When I was a sophomore at Illinois State, a roommate was dating an Environmental Health major. One afternoon, he was over our place talking about how he went on a field trip to LaSalle that day, a small town about an hour’s drive north of ISU.
“You went to LaSalle? That’s my hometown. Why did you go there?” I asked.
“You’re from there?” he asked in amazement. “That’s a Superfund Cleanup Site! Did you know that?”
Yeah dude, I knew that. How couldn’t I? Growing up there you knew that Superfund Cleanup Site meant guys in weird space suits walked around the area of an old factory trying to get rid of these nasty buggers called PCBs. And they dug up the earth within a one mile radius of the defunct plant and burned it right there; a process that took about 10 years. No one seemed too troubled that our junior high school, public park and pool wasn’t all that far outside the mile boundary.
A few years back, yet another dead industrial site in LaSalle caught the eye of the EPA again. An old zinc plant in operation from the mid-1800s into the 1970s left the ground polluted with toxic metals, ground that is uncomfortably close to LaSalle’s wells from where the town’s disgusting water supply is drawn.
Friends from high school who had worked for one branch of the wealthy, eccentric descendants of the original polluters told me one night late at a bar that their boss warned them the EPA was coming, and ordered them to dump barrels of chemicals over the fence onto the land of their cousin. “I want this place to look like Disneyland,” boss man said.
So why this little tale? Am I an Erin Brockovich wannabe? Not so much. But I’ll tell you that each time I spend a weekend there (damn those holidays!) I leave a little sadder.
The newspaper over the weekend reported that the area leads the state in job growth in bars and restaurants (jobs which yield an annual salary of about $13,000) with some local yokels (I mean officials) saying that’s indicative of the area’s growing tourism industry.
Tourism? What in the hell is worth seeing there? The kids are strung out on heroin (at least a few that I’m related to) so maybe there’s some sort of IV drug user walking tour that I’m not aware of.
“And on the left we have one of our latest crack houses to open in LaSalle,” the guide will boast as the tourists stare in amazement.
Anyway, I’m sure what’s happening there is indicative of thousands of small blue collar towns where people could once get decent jobs and have a decent life.