Within the past few years there has been a great rise in public concern over the destruction of the American environment, and the word conservation, popular in Theodore Roosevelt's time, is again in wide use. Unfortunately, what we have had lately is cosmetics conservation, in which we are adjured to put fences around junkyards, plant flowers along turnpikes and pick up picnic papers. But the problems run far deeper than such superficialities as "natural beauty," however well-intentioned. This point is made horrifyingly clear in a new book on water pollution that calls for an end to the Effluent Society.
Disaster by Default: Politics and Water Pollution (Evans, $4.95) by Frank Graham Jr. is the work of a professional journalist who is obviously outraged and intent on shocking the public into action before the country chokes to death on sewage and industrial wastes. Graham does not have to reach to make his points; he only has to cite specific case histories to make the reader gag. Lake Erie is dying, if not dead. The rest of the Great Lakes, the largest single supply of fresh water in the world, are in grave danger. The Chicago health commissioner says the waters of Lake Michigan carry "the threat of outbreaks of infectious hepatitis, typhoid fever, salmonellosis [a severe intestinal infection], and possibly poliomyelitis." With all our major river systems polluted, it is no longer a question of fish killed—however jarring to the angered sportsman—but human life endangered. Often the pollution is shockingly visible in gross form. People downstream from the slaughter houses of Omaha on the great and wide Missouri have to pick grease and animal hairs from their water-supply filters. In Raritan Bay off New York harbor, oysters "as fat as butter" gorge themselves on human wastes. "We live amid sewers," Graham says, and he is right. So far, the polluters and politicians have been largely indifferent. If one hero emerges from this documented account of carnage, he is William E. Guckert, a Pennsylvania trout fisherman who got sick of seeing streams destroyed by fast-buck strip miners. Organizing sportsmen, Guckert raised hell and elected state legislators who would meet the problem. When Richardson Dilworth, the Democratic candidate for governor in 1962, dillydallied, the sportsmen backed William Scranton, who promised needed legislation. That legislation, now passed, will be enforced, for Guckert is on the Land Reclamation Board set up by the governor.