The following speech was composed by Dawson Hoover in the year of 1997. This speech was awarded third prize at the annual '97-'98 high school district speech contest.
In Alaska, hundreds of sites are contaminated by toxic waste by the military alone. From the cold war to the present-day, military operations including Distant Early Warning sites (DEW line sites) are polluted with PCB's and other contaminants. In the United States history, the largest underground nuclear test was at Amchitka, Alaska. It is just sickening to know that there are hundreds of thousands of barrels of toxic waste disposed of at King Salmon Air Force Base. Chemical weapons have been disposed of at the Gerstle River Test Site, Fort Greely, and in the ocean off Attu in Alaska. Radioactive materials, solvents, pesticides, chemical weapons, napalm, unexploded bombs, and fuels are among the hazardous materials carelessly dumped by the US military at sites around Alaska. Two of the most present toxic wastes in the Arctic are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) and organochlorine.
PCB's (Polychlorinated biphenyls) are highly toxic. There are 209 different kinds of PCB's existing in the world today. PCB's were used as a lubricant in pipes and as insulation since they aren't highly flammable. The use of PCB's was banned in 1979 since it can cause problems in the human body. It can affect the immune and reproductive system, cause liver damage and possibly liver cancer. A baby born with high levels of PCB's can have a harmful effect on development and behavior in that baby. There are sixty-three sites in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland alone that have a total of 30 tons of PCB's at DEW Line stations.
The problem of contaminated sites isn't the only problem. The arctic is polluted with toxic waste. Long-lived toxic pollutants transported from distant sources in the Arctic is now a global sink for toxic waste throughout atmospheric and ocean currents. Pesticides, heavy metals, and radionuclides are carried and deposited by these currents. Even though it is far from major industrial and urban centers, global atmospheric circulation favors the carrying out of contaminants thousands of miles to the Arctic from sources originating throughout the hemisphere. The scientists know the Arctic Ocean as the polar Mediterranean because it has limited water exchange with other ocean bodies. So it accumulates pollutants from heavily contaminated areas of Siberia, Europe, North America and Asia.
The cold temperature slows the rates of decomposition and volatilization of contaminant which could make it last a long time. That basically means that the contaminants evaporate much slower and decomposes at a slower rate. Arctic foods are mostly fat-based, which contaminants go into the fatty tissues of fish, wildlife, and humans.
Organochlorines are substances containing chemically-combined chlorine and hydrocarbons. The approximate number of organochlorines is 11,000 including plastics, pesticides, solvents, and refrigerants. They concentrate in fatty tissues and increase in concentration as they move up the food chain. Many organochlorines are very stable which means they decompose very slowly for decades or centuries.
Foods rich in fats, such as fish, meat, and dairy products contain the highest levels of organochlorines if contaminated. They can also enter your body by inhaling the organochlorine fumes. Humans that rely on traditional diets in the north may eat contaminated food that could cause them to have 10-20 times higher levels of certain organochlorine contaminants. The traditional foods provide good nourishment and protection from certain diseases. People need to trust the safety of the food that they eat and this can be taken care of if international measures eliminate the manufacture of persistent and toxic pollutants.
Organochlorine effects the body by genetic mutations, cancer, birth defects, hormonal disruption, immune system termination, neurotoxicity, damaged childhood development, sterility, and damage to kidney, liver, nervous system, and skin. All organochlorines are known to be toxic.
Communities of poor people have the most toxic pollutants that are richer than bigger cities. It is all because of the industrial and toxic waste handling facilities in that area.
I was told that one Indian reservation land was a target for the United States Government so that the Government could bury their toxic waste on the Indian's reservation. The Government offered 500,000 dollars to the Tribal Council. It may have tempted the Tribal Council but the curiosity of one woman saved the town from the danger of toxic waste. Wondering what toxic waste was, she decided to go down to the library and find out what it was. Surprised, she went from house to house with her newly found information and let the families there sign a petition against the Government's actions. With the petition by her side, she set forth to stop the Tribal Council from letting the Government dump their toxic waste on their land. The Tribal Council then gave the 500,000 dollar check back to the Government.
So the Superfund was decided in 1980, and the program managed to anger almost everyone it touched. The program didn't work even though the Congress was in charge of it. In 1989, this program only managed to clean up forty-three toxic waste sites in the U.S. The total cost was a staggering 4 billion dollars. Superfund was created as a short-term effort to get rid of the Nation's hazardous-waste dumps, but the people have seen that the toxic problem in America is too huge for a quick fix. It takes two to three years for a toxic-waste site to be cleaned up. Therefore 10,000 sites would probably take more than 300 billion dollars to clean up.
If the military dumps toxic waste in a village, then that village can sign up for the Superfund. It is now active to this date.
Toxic waste is now here in Alaska. You have the right to stop the Government from dumping toxic waste on your land. If they already have, then sign up for the Superfund now. One may think that it isn't here and that it's not their problem. It's everybody's' problem now. You have to take action and do what's right for you and your future generations. Now's the time to act for what's right. Don't be a fool and let this huge problem get passed you because it will come back to you in a way you could never imagine. Toxic waste knows no boundaries.
Carpenter, Betsy. "Superfund, Superflop." US News and World Report, February 6, 1989.
Draft Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, Human Health chapter, 1997.
Draft Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Report, 1997.
Rahn, K.A. 1984. "Who's Polluting the Arctic?" Natural History 93:30-38.
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