To the editors:

Harold Henderson’s story [“What a Waste!” September 28] pretty well documents the dynamics of the negotiation breakdown between Chicago area environmental activists and the business community, but left out a few crucial facts which could have helped readers judge who was being unreasonable. The people who are fighting landfill and incineration sitings aren’t exactly afraid of the unknown. Perhaps if Henderson had a background in environmental science, he might have thought it important to include toxicologists’ reports on bacteria from leachate in water recharge areas around landfills, or reports on what people who live and work within five miles of incinerators are breathing. It’s as though Henderson didn’t want to confuse us with “the facts,” and reporting on communication breakdown and self-righteousness was dramatic enough.

Landfills leak, and that’s more than an aesthetic problem, it’s a public health problem. Landfill and incinerator operators in this country have been getting away with murder.

Unfortunately, Americans are so scientifically and technologically illiterate that few citizens realize that the basic problem is that there is a net energy loss when we attempt to clean up our environmental messes, rather than prevent them from happening.

I’d gladly do without nail polish remover, toilet cleaner, bug spray, furniture polish, hair dye, and disposable batteries if I knew I’d be drinking them a few years after they leaked out of a landfill. Wouldn’t you? Or are we so neurotic that we’ll freak out if we have to actually think about the poisonous wastes we generate and what to do with them? The business community is very happy about the EPA’s RCRA: that is, having household waste classified as “non-hazardous.”

We are fighting over our oil in the Middle East so we can have abundant energy when we waste energy to clean up after ourselves. Meanwhile, instead of expressing dismay over the prideful environmentalists, we can acknowledge positive policy changes they have brought about. Both the Illinois Department of Energy & Natural Resources and the Chicago Department of Economic Development (no thanks to Tim Harrington in Streets & San, but a sincere thanks to James Carlton in DED) offer grants and loans for recycling start-ups and environmental education.

Now, if we can only get environmental science (including the concept of zero population growth) and recycling taught in all grade schools in the state, we might actually get somewhere in 10 years. Meanwhile, individual citizens are making a difference by source separating trash, seeking materials made from recycled materials (these are the real recyclers), and voicing their opinions to their legislators.

Robyn Michaels

N. Wayne