Gruesome irony


Intel Corp. is on it. So is Advanced Micro Devices Inc. National Semiconductor Corp., too. And it is no surprise that IBM Corp., the chipmaker up to its circuits in cancer and birth defect lawsuits, has spent some time on the Superfund list—a cellblock for the nation's worst offenders of environmental health and safety.

Established by Congress in 1980, the Superfund program has cleaned up some of the nation's worst toxic waste sites. But there isn't anything super about it anymore, now that funding has been eliminated and taxpayers have been left footing the bill.

The Superfund law mandates that companies directly responsible for pollution must clean up the messes they made or pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do it for them. The law also set up a fund financed by crude oil and chemical taxes as well as fees from those industries that have a deadly impact on the environment or human health.

As of October, the fund is broke, a result of the House's refusal to reauthorize trust fund fees in 1995. Now, money to reclaim orphan sites is coming right out of John Q. Taxpayer's pocket, which is disgusting, considering that billion-dollar wafer fabs are erected almost regularly and 25 percent of Americans (according to the EPA) live within four miles of a hazardous waste site.

About 1,200 of the 44,000 potentially hazardous sites are deemed the most dangerous and difficult to clean up. The list of the worst includes Applied Materials, Fairchild Semiconductor Corp. and Teledyne Seminconductor.

The federal government's initial action against these offenders is a clear indication that these companies turned their backs on their neighbors and put them at risk. While the Senate was expected to reestablish the funding, the federal government still charged taxpayers for their own poisoning.

In the case of semiconductor manufacturers, particularly IBM, it is perhaps unconscionable to draw a parallel between exposing the surrounding environment and employees to toxic chemicals.

But being tied to a Superfund site means being responsible for improperly generating, transporting or disposing hazardous waste found at the site, as well as putting abutters at risk of illness and injury.

So, is it really a stretch to propose that if a company had no regard for its neighbors, then why would it ever think twice about its employees? Moreover, consider the irony of the situation of IBM plaintiffs Robert Moore and Alida Hernandez. They're taxpayers, too.

Mark A. DeSorbo
Associate Editor