4.03.2011

TOXIC CHEMICALS: WE AREN'T SCARED ENOUGH


I recently ran across an excellent article in Orion magazine, by Sandra Steingraber, on the effect of toxic chemicals--with an emphasis on methymercury--on our children's brains. "Developmental disabilities now affect about one in every six U.S. children, and most of these are disabilities of the nervous system," she writes.

It isn't just mercury coming out of those coal-fired power plants.  Our polluted air also includes acid gases, metals like arsenic, lead and formaldehyde.

Steingraber's piece, Mind Games, is wide-ranging and authoritative. She does a good job of connecting many alarming dots of research; Steingraber is a graceful writer who makes the science quite clear--and she takes it to a personal level that hit home with me. She also teases out a fascinating parallel to today's regulatory lethargy in the scandalously long, drawn out fight in the sixties and seventies over banning lead in paint and gasoline.

We have to keep remembering: by supporting the Environmental Protection Agency efforts to regulated air toxics, we are protecting our children's health.

I have been writing about toxic chemicals on this site for a while now; I recently wondered if I was becoming paranoid? The answer is clear: Not scared enough.

I don't think there is a large enough awareness of what is going into our air, our water, even our food. Pollution is fixable. Regulations are cost effective. We have the right to be protected from poisons. This is exactly what good governments do for their people.

I call the Orion piece to your attention, as the magazine has a small circulation. I urge you to pass it along. And support toxic chemical reform; this links to my go-to blog for all information on toxics and regulation. Our Moms Clean Air Force is campaigning online to educate and inspire people to support the EPA in its fight to regulate poisons coming from coal plants. The more we know, the more empowered we are to demand change.

11 comments:

CLAUDIA said...

Steingraber also has a wonderful book, Having Faith, about pregnancy, childbirth and new mothering. It is beautiful, poetic, and eye-opening... just like her piece in Orion.

I learned so much about the relationship between the environment and the "ecosystem" of my own body through her book. I highly recommend it to any mom-to-be, or even a (someday) grandmother-to-be!

VL said...

Thanks for pointing out this article. For some reason, I didn't see this post before -- but I am tackling some related problems with medicine/biomedical research over at my blog (slowly but surely). I work closely with scientists studying neurodevelopmental disorders from a genetic point of view, and find it frustrating that there is not much research attention being paid to environmental factors.

Also: the research connecting illness during a window of pregnancy with an increase in autism (and schizophrenia, actually, but it's a different window) has to do with the mother's immune response. The research is impressive; personally, I suspect that if there is a connection with vaccines in a minority of kids, it is because vaccines produce an immune response, not because of any additive. (Now, autoimmunity itself has a lot to do with environmental factors....)

c said...

sadly, your point is made right hre on your blog: not enough awareness or interest.

Look at the number of comments tea towels generate. Look at how many take the time to encourage you to continue pushing for cleaner air/water for all of us.

Sad.

pamingram said...

Like VL, i missed this posting earlier and as a subscriber to "Orion" appreciate that Dominique is featuring this compelling piece by Sandra Steingraber. I also can relate to those who would much rather focus on tea towels rather than confront the devastating implications of our 'Civilization's' approach to living better through chemistry. That said,i'm grateful for so much that our Sciences have provided for us and am encouraged that someone like Lester Brown of the WorldWatch Institute could still be optimistic about the future ( see the latest PBS program: Journey to Planet Earth....http://www.pbs.org/journeytoplanetearth/plan_b/index.htm )despite our collective disregard of the concerns that confront us. Sorry to ramble, but just grateful that attention is being called to these issues. pamela

Dominique said...

You know, I've had to go through the same line of thinking in terms of response. I wrote a piece for the New York Times not long ago, about having long hair, and it generated more response than anything I have ever written. At first, I was quite upset. Why hair? and why not toxins? But then I thought about my own responses to things out in the world...And I decided that it is simply easy, and pleasant, and self-consoling if not just enjoyable, to respond happily to tea towels. There's nothing wrong with that, nothing morally bankrupt or even morally flaccid. It is simply easy. And that's good. It is good that we find things that please us.

Responding to the harder things, like climate change, and toxins everywhere? Well, that takes many levels of processing. First, understanding it, second, digging out from under the heaps of depression that ensue when we do understand that there is such cynicism in the world--people actually don't care about the damage they are doing. Third, and here is the big one: What can I do? One small person? I can buy a tea towel. I cannot do a thing about BPA. Or so it seems at first.

Then people mobilize about BPA, things do change. And guess what? The chemical industry just swaps out BPA for BPB.

I think that somehow we have lost a connection to citizenship, to the feeling that we have a right to good government, but that we have to be engaged in protecting that right. It is just a much, much, much slower and harder slog to finding one's voice on that. And just because people don't write about it, doesn't mean they don't necessarily care. Just that it takes longer to respond...

Well, this is my thinking so far, just developing...but it is a big subject in my mind, what we respond to, how, and why? How can I, as just one writer, reach out to people and make it possible for them to overcome disbelief and try to make change? etc....

all thoughts deeply appreciated on this subject...

tru dillon said...

oh yeah! I have been paranoid about all the junk in our systems for ever!! Be a little paranoid it might just save your life.

Me said...

... sorry to change the subject but just received email from my library that your book that I put on hold is waiting for me. Had the library order it so it could be read by others too.

mary said...

I am not surprised by these findings. I have been an anti-chemical food additives "freak"--so labeled by my now adult children when they were much younger--for over 20 years. Now they come to me for advice regarding food additive information and toxic substances that could affect their own children. There is no such thing as being too careful. OUr bodies were not intended to be repositories of un=natural substances, including genetically engineered foods. This is the first place we need to look at regarding the problems of cancer, add, obesity, alzheimer's and the like. PLEASE KEEP UP THE CONVERSATION.

c said...

I know, I know.

And I do agree, it is so much easier to sort of ignore the big issues and focus on simple and pleasant ones. Once in a while I wish I could be more oblivious. Less stressful at least. But my being oblivious will not change the fact that we are poisoning ourselves, slowly but surely.

I am awe struck by Nature, I understand taking delight in a small flower, even that stubborn weed. And people that are so creative and imaginative, the craft they have developed through the years: yes, I enjoy those too.

Poor choice of words on my part (tea towels). Just like your column about hair (I did read it, and was amazed at the number of comments it generated). Maybe something extremely familiar, somethnig we can all identify with, is what prompts the responses. I am not judging anyone for choosing to comment on those, just annoyed that such an important issue to all humankind is met with near silence.

You DO reach people and make them think. Please keep it up.

May I make a suggestion? Re-post the Orion piece, and mention autism in your introduction (maybe with a link, so that it will call attention). Just a thought.

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

Two words: Thank you!

pamingram said...

I like C's suggestion. Partly because those of us who pay attention to these issues might assume that others are making the same connections, but what is obvious to us may not be so obvious to others. Yes, there are studies that show that there is an increased risk of cancer deaths in dogs exposed to the pesticides Americans use on their lawns ,and that there is a link to the chemicals and autism ( as the article points out the statistical number of cases is on the rise). But such studies are not readily available- you have to search for them. I think as a group we don't want to believe that our industries would put profits over societal well-being. There are myriad reasons why we collectively are not focused on these critical issues. Dominique's observation about the challenges to being engaged citizens is something we've been grappling with in our family for some time. As Dominique also observed, the issues are often so complex and our learning curve is great- intimidating, really. And once we do find our voice on issues of concern, we often find that lobbyists and big money have a louder voice and folks get discouraged. Beyond that it's true that the challenges to effect change seem formidable. And then so many people are busy at work and home and seeking some balance, some peace and happiness. That is where” Slow Love Life” comes in. Is it possible to be engaged in global challenges and put food on the table and have valued time for all that matters in one’s personal life? My husband's son is an artist and he has recently completed a work titled "Easter Island" which references the decline of a 'civilization' that similarly to our own ignored warning signs at their peril. Ian's blog about the creation of this piece is quite moving, and he concludes his final observation with a bit of advice he received from my wonderful sister-in-law Flo ( his aunt) . He says that he will remain an engaged and concerned citizen, but he knows that being “vigilantly aware” also “means staying in tune with the seasons and the migrating birds…and then he quotes Flo: “There’s a neat dial on my sewing machine, it’s called “the tension” or sometimes “tension control” and the sync between the two spools of thread that perfectly unite inside the machine makes up one line of beautiful smooth stitching but not if the tension is dialed to the wrong milemetre. Fortunately, it’s a dial so it’s operable and adjustable. There’s wisdom in those spools.”
If you are interested to read more of his meditation or curious about his amazing drawing skills, his blog is ianingram.com