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Chapter 6: Responding to Social Needs

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EARTH DAY 1970

"This has been the year of the environment," Laboratory Director Alvin M. Weinberg said in his 1969 State of the Laboratory address. "On every hand we are being told the fruits of technology are endangering our living space...The ecologists have displaced the physicists as high priests in this new era of environmental concern."

Dan Nelson and Stanley Auerbach discuss plans for the new Environmental Sciences Division building.
Dan Nelson and Stanley Auerbach discuss plans for the new Environmental Sciences Division building.

Weinberg, in his usual fashion, not only captured a new national trend but also pinpointed a new target for public concern and research. Public interest in the environment manifested itself dramatically in 1970, culminating in Earth Day on April 22. 

Laboratory researchers participated in Earth Day's national and local celebrations. On the national scene, three staff members delivered speeches at various universities. Stanley Auerbach, director of the Ecological Sciences Division, gave a talk at the University of Illinois; Dan Nelson, assistant director of the same division, spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and David Reichle, Laboratory ecologist and member of the Oak Ridge Regional Planning Commission, made a presentation at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. 

At the Earth Day Fair at Oak Ridge High School, the Laboratory's Ecological Sciences Division set up an exhibit describing its ecological research. Examples were the effect of fertilizer on the Walker Branch Watershed, retention of radioactive fallout by agricultural crops, the study of bedded geologic deposits as disposal sites for radioactive wastes, and Laboratory management of the Eastern Deciduous Forest Biome Research Program for the International Biological Program. On hand to explain the exhibit to the 500 people who attended the fair were John Gilbert, L. C. Landry, Ronald Rahn, and Robin Wallace. 

David Reiche - Environmental, Life, and Social Sciences
David Reiche— Environmental, Life, and Social Sciences

ORNL researchers contributed to Earth Day observances in Oak Ridge in other ways. Gilbert's article on Oak Ridge's environmental problems was published on the front page of The Oak Ridger. He noted that the city had problems with water, air, and visual pollution; litter; and pesticides, including mercury compounds and mercury-coated seeds. 

Two Laboratory staff members participated in a panel discussion held at Oak Ridge High School on "Appalachian Coal and Nuclear Energy—Their Effects on Our Environment and Their Future Use." Bill Russell, the noted geneticist and a founder of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, spoke of the harmful environmental impacts of increasing energy production. 

James Liverman, ORNL's associate director for Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, summed up Oak Ridge's observance of Earth Day by saying, "Ultimately, improving the quality of life will depend on you and me in our daily lives, on our making a commitment to the environment." 

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