Henderson's Twisted Turn | Letters | Chicago Reader

Henderson's Twisted Turn 

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When are your editors going to banish Harold Henderson? His article entitled "Natural Facts" [August 11] is another example of the twisted turn to the right his so-called environmental reporting has taken. Clearly Henderson's diatribes would be more appropriate in a conservative rag rather than a publication such as the Reader which targets a progressive and socially concerned audience.

Allow me to refute two of his statements in this recent article. First of all, Henderson accuses Vice President Al Gore of "environmental pessimism" because in the foreword of the reissue of Silent Spring, Gore laments that the environmental -crisis has gotten worse rather than better since the book was originally written in 1962. His article then tries to explain how much better the environment is now. Hogwash! Henderson's poor research is quite evident. In fact, he readily ignored the most obvious environmental indicator having to do with Silent Spring--pesticide usage. In 1962, less than 300 million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on crops in the U.S. In the 1990s the average annual pesticide usage on American food crops has been nearly 1 billion pounds. And what is the local impact of these numbers? According to the Environmental Working Group, here in the midwest, much of the groundwater is poisoned with these pesticides at levels up to 20 times the minimum EPA standards, thus dramatically increasing the risk of cancer for those drinking it. Clearly there is no improvement there, Harold.

The article then went on to disparage Conscious Choice for environmenal pessimism because we have reported on the problems of lead emissions from the City Chicago's Northwest Incinerator, while ignoring the fact that the average lead level in U.S. citizens' blood has dropped significantly. As publisher, I take offense at this allegation. While we haven't reported on the drop in blood lead levels (which is mainly due to banning lead from gasoline), we consistently report positively on environmental solutions, many of which are private-sector based. Our coverage of the Northwest Incinerator is a case in point. After breaking the story of the city's ignorance of this problem, we detailed a study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology which called for massive recycling and composting projects to create more jobs and improve the environment: a win-win alternative to the incinerator. In Henderson's Reader cover story on the incinerator [April 14], he waffled around this solution, and gingerly took the city to task without implicating them for the extreme negligence and racism they are guilty of by continuing to operate this incinerator.

The bottom line on the Northwest Incinerator is that at one point in 1993 it was pumping out approximately 150,000 pounds of lead into the air per year, and the City of Chicago did not immediately shut it down when tests documented this. In my opinion, since 100,000 children in the city under the age of six suffer from lead poisoning, this behavior is the moral equivalent of criminal negligence. Can Harold Henderson truly expect Conscious Choice to ignore this story y in favor of a piece explaining that lead leveIs are dropping nationwide? Unfortunately, this drop in levels is little comfort to the children on the west side whose lead poisoning is probably a result of lead emissions from the Northwest Incinerator.

If anyone is guilty of pessimism, it is Harold Henderson, whose pessimistic writing castigates environmentalists as ignorant or fanatical, while eagerly reporting the greenwashing propaganda of polluters. I hope the Reader takes note of his bias and gives him the boot!

Jim Slama

Publisher

Conscious Choice

Harold Henderson replies:

In volume three of The Changing Illinois Environment: Critical Trends, Illinois Natural History Survey scientists cite the National Research Council's 1989 report Alternative Agriculture, which says that the amount of active ingredients of chemicals applied to corn and soybeans, per acre, has been declining since the 1970s. This fact appears to be of little interest to the vice president, who says that the environmental crisis in general, and the pesticide problem in particular, is getting worse. Sounds like a pessimist to me.

According to Pediatrics magazine, a high-risk group of Chicago children seen by the city health department averaged 12 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in 1988, down from 30 in 1968. Crusading against possible lead poisoning from the Northwest Incinerator is admirable. Never once placing the crusade in the context of this good news is misleading at best.

Finally, I wouldn't call Conscious Choice pessimistic. The eight-volume Critical Trends report on which I was "eagerly reporting" is the work of scientists employed by the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center, Illinois EPA, and Illinois Department of Natural Resources. To describe those data as the "greenwashing propaganda of polluters" is to pass from pessimism into apocalyptic fantasy.

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