In "Who's Killing Calvert City?," a "Frontline" documentary airing tonight at 9 on Channels 28 and 15 and at 10 on Channel 50, we get a close look at the citizens of a small, one-industry Kentucky town reaping a bitter legacy from the hometown product.
The local industry: chemical manufacturing. The legacy: pollution.
Although producer Michael Mierendorf somewhat stacks the deck in favor of environmentalists, this is not a one-sided issue: There are many residents who feel the pollution controversy has been blown out of proportion, that it is not nearly as serious as environmental activists believe.
"Calvert City" also shows that this is not simply an environmental issue. The chemical plants have brought prosperity to the rural area; many residents fear that a "pollution panic" could ruin the town's economic future.
One of the constants that run through "Calvert City" is that nobody has got a clear idea of exactly what is going on. "We don't know what's being discharged from the plants. We don't know what's being discharged into the air or seeping into the ground," says Don Harker, head of the state Environmental Protection Agency's waste division, a man who presumably should know.
This lack of information ultimately becomes "Calvert City's" strong suit, a subtle point in an otherwise not-subtle show.
If the experts can't measure the impact of this toxic waste, then maybe it's time for everyone--chemical manufacturers, government agencies, citizens--to get some clear answers before proceeding.
The woes of this small town do not exist in a vacuum. In an era when toxic pollution is a world-wide problem, "Who's Killing Calvert City?" is a small-town profile with much larger implications.