By Brian Clark Howard
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation into five years' worth of utility records in Illinois. At least 80 homes in Park Ridge are being tested after highly toxic, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were found in three homes in February and one in May. According to the utility, Nicor, other buildings in the Illinois towns of Ingleside, North Barrington and Elizabeth are also being tested after service records showed PCB liquids appearing in those locations. PCBs are known to have seeped through gas lines into walls and floors of at least two Illinois homes. Records show Nicor discovered the problem in February but waited until late June to tell families about the leakage, meaning they went about their business completely unaware of the toxins in their homes. Nicor is assuring officials and the public that the PCBs were present in very low levels, and that no one is in danger of harm from them. However, residents are enraged that the company waited so long to tell them. This story underscores how transparency and trust continue to be a serious problem in the public's dealing with industrial powerbrokers. It piles on another case in a country that has been reeling from one corporate and regulatory scandal after another, from undisclosed dangers of tobacco, to harmful prescription drugs like Vioxx, poor air quality at Ground Zero, shaky economics at Enron and unsafe SUV tires. The ongoing investigation also reminds us how truly insidious chemicals like PCBs can be, in that they are pervasive, often elusive, and difficult to control. No PCBs have been legally made in the U.S. since 1977, but they are still in use. It is another impetus for pushing for less-toxic alternatives to the way we do business. The emerging field of green chemistry seems more important than ever.