IN OTHER WORDS: Cancer crisis

The history of industrial pollution of the US land, air and water is by now so well known that the only surprising aspect of the report last week about the cancer cluster in Ashland is that the worst of the poisonous discharges happened so recently. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were notorious for manufacturers with a public-be-damned attitude, but the Nyanza chemical and dye facility began operations there in 1965. It was dumping arsenic, heavy metals and carcinogenic solvents into waste lagoons while US astronauts were walking on the moon in 1969.

Establishing a causal connection between toxic discharges and specific cases of cancer is always difficult. The evidence in the report is strongest in regard to the five soft-tissue sarcomas diagnosed over a two-year period in residents younger than 35. Though there is work still to be done in cleaning up an underground plume of Ashland pollution, the project is proceeding apace. That is sadly not the case with many other Superfund sites because Congress has refused to renew the provision in the 1980 law that taxed companies in the high-polluting industries to pay for the cleanup of sites.

This is a grim reminder of what is at stake when Congress puts the interests of its campaign donors in industry ahead of the public interest.