… And just one of many environmental toxins.
By George Harvey
A toxic substance, PFOA, has been in the news after it was discovered in water wells in a growing number of towns in Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and elsewhere. Truth be told, however, PFOA is found all over. It can come from spills at chemical plants, but it is found in many other places, such as foods raised in fields fertilized with chemically treated municipal waste and foods in oil-resistant wrappers. It can be found in the blood of about 98% of all Americans.
PFOA is a cause of a large number of health problems. With chronic exposure to small quantities, it can build up in our bodies and lead to serious problems. According to the article in Wikipedia on PFOA, these problems include “kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and pregnancy-induced hypertension.” [http://bit.ly/wikipedia-pfoa]
But there is a larger issue. The problems do not end with PFOA. Many people are aware of Flint, Michigan, and its troubles with lead. Other communities have had to deal with trichloroethylene. Phosphorus supports algae in our lakes, making the water toxic. Even pristine-looking waters where we would like to fish or swim are polluted with mercury from coal burned in ages past. According to the United Nations Development Program, a child dies from water pollution, somewhere on this planet, about every 17 seconds.
And this does not end with water. Air pollution kills as many people and shortens the lives of nearly everyone. Toxic materials haunt our houses because of ingredients in paint, treatments for cloth in curtains and carpets, which can off-gas such things as formaldehyde, and preservatives for wood. BPAs and other similar substances are in linings for cans of food we buy. They seem to be everywhere.
Most of these materials were either once considered safe, or were thought to be present in inconsequential quantities. But when tiny amounts of highly toxic materials build up over decades, things get very much out of control. This is made worse by the so-called “free market” economics, which touts the absence of regulation as a cure for all ills. Such thinking is unsupportable, not only morally, but also economically because environmental destruction endangers the entire system. People cannot stay healthy in toxic environments, and economies cannot be healthy when the people in them are not.
The World Health Organization recently released a study, “Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments.” According to the study, one out of every four of us will die of health issues caused by some sort of pollution. Please note the optimistic title, however. Certainly, while the problem is far worse than most people realize, we actually can make things much better.