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Ridding the environment of toxic chemicals

Robert C. Cowen's article ``Beware the excessive fear of toxic chemicals'' (April 16) draws an idyllic picture of America's chemical companies claiming that their executives are ``no more tolerant of dangerous chemical waste dumps than is Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.'' We at Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would like to assure him that if his assertion were correct, America would not now be faced with more than 300,000 of these atrocities. Russell Wild, Greenpeace Washington

As I was reading Mr. Cowen's column my eyes flew to the signature to see if he was affiliated with the Chemical Manufacturers' Association.

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Surely he had a point to make but ruined it by trying to make the CMA look like knights on white chargers, and that they are not! It is my opinion that they have come late to the groups fighting to save the environment and themselves. Their PR people have advised them well. As a reader of ``The Bitter Fog,'' by Van Strum, and ``Hazardous Waste in America,'' by Epstein, Brown, and Pope, I have learned that I am not alone in trying to shake the apathy of millions of Americans who would rather look the other way.

Mr. Cowen advises us to cooperate with industry. When will industry cooperate with us? Why do the CMA and the Department of Agriculture fight against protection from the spraying of hazardous chemicals? The majority of the chemicals being used today have only their own research to support the registration given to them by the FDA. In other words, all chemicals are submitted and allowed to be used under a registration based solely on the information submitted by the company selling it. Think on that a bit. Dorothy M. Lang Vineland, N.J.

I disagree with Robert C. Cowen's April 16 article. He argues (with flawed premise) that because common household chemicals labeled toxic are actually safe, then industrial chemicals are also innocuous.

One result of his cavalier attitude toward dangerous materials is pesticide abuse. For example, I am facing yet another spring with no bees to pollinate my four fruit trees. Only a month ago my heather and crocuses swarmed with active honey and bumblebees. But every spring, homeowners rush to their garden centers for pesticides, and someone wipes out the neighborhood bee population just before the fruit trees bloom.

But homeowners are small-time polluters compared with chemical industries. The outrageous remark that chemical executives ``are no more tolerant of dangerous toxic waste dumps than is Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth'' is simply beyond belief. These are the people who created toxic dumps. In fact, industries routinely break laws in disposing of toxic waste -- that is business as usual -- and any environmental group can supply ample confirmation of this. Industry cooperates only when rigorous law enactment and enforcement make irresponsible behavior financially unrewarding. To believe otherwise is naive.

Finally, the idea that the public should close its eyes to industrial abuse because we all profit when industry profits is nonsense. A few stockholders may benefit when industry dumps waste cheaply, but every taxpayer knows who is footing the Superfund cleanup bill. Pamela Harlow Seattle

It has been said that one of the secrets of artistic expression is the selection of detail. In this respect, a newspaper article may appear as an artistic achievement.

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Witness the piece by Daniel B. Wood on famous photographer Yousuf Karsh [``How Karsh captures `life, humanity, mankind,' '' April 12].

Mr. Wood produced a verbal portrait of Mr. Karsh that is attention-holding, educational, and revealing. August W. Reichel Pasadena, Calif.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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