June 5, 2018 Comment

Toxic Dump, Serbia

By imagining Serbia as a kind of toxic dump, we relieve ourselves of any responsibility for even trying to change things for the better.

Like a leaky toxic dump, the badness of our homeland seemed to be killing us in different ways. Photo: Beoinfo

Srdjan Garcevic

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Some time ago, the strange ways of the Internet led me to the works of Jack Hitt, one of the best living American non-fiction writers.

Although probably best known for On the Road, his amazing memoir of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Hitt’s work that most resonated with me was his 1995 Harper’s Magazine article about acid pits in Southern California.

Stringfellow Acid Pits, opened in 1956, came into the public spotlight in the 1980s when the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, realised that the leakage of toxic waste, dumped there by a series of corporations, had made the site one of the most polluted places in the US.

After storms that led to further leakage, the effects on the health of the residents of nearby Glen Avon became an issue, and the inquiry into how the EPA handled the pits resulted in a perjury charge against one of its top officials.

In the best American manner of seeking justice via the courts, the residents of the nearby area sued, and some started getting compensation for the damage that the pits and their toxic contents had allegedly caused, which led to further lawsuits.

The complicated nature of the case, due to the huge number of plaintiffs and of defendants who had dumped their waste there, led to the State of California building a new court house for the armies of lawyers, judges and other legal staff who were untangling the issue, which led to Hitt taking an interest.

The reason why the story resonated immediately was not because of my interest in the environmental issue, but because the plaintiffs seemed to have had their lives ruined in various ways by this toxic dump, which just stood there. The toxic dump’s looming presence in the lives of the citizens of Glen Avon caused them to blame it for a range of ailments, from depression and respiratory problems to cancer.

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