by Charles A. Monagan
Jul 10, 2012
06:47 AMOn Connecticut
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These overproduced playlets aren’t only about suspected terrorism. Certain environmental bogeymen can set off the alarms, too. My favorite case happened in 2007, when someone at Torrington High School dropped a thermometer onto the floor of the chemistry lab. Although the resulting mercury “spill” was later described as the size of a pencil’s eraser tip, all the students, faculty and staff were herded into the cafeteria as police and other emergency personnel arrived on the scene. The clean-up, if it can be called that, took four hours to complete and cost around $25,000.
In this context, would it be imprudent for me to mention that there has not been a single genuine anthrax incident in this country in nearly 11 years? And might I also suggest that a drop of mercury (which we used to roll around in our hands as kids, by the way) could easily be corraled in 10 minutes by one person wielding a couple of simple tools and a sturdy vial?
In essence, I wonder if we aren’t losing our way on this issue. I understand that the desire these days is for everyone to be safe, or at least feel safe, no matter what the cost. I also know that the prospect of swarming lawyers and outrageous jury awards haunts every municipal decision-maker. And certainly there are incidents that ought to command the full attention of government agents, and an appropriate response. But a tiny spot of mercury? Cornstarch tossed as litter from a passing car? A 20-gallon diesel fuel spill resulting from a traffic wreck? Shouldn’t common sense enter the equation at some point? Does the official response always have to be huge, expensive and rather fear-mongering in and of itself?
The fact that our “white-powder spring” came and went in Connecticut without raising much alarm among the general populace tells me that most of us have managed to put our fears into perspective over the years. Getting free-spending state and local governments and the $70 billion national biodefense industry to do the same will be more of a challenge.