Movies and music lift the lid on chemical pollution

When campaigning about pollution, environmentalists currently focus much of their attention on CO2 emissions and plastics. While this is understandable, it’s important to remember that there’s plenty of other stuff that we should be concerned about. The movie Dark Waters, which is based on real events in a small town in West Virginia, reminds us of the devastating impact that pollution by the chemical industry can have on communities and individuals.

factories with smoke under cloudy sky

PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Hendry @worldbetweenlines via Unsplash

The star of the show is lawyer Robert Billott. Billott takes up the case of small-time livestock farmer Wilbur Tennant, who has watched in horror as his herd of cattle succumbs to a range of illnesses. Tennant believes, and his lawyer finally proves, that the sickness amongst his stock is due to contamination of their drinking water by chemical corporate giant, DuPont.

But the damage isn’t limited to Wilbur’s herd. Billott discovers that DuPont dumped toxic waste at a local landfill site for many years, apparently without regard to the possible consequences and despite the fact that its own research warned of the dangers.

The pollutants released from the landfill are shown to have found their way into local water courses, with probable links eventually being identified between them and medical conditions including various cancers, thyroid disease, pre-eclampsia, ulcerative colitis and rotting teeth in humans and animals alike.

The movie homes in on Billott’s marathon David v. Goliath battle. The lawyer takes on DuPont, and many years later finally wins justice for his clients and the local community.

For me, this movie generates a huge sense of indignation, as well as real fear for the future of our planet. If you haven’t done so already I encourage you to watch the movie Dark Waters, and to read the lengthy New York Times Magazine article upon which it is based.

This is not a happy movie, and in a sense I took no great pleasure in watching it – it was too raw, too traumatic. But I’m glad that I did so, to be reminded that I should be vigilant and not take at face value those who glibly tell me that we can trust scientists, big business – and their lawyers – always to do the right thing.

*

And while we’re on the subject of chemical pollution, the Process Man (also known as the Chemical Worker’s Song and the ICI Song) tells another – equally horrifying – story. The song was written and recorded in 1964 by Ron Angel from Cleveland in the UK.

The economy of that part of north-east England has been dominated by the chemical industry for generations. The industry has provided employment for many thousands, but the human cost – as highlighted by Angel’s lyrics below – has been huge. The lyrics have been sourced from the Antiwar Songs website.

A process man am I and I’m telling you no lie.
I’ve worked and breathed among the fumes.
That trail across the sky.
There’s thunder all around me and poison in the air.
There’s a lousy smell that smacks of hell.
And dust all in my hair.

But you go boys go.
They time your every breath.
And every day you’re in this place.
you’re two days nearer death, but you go.

I’ve worked among the spinners I’ve breathed in the oil and smoke.
I’ve shovelled up the gypsum till it nigh on makes you choke.
I’ve stood knee deep in cyanide gone sick with a caustic burn.
I’ve been working rough I’ve seen enough to make your stomach turn.

But you go boys go.
They time your every breath.
And every day you’re in this place.
you’re two days nearer death, but you go.

There’s overtime there’s bonus opportunities galore.
The young men like the money. Aye they all come back for mare.
Ah but soon you’re knocking on. You look older than you should.
For every bob made on this job you pay with flesh and blood.

You can listen to Ron Angel singing his song by following this link on YouTube.

Such a powerful protest song has inevitably been recorded by a number of artists over the years. Possibly the best known was sung by the Canadian folk rock band Great Big Sea. However, my personal favourite is the version recorded by English folk duo Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith.

At their best the arts, including music and film, are much more than simple entertainment: they are a repository of lessons that we forget at our peril. Songs like the Process Man are an important reminder that much of the prosperity we currently enjoy has been built upon the misery of the masses over many generations, while movies such as Dark Waters should serve as a warning that the profit motive continues to tempt organisations and individuals to do stuff we – and they, ultimately – will regret.

Pollution is an ever-present danger in our modern world. We owe it to the planet, to all creatures currently living on it, and to those who will come after us, to remain vigilant.

4 comments

  1. tanjabrittonwriter · March 26

    This is saddening and infuriating at the same time. What will it take for us to change our ways, and not put profit ahead of anything else, Mr. P?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 26

      We must hope that, as they rise into positions of power and influence, today’s youngsters will be wiser than people of our own generation(s) have been. The future is theirs, and they have to be better at looking after the world than we have been.

      Liked by 1 person

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