In 1962, a little noticed news item said that Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which both Russia and the U.S. eagerly developed and tested, dumped vast quantities of exhaust pollutants into the atmosphere. In fact, in the stratosphere where the air is very thin, the ratio of rocket pollutants to air takes on shocking proportion. In spite of this, governmental and lately ever more private rockets pollute the stratosphere. Unfortunately, this news item left no positive results.

Soon thereafter, another little noticed news item focused on the giant nuclear radiation polluted site at Hanford in Washington State. It stated that the site was dangerously toxic and presented an immediate health hazard on a grand scale. It is the venue where plutonium was produced during World War II for the nuclear bombs. While this news resulted in some corrective measures, they were nevertheless totally insufficient.

Decades later, in spite of some clean-up efforts, nearby newspapers reported plutonium contaminated clams in the Columbia River and nuclear dust in the attic of people's homes. A Hanford Health Network is still active but no total resolution of the ongoing environmental poisoning has been found. Some cost estimates for the clean-up are now in the tens of billions, if it can even be done. When this writer drove through the Hanford site he encountered a road sign warning of highway plutonium contamination. It left him wondering if his car could carry plutonium back to Iowa.

Meanwhile, global plastic pollution exploded seemingly exponentially in the oceans and in the air above urban areas. Along with exhaust pollution, so some reports have it, it has become a substantial cause of illness and early deaths in urban areas. Again, while minor corrective measures have been enacted, the problem is still getting worse.

Though planetary degradation and environmental toxicities receive some attention from the media, pundits and scientists, they nevertheless do not come close to matching media attention given constantly and relentlessly to celebrities, sports, royal gossip and the crude utterances and behavior of immature pols.

No surprise that in a couple of recent years our life expectancy actually declined. Some medical experts submit the notion that increasing global pollution entails enhanced moodiness, discontent if not criminal activities. Add to this that the ocean are used by all navies and ships far too much as a dumping grounds for medical waste if not sewage and it all adds up to a gloomy future and a questionable survival of the planets. Those who are doubtful may want to read Jon Mitchell’s “Poisoning the Pacific”, a provocative and shocking expose of the ailing oceans.

There are lots of books which carry on the concern of environmental degradation first popularized by Rachel Carson in her famous book of long ago “Silent Spring.” The problem resides in the fact that these books are not evoking sufficient popular interest and, above all, appropriate politically initiated policies. Fortunately, on the positive side, global warming has generated lately some major policy initiatives.

In the final analysis, sufficient political support will only come once the pols, scholars, academicians and the media will focus on a daily basis on these matters at least as much as the attention that is given to celebrities, sports and Hollywood gossip. If not, the ultimate cost will continue to rise.

Ottumwan Siegfried "Sig" H. Sutterlin, who has earned a doctorate in history from the University of Minnesota, is a former senior Fulbright scholar in Europe and retired history instructor at Indian Hills Community College. He can be reached at

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