and mine closures and cleanups due to the economic impacts. This was regardless of the high blood lead levels and behavioral/health impacts already seen in the communities' children.

C W Magee said...

Did the clean up companies hire local people and businesses to do the work, or did they bring in outside labour?