Toward TomorrowToward Tomorrow

lessons from yesterday, visions f0r t0morrow

Ken Geiser Chapter Excerpt

Kenneth Geiser is an internationally recognized specialist on pollution prevention, clean production and industrial chemicals policy. He is both a Professor of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Co-Director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. He is one of the authors of the 1989 Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act, landmark legislation that has encouraged companies to reduce their use of toxic chemicals by 41 percent since 1989.


"...'One day I was wandering across the campus and found there was a protest,' Geiser recalls. 'People were sitting down around this car in Sproul Hall Plaza. And I said to myself, well, I like protests. So I sat down with them and spent the rest of the evening there. Only in the midst of this did it become apparent that this was a left wing protest, which was really the start of the free speech movement in Berkeley.'

'In that moment, in that night, I suppose there was a tipping point,' says Geiser. 'I sat there in the plaza and listened. It was a really remarkable experience, in which even today I remember a great amount of charity and grace, and thinking about who I was and how naive in many ways I was, even though I thought I was fairly sophisticated. But anyway, I walked out of that situation the next morning a very changed person politically, and with an agenda.'"

"...'I met some guys from India. I got a call from them asking if I would be interested in coming to India to speak about chemical hazards on the one year anniversary commemoration of the gas release in Bhopal." What happened in Bhopal, India in 1984 was the horrific explosion at a Union Carbide plant that released a toxic chemical called methyl isocyanate. About half a million people were exposed. Well over 100,000 people were sickened and at least 20,000 people are thought to have been killed as a result of this exposure.

'So I went to Bhopal,' recalls Geiser. 'When I got there I was asked to go out into the neighborhoods and sit at these card tables and simply see this parade of people who came to tell us what happened to their lives. It was about the worst thing that I could know,' he says. 'Here it was, everything that I was working against has happening there. I was saddened and enraged,' Geiser says.

'When I asked people what I could do, they said, 'Just make sure this never happens again.' And I remember saying to myself, I don't know what my life's about, but I think I just found out. I just knew that people shouldn't suffer against their will because we need to develop an economy that produces goods and things for us. I came back from India and said, 'This is what it's about. I'm going to make this my life."