Our region has suffered enormous economic damages from PCB contamination. A partial study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the 7 paper companies owe the public in Northeast Wisconsin and Upper Michigan between $177 and $333 million in compensation and restoration costs (not including sediment cleanup), depending on whether the sediment cleanup takes 20 or 40 more years. This is a lower-bound conservative estimate, with upper bound figures in the range of $400 to $600 million. However, even these higher calculations were restricted and based primarily on damages calculated due to lost recreational value for currently active anglers.
The Service did not include the following economic losses when calculating the total compensation plan. These losses should be added on:
Discouraged Anglers --- For decades, thousands of discouraged anglers have chosen NOT to fish on the Fox River, Green Bay, or Lake Michigan, due to the PCB contamination. The resulting economic losses could easily dwarf the losses experienced by currently active fishermen and the businesses that depend on them (charter boats, baitshops, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, marinas, etc.) The Service was too conservative in calculating damages based only on currently active anglers.
Closed Commercial Fisheries --- Several species of river, bay and Lake Michigan fish are off-limits to commercial fishermen. Many multi-generation family businesses have been forced to close, or have and will face serious financial losses. The current decline in the Yellow Perch fishery may destroy the last viable commercial fishery in Southern Green Bay. Invading alien species of fish, such as the White Perch and Carp, are very numerous and have major commercial value, but they are too contaminated with PCBs to sell. (The White Perch is more predatory and eats higher on the food chain, so they collect more PCBs than the Yellow Perch.)
Discouraged Duck Hunters --- Duck hunters have also faced, and will continue to face, strict consumption advisories due to PCBs.
Lost Food Value --- Thousands of subsistence fishers and hunters (including low income and ethnic people) face major economic losses if they follow the fish advisories and are forced to purchase an equal quantity of store-bought fish and poultry. Green Bay is one of the most productive estuaries in the entire Great Lakes region. The grocery store value of the hundreds of tons of fish which could be produced annually is enormous.
Dredge Disposal Costs -- Harbors and marinas face high maintenance costs due to disposal rules for PCB contaminated sediments dredged from shipping channels and boat slips. The extra costs run into the millions. For example, federal taxpayers have recently been stuck with the $20 million costs of the PCB dredge spoil disposal and processing facility at the Bayport Project on the west bank of lower Green Bay. Numerous private marina owners face prohibitive costs to dredge and dispose of PCB contaminated sediments clogging their marinas and boat slips. Bayshore owners wishing to remove the millions of dead zebra mussels washed up on their beaches also face high disposal costs due to PCB contamination in the mussels.
Drinking Water Costs --- Because the river and bay are polluted, area communities rely on dwindling groundwater or expensive pipelines to Lake Michigan for drinking water supplies. More than a billion dollars will be spent on pipelines alone (when longterm financing is included.)
Swimming Impacts --- Popular swimming beaches have been closed for decades due to pollution. People don't feel safe swimming in the Fox River or Bay in many cases due to PCBs. Local communities have built costly artificial pools and water theme parks to compensate for the loss of river or bay beaches. Just one water theme area at Joannes Park in the City of Green Bay cost city taxpayers more than $2.5 million to construct.
Wildlife Damages --- Threatened and endangered species have been harmed and deserve additional habitat compensation above and beyond the human economic losses. Bird-watching and other valuable wildlife enjoyment activities have been harmed, with serious economic effects.
Growth Factors --- As human population grows over the next 20-40 years, the economic and social losses due to PCBs will also increase, until the PCBs fall to less harmful levels. Brown County's population alone increased 14.5% in the last 10 years, and such growth should be factored into the economic damage equations.
Property Damage --- Many waterfront homes, businesses, and public properties have been devalued for decades due to the PCB contamination.
Human Health --- The Service is not allowed by law to include economic losses due to human health effects. But imagine potential costs for thousands of people exposed to a chemical believed to cause cancer, immune system damage, birth defects, miscarriages, premature birth, behavior changes and lowered intelligence in children. A private civil action may be required to get compensation for citizens who believe they have been harmed by PCBs. (See Human Health Effects of PCBs.)
The PCB cleanup and compensation plans would be shared among 7 major corporations, with 98% of the responsibility falling on the 5 largest. These are multinational corporations, all with headquarters in other states and countries, with worldwide financial assets in the tens of billions of dollars. They can afford sharing the estimated $400 million to $1.2 billion cost of the cleanup and compensation plans, especially when those costs can be spread over several decades, just like a home mortgage.
It's important to remember that the governments will do financial studies of the 7 corporations to determine their ability to pay before setting the final dollar amount for the compensation. The federal government has said many times they have no intention of bankrupting the corporations or damaging the local economy. (If anything the cleanup and compensation will boost our economy.)
The corporations are trying to dodge their responsibilities by frightening workers, the public, and elected officials, but this is pure politics, not reality. They've delayed the cleanup for decades with such threats. Consider the billions of dollars of interest the corporations and their shareholders have earned on money they should have provided right away for cleanup 30 years ago. Delay has been profitable for them.
The corporations chose to dump their chemical wastes into our valuable public waters. We must hold them accountable for the full damages, without further delay.
The government has never bothered to estimate the total human health care costs due to PCBs in the Fox River, Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Such a study would be very difficult and expensive, and too much is still unknown about individual exposures over time. It really isnít possible to do with completeness.
This lack of financial information has caused most people to neglect the enormity and significance of these costs, both in dollars and in human suffering. The 7 paper companies can complain about specific dollars they will be expected to pay, while the rest of us are left in the dark about our own extra medical costs and loss of productivity due to their PCB pollution. Millions of people have been PCB poisoned in our region. Because the 7 paper companies did not clean up right away and have dragged their feet for decades, the PCBs have spread, and many more people have been poisoned over longer periods of time.
An international study gives some indication of how high the costs could be. A Canadian research team recently estimated U.S. and Canadian health care costs for just 4 diseases which are suspected of being caused by exposure to toxic chemicals such as PCBs. (see Human Health Effects section) The diseases are Diabetes, Parkinsonís Disease, Hypothyroidism; and lost Intelligence (IQ). The researchers reviewed findings on actual social and economic costs, constructed estimates of some costs, and provide hypothetical examples based on published evidence. (Many detailed costs are fragmented, and missing in coverage and jurisdiction.) The cumulative costs identified are very large, totaling $514-$711 billion per year for Canada and the U.S. combined. Partial Canadian costs alone are $46-$51 billion per year. Specifics include: Diabetes (U.S. and Canada) - $112 billion/yr; Parkinsonís Disease in U.S. - $13-$28.5 billion/yr; Hypothyroidism is endemic, and including estimates of costs of childhood disorders evidence suggests are linked, amounts to $55-$113 billion/yr for the U.S., and $2 billion/yr in Ontario; loss of 5 IQ points cost $30 billion/yr for Canada, $283-$333 billion/yr in the U.S., and hypothetical dynamic economic impacts run another $19-$92 billion/yr for the U.S. and Canada combined. Reasoned arguments based on the weight of evidence can support the hypothesis that at least 10% and up to 50% of these costs are environmentally induced or from $51 billion to $356 billion per year. A portion of these costs is likely due to PCBs.
Source: MUIR, T. and ZEGARAC, M. "Economics of Health Costs due to Environmental Disease." Presentation at the 2001 Conference of the International Association of Great Lakes Research. Authorsí Address: Great Lakes Environment Office, Environment Canada - Ontario Region, 867 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON, L7R 4A6.
The Fox River and Green Bay are public property. Wisconsin's lakes and streams belong to all of us equally. Their resources are supposed to be "held in trust" and protected by the government, under the centuries-old standards of the "Public Trust Doctrine." Unfortunately, wealthy, private and corporate interests have often had the political clout to pressure governments to ignore the Doctrine, at high cost to the rest of us. We must insist that our governments hold true to this essential law. (To learn more, see The Public Trust Doctrine.)