I grew up in Eureka with the government telling us the air quality was not harmful to our health. When I was very young, there were large and small burners for all the sawmills. Clothes that had been hung on a line to dry had to be shaken outside before they were folded, to get all the sawdust and soot off. But nobody warned us about breathing that air.
Then PG&E built an atomic power plant near Humboldt Bay. Clean, cheap energy, they told us. How proud we should have been in 1963 as they brought this new atomic power plant online. None of us knew of the additional earthquake faults that would cause them to shut it down in 1976, and PG&E's records that couldn't account for three radioactive rods.
But by then we had two pulp mill stacks spewing stink that we were told was not harmful for us to breathe. Oh, there were some particulars they told us about later. They couldn't correlate the high cancer rate of people working at or living near the pulp mills. We were asked instead to look at all the jobs the mills provided.
The people of Japan are now dependent on which way the wind blows as to how much radioactivity they will be exposed to. I can see no reason they should rely on the information they are getting from their government or the lack of information they are getting from the corporate operators of their damaged atomic power plants.
The only advice I have is from the early days of Monday Night Football's Don Meredith: "Turn out the lights, the party's over."
Tom Mariani is a poet and writer living in Santa Rosa.