oh my god.
let me share a memory with y’all. it’s from i guess 1978 or thereabouts. it’s high summer. i don’t remember where my mom was driving me, in our avocado green chevette, i just know there was a traffic jam that turned 35w northbound into a parking lot from horizon to horizon.
picture it – wait, you don’t have to use your imagination, this happened all the damn time back then.
every one of those damn cars was burning leaded gasoline. there were no emissions regulations. there were no safety regulations. there were just thousands and thousands of detroit steel shoeboxes belching visible smoke as they idled, engines loud and hot, here and there a radiator giving up in the heat, a cloud of burning oil rising.
i, a smeet of five or six, was choking on toxic smog.
i reckon it was about a half hour into the traffic jam that i first threw up. i remember a blinding headache, i remember being confused, i remember dry heaving with my arms and head hanging out the window, the green metal of the car burning my hands and my chin. i don’t remember passing out, but i’m told i lost consciousness before mom was able to get to an off-ramp, because there were no emergency lanes on the highways back then.
i lived. and life went on. what were we going to do, complain? if i’d died, the cause of death probably would’ve been recorded as heatstroke, not carbon monoxide poisoning.
i know i’m probably preaching to the choir here on tumblr. but i really wish i could tell that story to the people who think deregulation is no big deal. i wish they’d put themselves in my mom’s shoes.
or even just look at some old pictures, then look out the window.
ever notice how cityscapes used to have that orange tint and hazy aura? yeah, that’s poison gas.
remember how the mississippi river used to be a stinking soup of baby-shit yellow sludge covered with disturbingly stiff rafts of light orange foam?
i can’t even find pictures of the sludge and foam, i guess they didn’t end up on the internet. the smell was indescribable. that oily shimmer. the reek of dead things. people didn’t boat on the river for pleasure; it smelled too bad, it was too ugly, and you could get super super sick if you touched the water.
and now look at it.
i still wouldn’t want to drink it, but if i fell in i wouldn’t bolt for the shower in a panic, you know?
if the thieving billionaires get their way, we can kiss those sailboats goodbye, and learn the smell of toxic foam once more. the ultra-rich won’t even feel the extra money, they’ve already got more than they could ever touch, they just stash it in offshore accounts to rot, but the rest of us will return to a time of neverending nausea and weird cancers. a time when every elementary school class had at least one kind who’d been born with no fingers or their heart outside their body, and this was just… the way things were.
i’m sorry. i didn’t mean to longpost. it’s just. god. y’all have no idea how CLEAN everything is now, compared to when i was a kid. and these rich old men are counting on that, on people not knowing or not remembering how bad it was before regulation, not realizing how much we need these protections until it’s too late.
I enforce federal worker health and safety and pollution regulations.
When I was learning my trade, when my classmates and I were having a chuckle over the “well duh” level of specificity written into the Code of Federal Regulations (try “no hazardous material shall be stored in crew berthing” on for size), I will never forget the silence that followed when our instructor spoke these words:
“Your regulations are written in blood.”
These regulations were not written on a whim.
They were written because someone thought they could cut costs by storing however many more pounds of a radioactive, toxic, carcinogenic, or whatever else material in the same rooms where the human beings they paid to transport those materials slept, and then did that, because no one was telling them not to.
They were written because people died. Horrifically. Because unregulated capitalism values profit over human life and suffering.
Can I say it again, for those not paying attention?
Unregulated capitalism values profit over human life and suffering.
Do we also need to fucking talk about the Radium Girls again who slowly fucking rotted alive because the company they worked for deliberately hid knowledge of radium’s effects on living matter?
I’m gonna talk about it. It’s depressing and dark as hell, but if anyone ever thinks to themselves that companies will just regulate out of a sense of civic duty or basic human morality, and don’t need outside enforcement, then they need to keep this story in mind.
United States Radium Corporation
that knew radium was lethal, and hired factory girls to work at painting watches with glow-in-the-dark radium faces. To emphasize - they knew radium was lethal and dangerous. Scientists who worked with it wore safety equipment and knew better than to touch it with bare skin. The factory girls, on the other hand, were instructed by their employers to keep the tips of their paint brushes pointed by sucking them between their lips. An act that guaranteed that they were ingesting small amounts of radium daily. They were told that radium was safe, and in small doses even good for you -
United States Radium Corporation
had paid for ‘studies’ and promoted other products which used small amounts of radium, and had branded at as, basically, a medicinal curative that just need to be doled out in appropriate dosages.
This was bullshit, and not even bullshit which the company higher ups could reasonably be expected to actually believe on all levels, with the information that they had readily at hand. What they knew was that a small amount of radium wouldn’t kill you right away, and that there was a two year statute of limitations on workers compensation claims. When the girls began dying and the finger was pointed at radium, the president of the United States Radium Corporation
had an independent researcher investigate the claim. The research established that the link between the girls’ deaths and radium was clear. The company, not liking that result, covered up the independent research and hired other people to simply state that this was not the case.
Of course, by this point there were dying factory workers who were literally glowing in the goddamn dark, whose bones had become so infused with radium that they were visibly radioactive in their autopsies (when said bones weren’t just falling out of them while they were alive, anyway), so of course the company was forced to admit - oh wait, no, they started stealing dead women’s bones from morgues so that they could dispute their causes of death.
Like. Let’s be clear.
United States Radium Corporation
didn’t just fail to keep their workers sufficiently informed, they didn’t just not investigate things well enough, which would have been bad enough on its own. They told their employees to ingest a deadly substance, and when those DYING WOMEN got together with their last breaths to try and make the world aware of what was going on, purely to try and keep it from killing all the other girls who might get jobs in factories (because they were all doomed to painful cancerous death themselves), they paid for hush-ups and cover-ups and fake studies, and stooped to full-on grave robbing to keep people from finding out that they were killing women in droves.
There were factory workers giving testimonies as they physically fell apart on their death beds. The company’s response was not to even revise workers’ regulations to be more safe. It was entirely, 100%, to lie about it, so they could keep making money and keep killing their workers.
And do you want to know what happened to that company? To the United States Radium Corporation?
It eventually became The Safety Light Corporation, and was decommissioned in 2005. The radium girls were dying in the late 1920′s. The company that killed them didn’t even go under with them, didn’t even die when their efforts to raise awareness actually resulted in better and more stringent regulations. So the prospect that better regulations will hurt a corporation are laughable. Even the corporations that deserve to be destroyed by them still manage to do alright when they’re forced to make less money and kill fewer people. Boo hoo, how sad for them.
But inadequate regulations will kill actual human people. Full stop. Some companies will still adhere to ethics, sure, some will have people in charge or on various levels who care and can intervene. But not all of them. And the United States Radium Corporation was just ONE company. One company, that had no regulations to hold it accountable, that decided it didn’t care - and so many women died horrible, horrible deaths for it.
Do not ever let anyone kid you about the ramifications of deregulation. And do not forget that people who died, with their dying breath, fought to establish regulations to keep you safe. Anyone who takes them away is spitting on their graves.