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Most models of post-disaster recovery are based on the aftermath of natural events. As Kliman and Kliman (1982) note: "We know a great deal about the strategies for crisis intervention that are most effective in helping individuals and communities deal with natural disasters. Much less is known through experience about what kinds of intervention strategies are most helpful when disasters are wrought by people." Thus, Centralia's experience has many implications for those who are interested in assisting communities to recover from industrial contamination.

Perhaps the most critical implication is that recovery (or transformation) is not a separate stage but is going on throughout a contamination situation. We need to be sensitive to where a situation falls on the stage model matrix at any particular time, in order to develop effective recovery (or transformation) strategies. For example, a community in which most perceive contamination as a "warning" and in which the issue is "contained," warrants a very different approach from one in which there is intense disagreement over the definitional stage and in which emergent grass-roots groups are plentiful. Public programmes to assist recovery may be more feasible in the first case than in the second.

Another implication is the importance of dealing with the social aspects of recovery. Most recovery strategies tend to be concerned mainly with technical, not social, issues. But dealing with the breakdown of trust and social cohesion within communities is critical to creating the possibility for survival and social reconstruction of the community. If there are too many deep wounds caused by social conflict, healing at the community level becomes impossible. For example, Kliman and Kliman described their experience as social workers at Love Canal as follows: "Our frustrating and saddening experience in consulting with United Way agencies... was that the murkiness and pessimism of the situation resulted in divisions among victims... Effective community organization was nearly impossible in an atmosphere of hopelessness and misplaced conflict" (Kliman and Kliman 1982: 267). Implementation of conflict-management strategies throughout the developing history of contamination cases could help keep deep social wounds to a minimum and might aid in finding common ground around which most in a community could unite, and through which the community could define and pursue its collective interests.

It is also important to consider the implications of the "pre-impact/pre-issue" stage in terms of the resources and abilities of communities to deal with contamination disasters. Most such disasters are extremely expensive, calling for far more resources than the affected area can muster. Moreover, the risks of falling victim to a contamination disaster are distributed unequally among individuals, groups, communities, regions, and societies. The costs of living with, and recovering from, industrial contamination are borne disproportionately by those least equipped to manage them. There is a growing literature documenting the unequal distribution of technological hazards. For example, in 1983, the General Accounting Office reported on four hazardous waste sites threatening communities in one southern state: "At least 26% of the population in all four communities have income below the poverty level" (General Accounting Office 1983: 1). Similarly, the City of Houston pursued a policy of locating solid waste disposal sites in low-income, "predominantly black neighborhoods" (Bullard 1983: 285; see also Bullard and Wright 1986). Castleman (1979) looks at an international dimension to the question, arguing that "poverty and ignorance make communities in many parts of the world quite vulnerable to the exploitation implicit in hazardous export" (Castleman 1979: 570). Centralia is clearly a case in point, having a history of quasi-colonial exploitation while it was considered economically valuable and of neglect when it was not.

A further implication here is that contaminated communities are likely to have a history of economic and political dependence - a dependence that is exacerbated by the realization that vast resources are needed if contamination is to be tackled successfully. At the same time, outside parties are usually reluctant to provide aid to such communities the costs are great and there is little or nothing to gain. If they do become involved, corporations and government agencies are apt to put pressure on local residents to accept outsiders' definitions of the problem (e.g. Shrivastava 1991; Gephart 1992). And affected communities are unlikely to have sufficient "clout" to force adequate resolution of the problem through normal political channels. In such circumstances, a community's most effective weapon is often the mass media, and the probability of gaining media attention is higher if community groups decide to escalate their tactics to include rancorous confrontations with those in authority (e.g. demonstrations, marches, sit-ins). Therefore, there is a high probability that victims will seek help from outside the local political system unless that system becomes more responsive to their needs.

If certain areas are more likely than others to be victimized by disasters, the existence of a disaster subculture may help them respond to the problem. Our experience with contamination disasters is too new to permit much more than speculation on this point, but the Centralia case suggests that a general disaster subculture (as opposed to one that is grounded only in chronic contamination) may hinder, rather than help, the development of effective responses to industrial contamination. We need to carry out additional research on the specific characteristics of disaster subcultures resulting from experience with various kinds of disasters, and on the relationship of those subcultures to community response and recovery.

Another implication for intervention, and another subject worthy of further research in its own right, is the importance of the territorial aspect of contamination. Feitelson (1991) suggests that one of the factors that make local environmental issues emotional and dissentridden is human attachment to specific places that are threatened by pollution or development. Clearly, in our culture, one's home is seen as a refuge from dangerous forces, as a safe haven from the risks of the outside world. And, while "community" may transcend one's local town or neighbourhood, the territorial basis of community is still seen as distinctive and important (Wilkinson 1991: 22-23). When that basis for community is threatened, when that safe haven becomes dangerous, or when one may be forced to relocate, people become very upset. The intensity of the reaction may be exacerbated by the fact that, in modern Western society, people generally have more choice over where they live (Fischer 1977: 192). Restraining that choice is seen as particularly loathsome, even as the violation of a person's rights. Any intervention should be especially sensitive to issues of attachment to place.

Finally, while contaminated communities are likely to be similar in the ways discussed above, they will also have vast cultural differences, differences that should be kept in mind when outside agencies seek to speed recovery. Intervention and recovery strategies that may work in a small mining community in the United States may not work in an industrial city in Japan or a farming region of Zimbabwe. Although much about the experience of contamination and its stages is remarkably similar across cultures, successful efforts at recovery will always be shaped by the specific culture of a community. This was clearly illustrated in Centralia, when government agents were shocked that their well-trained mining engineers were not believed or treated with much respect by local residents, most of whom had no college education. However, a person with knowledge of the local mining culture would not have been surprised - many townspeople had worked in the mines under the town and firmly believed that their first-hand knowledge was worth much more than that of any "book-trained" engineer.


It must be kept in mind that community recovery or transformation takes place within a larger sociopolitical context. Policy at the level of the nation or the state, prefecture, or province usually sets the boundaries of action. Where such policies exist at all, they are of recent vintage. And, in at least some of those places, policy is underdeveloped and contradictory. In the United States, for example, there is no formal policy on recovery from industrial contamination. Informally, relocation has been implemented with increasing frequency in recent years but without the benefit of adequate research about its effects and without a public debate that would come to grips with its implications. Will it result in the creation of geographic "sacrifice zones," where contaminated land is abandoned for ever? Would such zones draw waste from other areas? How much of an area can (or should) be sacrificed? What might be the implications for nearby settlements and for the physical and social environments? Would acceptance of relocation as a preferred policy cut down on the motivation of companies to reduce the production of hazardous chemicals and wastes?

Centralia is an example of what happens in this kind of policy vacuum. In the absence of a policy, and loath to take what might be seen as an authoritarian stand, the federal government allowed relocation to be voluntary when instituted in 1984. Now, the state government has decided that Centralia is too dangerous for human habitation and is forcing the remaining residents to leave. The result - almost everyone is unhappy with how the problem was handled. A policy on industrial contamination recovery would not, of course, eliminate conflict and satisfy everyone. But a policy might help define what recovery means in these cases and might provide guidelines for aiding impacted communities and individuals. In light of the growing number of industrial contamination cases, the need for policy is urgent.

All industrial countries, as well as all industrializing countries, should look towards the formulation of long-term industrial disaster policies. At this time it is not possible to provide guidelines for every country, so what follows highlights the United States. In order to facilitate the beginning of debate on a US national policy, I recommend the following:

1. Constitute a federally funded task force to recommend a policy and structure for overseeing community and individual recovery from long-term industrial disasters. The task force could be organized under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences or a similar body. It would include a broad range of experts on industrial hazards and disasters, and experts on individual and community recovery from personal trauma and social disorganization.

2. The task force would be charged with addressing several kinds of public policy reform. These would include:

(a) Centralized management of recovery. Much of the delay and confusion suffered in Centralia was due to the fact that no single agency had clear authority. Several existing federal agencies might be delegated this responsibility, though none is perfectly suited to the task. The Environmental Protection Agency is one possibility but it is a regulatory and enforcement body, not designed to assist with individual and community recovery (Zimmerman 1985). The Federal Emergency Management Agency was originally intended to oversee preparedness and recovery planning for one kind of technological disaster (i.e. nuclear warfare) but it has been more heavily committed to the arena of natural calamities. One of the federal agencies that is more directly concerned with community development might be appropriate, but these organizations seldom play a central role in disaster recovery. In any event, wherever it is administratively located, the agency should have a clear mandate to focus on recovery issues.

(b) Federal policy should address not only environmental recovery but also human and community recovery. There is a prevailing tendency to focus on technological alternatives that are, at best, half measures. A successful policy would help individuals and communities to transform themselves.

(c) Many residents of affected communities will have to be empowered to effect the necessary transformations. Most do not have the resources to ensure their own recovery unaided, and many have a history of dependency that is deepened by industrial disasters. There is some risk that a centralized policy and a centralized agency might further increase dependency. Therefore, innovative efforts at community empowerment will probably be required. For example, Superfund (toxic waste) programmes that provide funds for communities to hire technical experts might be expanded to include other types of industrial hazards and to make available experts on social and psychological recovery. Moreover, since intracommunity conflict is such a devastating part of industrial contamination, people versed in facilitating or mediating such conflicts might be made available to communities.

(d) States should be encouraged to develop their own industrial contamination agencies and given responsibility for dealing with situations that fall outside the purview of the federal government or might be more appropriately addressed by state bodies.

While the shape, nature, and structure of a policy on industrial hazard recovery must be painted in broad strokes at this point, these recommendations provide points of departure for a debate on a national policy. It is clear that a response based on natural disaster precedents or on regulatory models is inadequate. Thanks to cases such as Centralia, we now have sufficient knowledge of the distinctive nature of responses to long-term industrial contamination to lay the groundwork for policies and strategies that will make possible successful recovery (or, better yet, transformation). Many of the appropriate measures that would be suitable for the United States might have broad applicability elsewhere. Therefore, the United Nations might well be involved in formulating an international system of industrial disaster recovery. In the name of past and present victims of these catastrophes, and in the hope of limiting the number of future victims, let the debate begin.


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