Sometimes, a story comes along that’s too good to be true.

That happened last Sunday, when a front-page headline in the newspaper boldly proclaimed: “Some label toxin spike as positive.”

It seems that the recent increase of toxic emissions from our pulp and paper industries is an indication that we are coming out of the recession. At least that’s the spin coming from the pulp and paper industry.

Emissions into Maine’s air and water from the industry reached 9.6 million pounds in 2010, up 1.14 million pounds from the year before, a 12 percent increase.

“I think it’s very good news because we are making a lot of paper again and bringing people back to work,” John Williams, president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, said in the story. “About 7,000 people are directly employed in Maine and five times that number are in jobs related to the paper industry.”

But if we are going to use higher numbers to point our way out of the Great Recession, we should be aiming for higher toxic emissions every year. We’ll know we are out of the woods when our rivers run brown and are topped with foam, our air is unbreatheable, and our land is filled with poisons.

At first, the story seems to indicate that our pulp and paper industry can take all the credit for leading us out of the recession with its increased pollution. Nine of the 10 companies that discharged the most toxic chemicals were paper companies from around the state.

First place, however, actually goes to a food producer: McCain Foods, of Easton. McCain’s managed to blow out nearly 2.3 million pounds of toxins in 2010, while making billions of french fries. That’s about 400,000 pounds more than polluter No. 2, Verso Paper Holdings in Jay.

Apparently, making french fries trumps making paper out of Maine pulp for the first place award in polluting our state.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, McCain is first in the list of the top 10 toxins released into the Maine environment: Nitrate compounds, nearly 2.5 million pounds. According to Brian Kavanah, director of Department of Environmental Protection’s water quality division, most of those nitrates are emitted in McCain’s production process.

Of course, the french fry industry is closely related to the fast food industry, which in turn is dominated by the obesity industry in the United States. The chronic diseases produced in this massive industrial sector are the backbone of our multitrillion dollar health care industry. All of this is virtually recession proof.

The second biggest toxin — methanol — is a bit of a surprise; nearly 2.5 million pounds of it also were dumped in 2010. The report describes methanol as “a colorless liquid that may explode when exposed to an open flame. It occurs naturally in wood and volcanic gases.”

Since we don’t have many volcanoes in Maine, let’s assume it comes from wood as it is being made into paper products. That represents about 800,000 gallons of potential fuel that could be recovered and used if someone was smart enough to do that.

There is already a fuel — M85 (85% methanol and 15% gasoline) — sold in this country where the methanol comes from natural gas. Methanol also can be turned into the chemical methyl formate, which has a number of industrial uses.

So, sad to say, I don’t subscribe to the “more emissions means economic recovery” theory. Instead, I look at toxic emissions as a form of “corporate speech.”

If corporations were truly people (as the Supreme Court has ruled), they would use moderate amounts of nontoxic gases blown through their larynxes to form words, as humans do. When humans make other emissions (such as a burp, for instance), they usually say “excuse me.”

Corporations, instead, blow millions of pounds of toxins out their corporate rear ends — through their smoke stacks, sewer outfalls and land-saturating pesticides and chemical fertilizers — making a mess wherever they go.

Corporations are clearly not ready to take their place at the table with the rest of us humans.

Perhaps we can grant them another legal status, such as “domesticated farm animal” (i.e. horse, cow, goat, sheep — even pigs, who really are quite tidy).

In this way, they can have certain rights and protections of other living things, and will be fed and protected. But they also will be corralled, regulated and put to work for our overall economic health.

Certainly, their rights to “moo,” “baa,” or even “oink,” should have very strong guarantees.

Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner.

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