A pipe to drain crude contamination from open toxic pools into waterways near Lago Agrio, Ecuador. The toxic pools in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest were abandoned by Texaco (now Chevron) after oil drilling operations ended in 1990 and were never remediated. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network
It seems, at times, as if corporate executives operate with near-impunity, rarely being held accountable for polluting the planet in their quest for profits. But today, at least one exec is behind bars for contributing to the deaths of several people who were inundated by millions of gallons of toxic sludge that his company had failed to dispose of properly.
No, I’m not talking about Chevron CEO John Watson, though I certainly could (and probably should) be. Watson is still at large, enjoying his impunity while 30,000 Ecuadoreans continue to suffer the effects of the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste his company refuses to clean up in the rainforests of Ecuador.
I’m actually talking about Zoltan Bakonyi, the managing director of MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, which was responsible for a flood of toxic sludge that killed eight people in Hungary last week.
The similarities between what happened in Hungary and the ongoing catastrophe in Ecuador are striking. Both are entirely man-made disasters that should never have happened, both are the result of corporate negligence, and both point out how environmentally unsustainable industries externalize the costs of their dirty businesses onto those communities unfortunate
enough to be adjacent to their polluting operations.
There are plenty of differences between the two cases, as well. For one thing, the toxic sludge from MAL Rt.’s aluminum plant only claimed eight lives and seems to be mostly contained at this point, whereas Chevron’s toxic oil waste has so far led to some 1,400 deaths, and could lead to 10,000 more by 2080 even if Chevron cleans up its mess immediately — which of course the company still refuses to do altogether.
The biggest difference is the fact that MAL Rt. managing director Zoltan Bakonyi has been detained by Hungarian authorities and is being held responsible, while John Watson is still free, still polluting, and still not taking responsibility for the damage his company’s pollution has caused.
Yesterday, as part of 350.org’s 10/10/10 Global Work Party, we got to work cleaning up Chevron stations in an attempt to urge the company to do the same in Ecuador. At the end of the day, we dropped off our cleaning supplies at Watson’s home in Lafayette, CA (as you can see in the photo above) in the hopes that he might put them to use some time soon. If you want to help, you can go to Chevron’s Facebook page and tell Watson and Chevron to get to work cleaning up Ecuador right now.