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Our Toxic Times 

I just finished reading an article about polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination of the Hudson River drainage (Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 2009).

I just finished reading an article about polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination of the Hudson River drainage (Harper's Magazine, Dec. 2009). To make a long story short, General Electric dumped millions of gallons of PCBs into the river, geology, and groundwater for decades, leaving a toxic legacy that is impossible to fix. PCB's are synthetic oils, and as I read the article a number of parallels between the Hudson River Valley and the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico came to mind: In both instances, the public's interest lies subverted beneath the bottom line of a powerful corporation; in both, a significant slice of our nation's national heritage has been destroyed unnecessarily.

It is interesting the way that private enterprise has replaced democracy as the emblematic philosophy of our national identity. This has not happened accidentally, and its intended results have been reaped by companies like GE and BP. The only course for curtailing disasters like the Hudson River and the Gulf of Mexico lies in government intervention, but, government is now widely regarded as the source of any and all of our ills, while people's patriotic instincts have been diverted overseas.

It is beyond human engineering to expunge the toxic mess beneath the Hudson. It remains to be seen whether the toxic mess of our national priorities and identity is beyond repair.

- Matt Orr, Bend


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