Pollution and Environment Essay - Environment Plus Chemicals Equals Cancer

Pollution and Environment Essay - Environment Plus Chemicals Equals Cancer
According many scientific researchers, our entire population has been dowsed with chemicals. There are several aspects of this dowsing that should concern us. First, and foremost, many of these chemicals are suspected to have damaging health effects on humans, as well as, other life forms. Second, most of these chemicals have only recently been produced so the environment is clearly changing and being challenged by these newcomers. Third, almost all of these chemicals exist in the forms and amounts that they do because of human practices-including agricultural, industrial, and many domestic activities as well. Fourth, many of the chemicals that we produce don?t get used in a productive way-that is, they are wasted, disposed of, and/or left abandoned; consider that less than 5 percent of pesticides actually make contact with their host target. Fifth, most, if not all, of the chemicals used have replacements that are much less harmful or toxic. And sixth, and perhaps most discouragingly, many of us knowingly buy and use these chemicals without a moment?s hesitation.
Do you think you have been dowsed with chemicals (i.e., overly exposed to toxins found in our environment)? Well, how would you know if you were? If you have lived in Illinois for most of your life, you have certainly been dowsed, and the older you are the more exposure you have undergone. In fact, if you have lived anywhere in the world sometime during the past sixty years, you have been exposed to many toxic substances as well. And, while many of us realize that we have lots of foreign materials in our bodies, ones that are likely damaging to our innards, we don?t often give much thought to the matter. Steingraber tells us why this is a very disturbing state of affairs and something that we shouldn?t continue to ignore.

Steingraber has spent the bulk of her recent life doing scientific detective work to determine how widely people have been exposed to toxic chemicals, and, more importantly, what effects have these exposures have had on human lives. Her investigative research has uncovered the following key pieces of information that warrant our immediate attention; we are certainly indebted to her for bringing many of these findings to light:

o Cancer rates among persons living in the United States have been increasing quite rapidly. Between 1950 and 1991, ?the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3%,? (S1, 40), a particular disturbing statistic when one consider that the U.S. population has grown 64% over this same time. In the 1950s, only 25% (1 in 4) of us would develop cancer during our lifetimes, now the number is around 40% (38% for women and 48% for men) (S1, 40). Yes, amazingly, nearly half of the men reading this article will have to confront cancer in their lifetimes!


o Of the whopping ~75,000 synthetic chemicals currently in use, only ~2% have been tested for carcinogenicity (i.e., their cancer-causing effects) (S1, 99). There are more than 850 pesticidal active ingredients currently registered and nearly 50% of U.S. families use yard and garden weed killers as well as insecticidal flea collars, sprays, shampoos or dips for household pets (S1, 95). In 1979, the U.S. Congress passed the Toxics Substance Control Act which mandated the review of new chemicals, but since many of the currently used chemicals were produced before this date they don?t require a review at all; so they haven?t been. Unfortunately, despite this policy, Steingraber has found that an average person living in the United States has ~200 toxic chemicals in his/her body at measurable amounts, including pesticide residues, industrial solvents, electrical fluids, dry cleaning compounds, and dioxin. Worse yet, these toxins are found in all fluids and materials in one?s body. Even worse yet, many of these don?t readily leave the body, so they remain inside it, building up in concentration over the course of one?s lifetime.


o Many rivers and lakes throughout the U.S. are so laden with toxic chemicals that fishing is often either prohibited or strongly discouraged. A local river, the Illinois, had more than 350 spills of hazardous waste between 1974-1989 and this doesn?t even include those ?spills? which are considered ?acceptable,? namely, routine industrial discharges and agricultural runoff. Thus, it is not surprising, that during the 20th Century, 20 species of fish disappeared from the river that bears our state?s name, as well as nearly one-third of all native amphibian species and more than half of the mussel species (S1, 193). Steingraber, who grew up just blocks from the river, has found archival photos from the early 1900s showing how fecund (i.e., fruitful) the river once was and how people used to enjoy it so. Now, many of us Galesburgites drive over it time and time again, not noticing that, as one knowledgeable Peorian recently told me, the river, which looks quiet extensive and plentiful from bridge height, isn?t more than a few feet deep in many places.


o Trash burning, which is ?officially? done in incinerators and ?unofficially? done in many backyards and rural areas, often produces chemicals that are as dangerous, or more dangerous, that most of the trash itself. ?Even the newest, fanciest incinerators send traces of dioxin and furans into the air? (S1, 222). These two chemicals come from the simultaneous burning of organic matter (such as something as innocuous as newspaper) with children?s toys (made of pvc, polyvinyl chloride), paint thinners, pesticides or household cleaners. With all of the different ?soups? that get burned, more than 135 different furans and 75 different dioxins have been observed. And while some forms of dioxin seem to actually reduce the likelihood of breast cancer, acting as antiestrogens, they do so at a great price. Steingraber points out that numerous studies show that dioxin ?depress[es] immunity,? influences ?thyroid functioning, blood glucose levels, sexual development, and testosterone production? (S1, 229).

Given all these reasons to avoid incinerators, why do they get built? Steingraber notes that small communities with financial difficulties often are targeted for the development of an incinerator. Unfortunately, many uninformed people in these communities are unsuspecting victims because they willing accept the promise of jobs and money for local infrastructure at the expense of their, and others, lives and health.

o Chemical contamination occurs in the most unusual places and to unsuspecting groups. According to Steingraber, women in Greenland have some of the highest levels of breast milk contamination. Also, pubescent children appear to be extremely sensitive to chemical and radiation exposure given that their bodies are changing so rapidly during this period. These two observations suggest that no one goes unaffected by the chemical revolution of the 20th century and that at specific times in our lives, Steingraber refers to these as the ?critical windows of vulnerability,? (S3) we are particularly sensitive to exposure. Unfortunately, our policies concerning chemical production, dissemination, and release usually do not take into account these variations and inequities. For instance, Steingraber points out that our regulatory efforts focus on the premise that the ?dose makes the poison,? (S3) that is, below some safe threshold level of exposure people are safe, rather than the timing of the dosage, something that recent scientific work has revealed.


o One major misunderstanding of our population, according to Steingraber, is the perception that genetic and behavioral considerations are the key reasons why certain people get cancer (S1). And while there are definitely people more predisposed than others to cancer based on their genetics and there certainly are particular behaviors that promote the onset and development of cancer, such as smoking and sunbathing, Steingraber is emphatic when she asserts that this is only part of the story. Anyone can get cancer regardless of their genetics and/or behavior. Literally hundreds of properly conducted scientific studies have shown that cancer rates are often highly correlated with contaminant concentrations (in the soil, air, and water). Steingraber urges us to stop seeing cancer as an acceptable fate for those that are genetically ?inferior? or behaviorally unfit, but, rather, see cancer as an epidemic largely driven by our society?s compulsion for materials that are made of or dowsed with dangerous and unnecessary chemicals.

All of the above findings are well and good but why should you, someone who lives in Illinois, be particularly concerned. As it turns out, a very informative website concerning environmental pollutants (www.scorecard.org) gives us more vivid reasons. Illinois, in 1999, was among the 5 worst states in the country in the following categories: (a) air releases of recognized developmental toxicants; and, (b) air releases of recognized reproductive toxicants. So clearly, our state has a long way to go to clean up our act. A long road begins with a first step. On the bright side, our home, Knox County, receives a cancer risk score (considering air and water releases) among the lowest 20% in the U.S. However, on the negative side, Peoria County, our neighbor to the southeast, is among the worst 10% of all U.S. counties on measures of total environmental release of toxic chemicals and cancer risk score.

With all this information, it is understandable when one feels overwhelmed. But alas, there are many things that one can do to lessen the toxic exposure that all of us (ourselves, our kids, our grandparents, our cousins, our distant relatives, our pets, our birds, etc.) are currently subject to. According to Steingraber, there are three principles that need to begin to be incorporated into our current economic and political systems-precautionary principle, principle of reverse onus, and principle of the least toxic alternative-in order for us to move away from the invasion and dominance of toxic chemicals in our lives.

The precautionary principle asserts that action is warranted when ?indications of harm? (S1, 270) are revealed rather than proof. Surprisingly, our country officially accepted the basis of this principle in 1992, when the U.S. signed the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, an international guideline which states, ?Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation? (Rio Declaration, 1992). While the precautionary principle is a concept that has received quite a bit of acclaim lately, it hasn?t yet been applied to the elimination of use of toxic chemicals in our environment. Having conducted many scientific studies herself and having examined hordes of research papers in the scientific literature, Steingraber concludes that scientific proof of the specific cause of a given cancer may be a long way off. However, she firmly believes, and so do many others, that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that many commonly used chemicals are cancer-causing. Furthermore, given the levels observed on a regular basis in our drinking water and our air, many chemicals deserve immediate phasing out.

The principle of reverse onus holds that companies that manufacture, sell, or dispose of potentially dangerous chemicals should be responsible for demonstrating their safety. Steingraber points out that we hold the pharmaceutical companies to this standard, but she is very concerned that for most industrial chemicals ?no firm requirement for advance demonstration of safety exists? (S1, 270). In short, why do we, the citizens of our nation, allow companies to produce, disseminate, and dispose of toxins without knowing their impact and without making the producers, rather than public, deal with the long-term repercussions of their use?

The third principle, the principle of least toxic alternative, posits that we should always be looking for alternatives which are healthier and safer. Too often the primary consideration in deciding which chemical gets used resolves around production cost and effectiveness. Very rarely are the costs to humanity, in the form of increased cancer potential or increased risk to miscarriage or birth defects, included in the company?s or the agriculturalist?s figures; obviously the costs to other life forms aren?t included either. We all suffer from this short-term focus and long-term myopia (i.e., short-sightedness). We need to do better accounting and provide incentives for alternatives to be adopted. Steingraber is very hopeful and optimistic here, particular because ?for every carcinogen,? that she examined, ?somebody somewhere has found a non-toxic substitute? (S3).

In conclusion, Steingraber tells us that we all need to inform each other of the toxic soup that we live in as a means for changing industry?s fixation on contaminants. We, ourselves, should also stop using known toxins to kill our weeds, deflea our dogs/cats, dry clean our clothes, and wash our homes. Known alternatives exist that are extremely safe, yet we and others are driven by convenience, ignorance and profiteering. The website http://www.scorecard.org/ also provides information about the toxicities of various chemicals (such as 2,4-D, Captan, Diazinon, Dursban, Dacthal, Dicamba, and Mecocrop; all of which you can find in local lawn care [a ridiculous euphemism, by the way] retailers). Please go to this site, which is very easy to navigate, before your next spraying or washing. Additionally, people can reduce our toxic burden by supporting organic farming, recycling rather than dumping, finding alternatives to ?green? lawn landscapes, eating more vegetables and less animal products, and by using less energy. Every little step toward a cleaner world helps not only you but your neighbors, your fellow earthlings, and your great-great grandchildren too.

Despite the appearance of completeness, the knowledge and wisdom provided by , Dr. Sandra Steingraber, cannot be summarized in this relatively short article. Therefore, I implore everyone to read her books (noted below) or, better yet, pass one on to each of your loved ones-they will be grateful someday.

Dr. Steingraber had to confront the world of toxic contamination first-hand, when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer while an undergraduate. Let?s hope that more people don?t have to battle with this unfortunate (and avoidable, with proper changes in our industrial systems) disease for all of us to take notice.

Pollution and Environment Essay - Environment Plus Chemicals Equals Cancer 8.4 of 10 on the basis of 2032 Review.