When I was very young, I remember my parents flinging refuse out the car window as we traveled the long roads to “vacation,” wherever that might be. This was the norm. I remember the change a few years later when the authorities posted signs informing us that littering was illegal and warning about fines. My parents immediately changed their habits, as did most other Americans.
The change most Americans have made during my lifetime regarding the environment has come in stages, but it is a large change. The average American in 2013 would have been considered “an environmental extremist” back in 1960. Most of us who have been around awhile have changed our attitude, probably without knowing it.
Back in 1960 (the first year I can remember), municipalities offered “garbage dumps,” where one could throw away just about anything, no matter how toxic. We were insulating homes with asbestos, and you could carve your initials in the trees. Even at the zoo, you could throw marshmallows or peanuts to the animals.
Factories were dumping untreated water with mercury and a host of toxic pollutants into our creeks and rivers. One of the Great Lakes was declared “dead.” Air pollution left houses near steel factories covered with dust rust; who knows how our lungs looked?
Cigarette smoking was omnipresent, and the rest of us dared not complain. We sprayed our gardens with DDT while the old-timers spoke of a time when one could see a variety of birds, not just sparrows, robins and pigeons. Nearly everyone cooked with margarine, and the pipes that carried in fresh water were made of lead.
The recent Kokomo Tribune article about the city taking hold of the former quarry on the east side of South Washington Street (just south of the Wildcat Creek) got me thinking. As a frequent patron of the former Southside Lumber Co., I often wondered why the adjacent property was fenced off. The Tribune article explained that Cabot Corp. had dumped toxic barrels and mildly radioactive machine parts on that site, as late as 1970.