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Environment: Week’s Watch

2 minute read

With a canoe and sampling bottles, two Penn State University professors spent five months last year testing 60 miles of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers near Pittsburgh. As a result, Biologist John Zavodni and Political Scientist David Nixon (no kin to the President) documented 500 cases of industrial water pollution and filed 362 affidavits with the Justice Department.

Last week their diligence paid off. Justice charged four big companies with 73 violations of the 1899 Refuse Act, which forbids discharge of pollutants into navigable waters. The defendants, accused of dumping acids, cyanides and metals into the rivers, are Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Corp. and three top steel companies: U.S. Steel, Jones & Laughlin and Wheeling-Pittsburgh. If convicted, the companies could be fined up to $2,500 for each violation. Under the 1899 law, moreover, Professors Nixon and Zavodni stand to get a bounty—50% of the assessed fines. If they get enough cash, they plan to organize a river-monitoring service that will use more sophisticated equipment than a canoe and sampling bottles.

In the past, the International Automobile Show in New York City’s mammoth Coliseum has been an annual rite of spring for eager dealers and motorists. This year’s show, which ends this week, was singularly different. The cars were there—and so were environmentalists.

“It’s like conducting an antiwar rally at a construction site,” quipped Jerome Kretchmer, head of the city’s Environmental Protection Administration. On the first day of the show, Kretchmer spoke at a rally, launching a march on the Coliseum that was led by black-robed protesters wearing gas masks. Inside, his men set up a booth, complete with slides depicting auto pollution and pleas to car buffs: “The car is anti-city. It clogs our streets, fouls the air, assails our ears, devours our open space.” The opening of the booth created a brief stir among the patrons and exhibitors; then everyone returned to serious business—admiring those new cars.

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