Friday, May 23, 2008

Criminal negligence

Continuing our occasional word of the day series here at RFK Action Front... our word of the day is --

Criminal negligence: (law) recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death (or failing to do something with the same consequences)

Rachel's Democracy & Health News links to an article from Science Daily, titled, "Autism Risk Linked to Distance from [Coal-Fired] Power Plants, Other Mercury-Releasing Sources." From the article:

A newly published study of Texas school district data and industrial mercury-release data, conducted by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, indeed shows a statistically significant link between pounds of industrial release of mercury and increased autism rates. It also shows—for the first time in scientific literature—a statistically significant association between autism risk and distance from the mercury source...

Dr. Palmer, Stephen Blanchard, Ph.D., of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio and Robert Wood of the UT Health Science Center found that community autism prevalence is reduced by 1 percent to 2 percent with each 10 miles of distance from the pollution source....

Most exposures were said to come from coal-fired utility plants (33 percent of exposures), municipal/medical waste incinerators (29 percent) and commercial/industrial boilers (18 percent). Cement plants also release mercury.

Okay, so now we know there is a direct link between mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and autism. And we know that the closer one lives to the source the worse the problem -- as the study says, "autism prevalence diminished 1 to 2 percent for every 10 miles from the source." It's a small but statistically significant effect.

So here's my question: now that we know this information, aren't any legislators who vote in favor of building a new coal-fired power plant guilty of criminal negligence? Not just in the moral sense, but also in a practical sense -- isn't it possible that a criminal prosecutor will at some point bring a case against legislators who voted in favor of coal-fired power plants even though they knew, with statistical certainty, that there is a direct link between coal-fired power and autism? Given that this scientific research in now in the public domain, by definition, isn't any vote in favor of new coal-fired power plants in fact a prosecutable case of criminal negligence?

Now it may be a tough case to prove. Heaven knows big corporations have gone to great lengths to obtain liability protection and some legislatures might even be protected against lawsuits by shield laws. And just like in the court cases against the tobacco industry -- it'll be tough to prove that this particular coal plant was the sole reason that this particular child developed autism -- maybe it was the cement factory down the street or the vaccines given to the child. But still, I gotta figure on a class action basis, given this evidence, some attorney might want to take this on.

So, if you're a legislator such as Bill Otto in Kansas, do you really want to vote for a new coal-fired power plan when in fact you KNOW that it will cause huge adverse health impacts on the residents in your community and you face the possibility that you, personally, will be sued for criminal negligence?

No comments: