DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY

I am a chemist. A vanishingly small portion of my work is transformed into commodities for the world at large in exchange for cashflow enjoyed by other, better people. Most everything I do, concerned as it is with converting small quantities of weirdly named stuff into intimidatingly large quantities of exotically toxic chemical waste, eventually goes down the drain. Not literally, of course, because I live in Los Angeles. I myself am classifiable as hazardous chemical waste because you cannot be too careful, and our legislators' reelection campaigns can always use an extra few kilobucks quietly delivered in untraceable envelopes.

Los Angeles is just a little bit insane about hazardous emissions other than those associated with government functions, property, or campaign donors. The days when a manufacturer could leave moist dribbles and little warm plops in obscure places are fast fading. Do not get caught doing it before the right people can be paid off. Now that the environment is safeguarded by several unreadable volumes of porkbarrelled purple prolix prose passed as law, the politicians are on the legal prowl for that last bit of spit and polish to exponentially augment their clandestine pecuniary inflow. Public officials service the public the way a bull services a cow.

This day started badly when I flipped on the radio at dawn's early light to learn that as a chemist my corpse could not be transported through Los Angeles County without a hazardous waste manifest, or buried or burned without an environmental impact report. Killing a chemist was thus elevated from simple homicide to a full blown political and ecological disaster, like the Exxon Valdez discharging a few million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Alaska or a Kennedy driving your pregnant daughter across a bridge. Rumors of a Macondo 200 million gallon cude oil discharge at 5000 foot depth in the Gulf of Mexico suffer no substantiating Official Truth.

All chemical substances and mixtures, except for consumer goods, must have included a Material Safety Data Sheet. The MSDS discloses contents as to identity and amounts, enumerates physical and chemical properties of each, communicates limits and routes of exposure and contamination; references acute and chronic biological, health, and reproductive effects; and recommends action in case of human exposure, spills, or fire. This is the law. This will be done or you will be stomped on so hard that you will pop, and the legal fees (for polluting the world with your diseased issue, $10,000/occurance-day fine) will break you. You may even get on the cover of People magazine.

Everything past the first page of the MSDS (itself mostly filled with N/A - Not Available) is an impressively worthless political essay written by lawyers whose fear is only exceeded by their impecunious greed. Every chemical substance, from cyanide to beach sand, has its last MSDS pages containing in sanctified language the most ludicrous and ass-covering unvarying boilerplate warnings guaranteed to avoid legal liability. Tap water does not require an MSDS. Ultrapure, particle-free, sterile reagent water requires an MSDS, and it warns that a full chemical isolation suit, independent breathing apparatus, and the most stringent waste collection and disposal procedures be followed in the event of a spill. Skin contamination must be neutralized by washing for at least 15 minutes. The pound of stuff that powers explosive airbag inflation in a car, destabilized sodium azide, is as toxic as potassium cyanide and will lethally poison you and 349 other people if it enters your bodies by any route, BUT IT'S OK. Folks in high governmnet offices have enjoyed bountiful quiet incomes to keep it OK.

A chemist uses chemicals, he unavoidably ingests small amounts of those chemicals, he is those chemicals by law, he is legal dog meat. My traitorous radio having made my day, I checked the obituary section of the LA Times to make sure I was not listed, and got out of bed. (Why do people die in alphabetical order?) If the Morticians and Funeral Attendants PAC neglected to deliver the necessary envelopes of pastel Benjis to selected legislators by end of the day, I would have to be especially careful about dying. A public hazardous waste spill will summon the government-mandated Hazardous Materials Emergency Team who will strut around in orange moon suits and futuristic positive pressure air-paks, clean the area with a special mop and a special bucket, and send you the six-figure bill by registered mail.

I tiptoed through that gurgling morass of writhing anguish I use for a mind and spun fantasies of licking the front door of City Hall, requiring the whole of LA County to be subjected to decontamination via high temperature incineration (with the smoke monitored for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emission courtesy of the Air Quality Management District). I imagined willfully committing misdemeanors and felonies, and saying to the cops when they arrive,

"I am a chemist. I work with hazardous waste. I am contaminated with hazardous waste. I have ingested hazardous waste. By law, anything containing hazardous waste is classified as hazardous waste. I weight 180 pounds. You cannot lawfully transport or store 180 pounds of hazardous waste without a hazardous waste manifest and sanctioned storage facilities. Nyah Nyah!"

"Call HAZ-MET, and tell them to bring an especially large mop and a case of very small buckets."


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