If your child has asthma and it’s getting worse, then news about the White House’s recent retreat on ozone (that is, smog) standards for the air over your city wasn’t exactly cause for cheering. Thank our environmental president for that, but mainly of course the Republicans, who have been out to kneecap the Environmental Protection Agency since the 2010 election results came in. We may be heading for an anything-blows environmental future, even though it couldn’t be more logical to assume that whatever is allowed into the air will sooner or later end up in us.
With a helping hand from that invaluable website Environmental Health News, here’s a little ladleful of examples from the chemical soup that could be not just your air, soil, or water, but you. It's only a few days' worth of news reports on what’s in our environment and so, for better or mostly worse, in us: In Dallas-Ft. Worth, there’s lead in the blood of children, thanks to leaded gasoline, banned decades ago, but still in the soil. In New York’s Hudson River, “one of the largest toxic cleanups in U.S. history” (for PCBs in river sediments) is ongoing. Researchers now suspect that those chemicals, already linked to low birth weight, thyroid disease, and learning, memory, and immune system disorders,” are also associated with to high blood pressure. Then there’s mercury, that “potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to the developing brains of fetuses and children.” If allowed, it will enter the environment via a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine to be built in Alaska near “one of the world's premier salmon fisheries.”
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And speaking of fish, there is ancient DDT, plus more modern PCBs and spilled oil in ocean sediments off California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula, a toxic superfund site, whose cleanup is now being planned. And don’t forget that uranium mill near Cañon City, Colorado, which “has the state's backing to permanently dispose of radioactive waste in its tailings ponds, despite state and independent reports over a 30-year period showing the ponds' liners leak.” Or consider bisphenol-A, a chemical most of us now carry around in our bodies. It is used in the making of some plastic containers and “may cause behavior and emotional problems in young girls” according to a new study (as older studies indicated that it might affect “the brain development of fetuses and small children”). Or think about the drinking water tested recently by the University of Tennessee Center for Environmental Biotechnology from six of 11 Tennessee utilities statewide that “contained traces of 17 chemicals found in insect repellent, ibuprofen, detergents, a herbicide, hormones, and chemical compounds found in plastics.” And that's just to dip a toe in polluted waters.
Increasingly, with the environment a chemical soup of our industrial processes, so are our bodies. No wonder environmentalist Chip Ward suggests in his latest piece, “Occupy Earth,” that activists occupying Wall Street should think even bigger.