1995 CPEO Military List Archive

From: isisGU@hamp.hampshire.edu
Date: 12 Jun 1995 07:06:46
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: Our RAB and its responsibilities
Posting from ISIS Guest Account <isisGU@hamp.hampshire.edu>
Reply-To: ISIS Guest Account <isisGU@hamp.hampshire.edu>
Subject: Re: Our RAB and its responsibilities

BEWARE! LONG. Please ignore at will.


In the spirit of ongoing dialog . . . Who did you mean by "et al?"

> It is a bit of a stretch to accuse Lenny of "astute deviousness and
> dirty tricks."

I suspect that you miss an element of humor in the phrasing of David's
observation about affiliations and name tags. Also, the comments were
originally for Lenny and Aimee only; and posted at their suggestion. 

> In regards to your reference to the spectre of politics vis a vis with 
> RABs, perhaps it's now time to look at the 'big picture' for a change.

Which big picture are you referring to? David's comments address the
question of the deepest (radically democratic? public relations?) intent
of RABs. How much citizen input is welcome; and who makes that decision? 
How much input will citizens have in (technical-political) decisions that
affect them. Will community members have a role in defining risk, impact,
health, clean, etc. -- or will pivotal concepts be handed out by technical
experts who may or may not personally live the outcome? 

David speaks from long experience on the issue of technical expertise and
community dialog. He's worked for roughly a decade on keeping community
concerns on the table regarding the ongoing environmental impacts of
Westover ARB. He can supply better examples than I can, but I'd like to
share a piece of our common experience: 

Since January '94, I've worked at ISIS on innovative technical assistance
for the communities around Westover. In spring '94, we held a
brainstorming session for geology professors, community members, and
Westover's enviromental staff to see what we could offer. By fall'94,
we'd done 3 undergraduate geology and geophysics studies of a poorly
characterized landfill near the base fenceline. We held a public meeting
for student presentations, and David's group brought the community out. 

At the meeting, we saw the discussion shift dramatically from Q&A to a
debate between the students and environmental engineers, literally over
the heads of the citizens. The only people who went home satisfied were
the students and Westover engineers, though the community members had
come with very clear questions (How safe is my well from this landfill? 
Why are cancer rates so high in my neighborhood?). Nobody addressed them. 

A big question is: How do we keep the broad community in that technical
dialog? The response I see David raising is that perhaps technical debate
is the wrong approach. The community members we work with aren't
interested in chemical structure, engineering coefficients, and arbitrary
safety factors in risk calculations. They want to know if the military is
committed to remedy past errors of pollution and cover-up, and if their 
concerns are on the table.

> Is the contamination at the site an imminent or potentially imminent 
> danger to human health? This is a critical question and the RABs 
> must of necessity address this issue squarely. 
> If one believes this doesn't have political ramifications then we're 
> all dreaming.

In my own experience, the science of risk assessment is strange, sloppy
and more often than not, inconclusive. Are we going to make our political
decisions about 'how clean is clean' based on short-term toxicological
bioassays of rats and mice, which have questionable relevance to the human
body? In other words, how much faith do you have in our understanding of
the long-term health effects of eg. TCE? In prediction of exposure
pathways? If we can't depend on these, then where should we begin? 

I think it's reasonable to take a long, hard look at what role the public
will have in defining the problem and get the limitations fo RABs out on
the table. If we're wholly stuck with traditional definitions of risk,
health, impact, etc. then I see no point in participation. Risk
assessment leaves too much room for inadvertently walking over peoples
lives, and is an inadequate tool for addressing public concerns. 

Jeff Green
Institute for Science & Interdisciplinary Studies
Prescott House C-5, 893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002-5001

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