Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sometime I just ramble, maybe to make sure I don't have lockjaw or the Airborne Toxic Event

So the day before I finish reading Don DeLillo's 'White Noise' I roll into Eau Claire to stay the night at my parents house, just a little layover before I go to Milwaukee in the morning. But that morning the 'Waste Research and Reclamation' plant, on the south side of Eau Claire, catches fire. This building stores hazardous chemicals that can't be dumped into landfills; Eau Claire has a Teflon processing plant nearby and also manufactures some various products for military consumption. Anyhow it catches fire around 6am Friday (one week ago), there are only ten employees still working, around from the over-night shift. They fail to put the fire out with fire extinguishers and the fire departments begin to show up as the fire spreads. At this point the city hasn't officially told residents of Eau Claire to leave there homes (that might cause panic, right?) instead they have lightly suggested that it might not be a bad idea to leave your homes if you live on the south side of town. Businesses are shut down; people are told that they shouldn't go outside until there is an official report on if the chemicals are in the air (which is a whole other subject that irritates me, where the fuck do you think the air indoors comes from? unicorn farts? shit).

Then, as the fire spreads flammable containers begin to catch, which I haven't found an official word on the amounts of each chemical in the containers, but the plant began to shoot fireballs over 300 feet into the morning sky over Eau Claire. My father works at Bothun Nissan on the south side of town, they were having a sale, so they didn't shut down, he said you could see the flames as he was driving into work from the north side of town. Giant waves of flames and a growing black cloud. (I only mention White Noise at the beginning because this all sounds eerily like the Airborne Toxic Event). Public Officials, by nighttime, tell the city that the fire is under control, they are monitoring the air quality and that there is (this is a real quote) "no bad stuff in the air." Which I question, but I don't have the know-how to contradict him, so fuck it, I'm an idiot. But they put out these chemical fires with water (from 11 different fire stations in western Wisconsin). In the morning, again, city officials say "no bad stuff," breathe freely citizens (I still question it) but that the water supplies might be contaminated from the run-off of the fire.

Then what? The Leader Telegram (Eau Claire's daily paper) reports nothing after that second day. I scoured the internet for more information (not that you maybe wouldn't find something I couldn't) but there is nothing, NPR did a special the day after, then nothing, Star Tribune: one article the day after, Pioneer Press: one article, the day after. Everyone just let this go, and that kind of worries me. I don't live in Eau Claire and my real issue with doesn't have much to do with that my parents and little brother are drinking the city water and breathing the air (inside and out), but that this is how our news is run now. No one is digging deeper, it's not about getting information and creating informed and alert citizens, it's about headlines. That was entertaining for a day, but even the people it effects tuned out, Paris Hilton was about to get out of jail, and certainly that was more important. I know it was more important because I watched CNN for half an hour and there was more time spent on Paris Hilton than anything else that day, I believe we timed it at about 7 minutes worth of Hilton news. Doesn't anyone else think this is the kind of thing that city needs to continually keep people posted on and maybe issue some fines, maybe be checking the water supply and having the paper run the reports, even if it's on page 66Z. I'm sure there is more info out there (and if you've found some or know where to look please leave a comment and let me know, I'm very interested in the omnipresent apathy during this situation).

I just think that this event is somewhat emblematic of where our minds are and where the news sources we rely on are putting their priorities, I'm interested in this event, an important one in some respects, especially for the citizens of western Wisconsin whose air and water may or may not be contaminated, but I can't even find info when I'm hunting for it, when it should probably be readily available for everyone. Just a thought.

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