Monday, July 11, 2011

personal geography

It's funny that I ended up in the contaminated dirt business, because I grew up in the town next to (and downstream of - lucky us!) a massive, famous superfund site.

The center of town is a glacial u-shaped valley with a misfit stream running through, although you wouldn't know this by simply walking around - it just has a flattish lower part with a bunch of steep hills in the outskirts. The stream is called "the xxx river", but like a lot of features in this area, the name is hyperbolic. Where it's allowed to flow naturally, the xxx river is about a foot deep and 20 feet wide and pretty sluggish, although it's been dammed in a couple places and culverted in others.

I grew up in an era of burgeoning environmental consciousness, and knew about the superfund site for as long as I can remember, but nobody ever brought it up, and certainly not in school. I certainly didn't know about the extent of heavy industry in the 1800s and early 1900s, or that the flat areas in town were used for industrial disposal and then grassed over and turned into playing fields and parks (which they remain to this day) in the 1930s. I didn't know that the sediment in the lake on the far side of town (created by a dam installed under the WPA program) that I swam in was contaminated with eye-popping levels of heavy metals. I found all this out much later, when I picked up a fancy volume of the town's history and started filling in the blanks.

People still fish in the lake. The "beach", a couple of dump trucks of sand on the edge of the lake, is still as busy as ever in the summer. My connections tell me that the local paper (which still exists!) has yet to publish anything on environmental issues. The superfund site has been rendered uninteresting by time, although they still hold the required local meetings to update the populace on the ongoing cleanup efforts.

This is a wealthy, ridiculously educated town. I just looked up current demographics, and about 1/3 of the adult population has a graduate degree, and about 3/4 have at least a bachelor's degree. The number of scientists, lawyers, and professors is especially striking. It makes me wonder - how many other environmental messes are lurking elsewhere in places where nobody remembers or cares?


Lockwood said...

...or cares to remember.

Elli said...

Ironically enough, you could be describing my hometown... and in all honesty, that creeped me out somewhat!