George J. Mitchell Speeches
Excerpts from: Statement of Senator George Mitchell Introduction of Superfund Amendments July 15, 1981
I am today introducing legislation to redress the imbalance that currently exists in the "Superfund" hazardous waste law.
My bill will provide compensation to persons injured by toxic chemicals, relief that is not now available. The law passed last year by the Congress makes no provision for medical expenses incurred when human beings are harmed by hazardous substances, but permits recovery of expenses incurred when natural resources are damaged by those same substances.
Giving a higher priority to things than to people is misguided, inequitable and unacceptable. Good health is irreplaceable. When one party acts in a way harmful to another’s physical well-being, he should be held responsible for that harm.
Yet, in the law as it is now written, that is not the case. Not only is the guilty party held free from responsibility for taking away a person’s health, but the law also does not provide any recourse to the industry-financed fund to compensate for health care.
Under the law now, if a toxic waste discharge injures both a tree and a person, the tree’s owner, if it is a government, can promptly recover from the fund for the cost of repairing the damage, but the person cannot. In effect, at least as to the Superfund, it It’s all right to harm people but not trees.
My bill will redress the imbalance in the current law in two ways. First, any person whose health is damaged by exposure to a hazardous substance may recover his or her medical expenses from the "Superfund,” which is financed primarily through a tax on those who make chemicals. This is an extension of the existing law which now permits recovery for the expense of cleaning-up hazardous wastes and for damage to federal and state natural resources. Without this source of compensation, an individual, made temporarily ill or permanently impaired by chemical exposure, is burdened with medical bills, because of the action of another party.