Hazardous Substances

The shock waves rocked several city blocks and could be heard from miles around, but fortunately there were no injuries—to people, that is. The negative emotions containment facility had been evacuated expediently at the first sign of trouble, all safety precautions enacted without delay. And while those precautions ultimately could not prevent the blast and its ensuing conflagration, they did contain it and ensure the wellbeing of the community. I was asleep at the time, but my roommate woke me up after hearing the frightening boom resound throughout the city. Together, we watched the news coverage on the television, which he had immediately turned on to find out the source of this thunderous sound. On the glowing screen before us, we saw the raging flames of the monstrous firestorm engulfing what was left of the facility and the surrounding wooded hills, the blaze reaching up high into the starry sky. Behind the reporters, containment teams were working furiously to bring it under control with hoses blasting chemically treated water. By morning, it was over, leaving the charred skeleton of the facility, burnt up forests full of ash and clouds of dark smoke hanging over them, blown slowly east by the wind to the plains upon which they would later rain their caustic waters.

The storage facility was situated on the outskirts of the city, placed in such a remote location in case anything like this ever happened. It was designed as a holding station for hazardous human substances before they could be properly disposed of at the treatment facility, which despite operating at maximum capacity, was always overrun dealing with these environmentally and socially destructive materials. It was meant as a temporary measure to safely house these things until another treatment facility could be constructed. Over the years, however, budget cutbacks made the temporary nature of the storage facility more of a semi-permanent one; it was large enough to contain years of toxic, corrosive substances, so why not just let it do that? At least until the economy recovered? And so all the nasty, undesirable things that we wished to expel from our hearts and minds went there, and gradually from there to the treatment facility. Some concerns over the numerous risks posed by this mass storage strategy were always in the media spotlight, especially after the release of reports that the storage facility had reached 70% capacity. But the city had become so used to dealing with their odious emotional burdens this way. They simply carried on.

It was discovered later in the subsequent investigation of the disastrous incident that old, corroding storage containers had begun to leak, and that night, some especially reactive substances mixed, in particular hate and fear, ultimately resulting in the violent inferno, the complete combustion of everything in the facility. Much outrage erupted over this because container corrosion had been well known but largely ignored because of the secondary containment measures; those measures were designed to prevent substances in certain holding areas from getting out but not from mixing with other substances in that area (if those too had leaked out of their containers). But, the likely guilty parties argued, the safety systems built into the facility had done their job, keeping us all hunky-dory, and now all the toxic junk was now disposed of once and for all! Poof, gone in a flurry of, yes, some calamity and trepidation, but only a momentary and distant disruption to our lives.

That was true, and we were incredibly lucky the reaction of the substances in there was limited to the scorched earth of the ravaged hills outside the city. The combined energy output of those substances could have leveled the entire city. However, this was vastly tragic for the ecosystem out there, the now razed forests, air thick with noxious smoke, polluted soil and waters that took the brunt of the force. That damage would take years if not decades to dissipate, despite environmental cleanup efforts. I feared what would grow in the tainted, debauched wilderness there, in that land now so saturated with the worst products of our hearts, dreading the strange monsters that would arise from the mutations induced by all those toxins and their combusted byproducts.

I tried to imagine the interrupted lives of animals that had inhabited that area. Maybe after fleeing the fiery destruction of their homes, they returned days later and find nothing left but the bitter ashes that forced them to leave again. Did any return when greenery began to creep back into the land and eat the plants, poisonous with the hideousness of humanity? And if so, what had become of them?

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