You are hereDiscussion: about impact of toxins on human health
Discussion: about impact of toxins on human health
It is commonly stated that various elements of pollution in our modern societies are cancerous – or cancer causing agents. Indeed, toxic chemical release is a matter of public concern in large part due to chemical disasters such as the disaster in Bhopal, India in 1984. The realization that there is a problem has not been absent, but rather we seem to suffer from a crisis of action. We cannot overcome the ever present reality of toxic chemicals in our environment, no matter how much we are disconcerted by that reality. One of the problems seems to be a lack of real dialogue about the ultimate results of such ways of producing industrial goods as we have adopted. We must start with the acknowledgement that we are emitting too much to the environment: in 2009 there were 3.37 billion lbs of [reported] toxic chemicals released to the land, air and water (http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata). Then we must move on to discussions about how these chemicals affect human health, and the health of the biosphere.
However, whenever one brings up any of these health issues in conversation it tends to evoke a variant of the following response, “oh don’t even start. Everything causes cancer.” My question is this: are we going to continue to allow ourselves to be okay with this? Our population has grown so comfortable with this notion of constantly living in a polluted environment that we are willing to write it off, just like that, in one sweeping shrug of the shoulders? How common is this feeling: “I can’t spend my time worrying about that stuff, let alone do anything about it. I’ve got a busy schedule. I’ve hardly any time to spare. I work all day and I need time at home to relax and unwind, watch a little T.V. and just tune out.”
This is madness. Where is Howard Beale when you need him? If everything causes cancer…let’s start changing everything we do. Everything we make, buy, sell, and trade for. What use is economic progress if we lose our health? Are we that blinded by the glitz and glamour of our modern consumer lifestyles that we are willing to passively accept the massive human health crises that are occurring as we sit here? All for the sake of a little increased material enjoyment - ephemeral pleasures that in the end don’t really add anything meaningful to our lives?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study in 2005 of the blood that passes through the umbilical cord to the fetus, which amounts to about 300 quarts of blood per day. What were their findings? On average, they found 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants.
Take a step back from the screen to think about that for a moment. That concept – that reality – needs to sink in real, real deep.
Now just what kind of chemicals and pollutants are we talking about here, what kind of chemicals and pollutants are being found in the sacred link tying mother to child? Here are some of the more dazzling participants:
- Mercury (harms brain development and function)
- Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (PCNs)
- found 50 kinds (Cause liver and kidney damage)
- Organochlorine pesticides (OCs)
- found 21 kinds (Causes cancer and many reproductive effects)
- Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans (PCDD/F)
- found 11 kinds (highly toxic to developing endocrine [hormone] system)
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- found 147 kinds (cause cancer and nervous system problems)
Old habits are hard to break, but we must collectively avoid the failure as a species to deal with these issues – which are tied intimately to our economic organization and our story telling about who we are and why we are here – in a comprehensive and systematic way. What else could shake our population into awareness and action more than this revelation that our industrial processes – from the way we grow our food to the way we manufacture those television sets that help us “unwind” – are literally poisoning the next generation of human life? It is not a valid defense to justify inaction on the basis of “everything causes cancer” – the only thing this means is that we need to collectively voice political support for adopting a precautionary principle. What does that mean? It means that instead of trying to regulate all the hazardous chemicals that are out there (largely impossible), we take the commonsense approach and allow only those chemicals to be used that can be proven to be harmless – harmless to human health and to the larger biotic community.
The following responses should be seriously reexamined and judged based on the relative extent to which they show genuine concern for the revelations described earlier:
- Free-marketer: “Just let the market handle this. If consumers don’t want cancer in their children’s umbilical cord blood – they should vote with their dollar and stop buying products with all of those dangerous chemicals in them. Otherwise, presumably, the consumer is getting what they want out of the exchange, and no further action is necessary. We need to be more concerned about the Nanny State coming into our living rooms.”
- Rational apologist: “It is a trade-off. Every human action causes environmental harm – and since we cannot refrain from action, we need to be able to accept a certain level of pollution as unavoidable. The most important thing is that we maximize our utility, which can only be accomplished through increasing our ability to purchase goods and services and hence our income. If we keep growing our economy, then the additional benefits of increased consumption will outweigh all other costs.”
It is my hope that the reason these kinds of responses are a threat and need to be seen as such is quite obvious, and if it is not then I have failed in my intention here. I could go on speaking about this topic, but I think it is better to hear someone else’s thoughts about this. Whether you agree or disagree with the message presented here, please comment and start a conversation. I might be wrong in some areas, too strong-headed or blinded of some other element at play here. Please, point it out, as only then can we move ourselves into a space of more informed dialogue and increase our sharing of cultural values and lessons. It is my belief that we need to wake up from the “American Dream” and start to consciously construct a new societal paradigm that re-formulates how we live, how we treat each other and most importantly – how we act towards future generations.
Please, read more here: http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php