Too often, natural resources turn out to be a curse rather than a blessing. They create few jobs for locals; the profits go to foreign multinationals; what riches stay in the country end up in politicians’ bank accounts abroad. ~ The Economist magazine in 2009
Living in harmony with Nature has never been a human aspiration. Instead, “conquering” Nature, and its casual fouling, have been long-ingrained habits. This habitual disregard turned into serious business as industrialization got underway. Keeping habitats clean became an unbearable cost. Pollution went professional.
This is about fighting for what we believe. ~ GE CEO Jack Welch in 2001, in response to being asked about GE fighting against paying to remove the toxins that it dumped in the Hudson River
US industrial companies have had similar practices to Chisso in Japan, which created Minamata disease. General Electric has been a particularly enthusiastic polluter.
Beginning in 1949, from its plant in Washington state making nuclear weapons for the military, GE deliberately released radioactive material to see how far downwind it would travel. One cloud made its way through Oregon to the California border, carrying thousands of times more radiation than emitted in the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, when a nuclear power reactor partly melted down.
With US government cooperation, GE conducted numerous radiation experiments on hundreds of human subjects considered “expendable”: the elderly, hospital patients, and prisoners. In one set of experiments in 1963, GE irradiated male prisoners’ genitals to test the effects of radiation on sterility.
First synthesized in 1881, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) has been a known carcinogen since the mid-1930s. That did not stop GE from dumping prodigious quantities of PCBs into the Hudson River from 1952 to 1977.
Nor did the public-exposure aftermath of such extensive pollution provoke any corporate remorse. In the 1968 shareholder meeting, celebrated CEO Welch had the gall to proclaim that “PCBs do not pose adverse health risks.” Welch was a chemist before becoming a business executive, which meant that Welch was either a fool or an abject liar with his PCB safety declaration. Jack Welch was no fool.
In 1980, a US federal pollution law came into effect to use public funds to clean up highly toxic sites around the country. (Cleanup of Superfund sites was largely dormant during the Reagan years (1981–1988). Instead, Reagan was busy crowing about how it was “morning again in America,” and that “our country is prouder and stronger and better.”) (As of 2017, less than 10% of ~1,700 Superfund sites have been cleaned up. Taxpayers, not polluters, have paid for most of the reclamation projects. In the 21st century, the Republican-led Congress has refused to adequately budget Superfund cleanup.) Though the government had its hand in creating numerous toxic sites, the vast majority of poisonous plots were the work of chemical concerns and mining companies. General Electric has been found liable for 78 sites.
Through the years, General Electric has exhibited a consistent pattern of violating criminal and civil laws. The company has amassed an impressive record of egregious pollution, lax safety controls, and deceiving and defrauding the public and government in a variety of ways. GE has been a leader in lobbying politicians to overturn environmental and government contracting laws so that it may pillage and pollute at will.
All told, General Electric is an outstanding example of the level of social and environmental responsibility commonly found in large corporations; in sum, a typical tribe of capitalist sociopaths.
Culture drives great results. ~ Jack Welch
Into the 21st century, GE was in a downward spiral, owing largely to financial fiddling and inept resource allocation. Competent management is hard to come by for even the largest corporations.