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The Declaration of Independence guarantees us certain unalienable rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which have been recognized by the US Supreme Court. However, Bush the Great Decider is now taking away our right to life, our right to breathe and our children's right to have normal development of lung and brain capacity. We hear right wingers scream "right to life," which is meaningless when Bush allows his buddies to invade our bodies with deadly pollutants that are killing and sickening men, women and children. The scary part is that our government standards of safe levels of exposure create a false sense of security. We do not need massive doses of pollutants or a toxic bomb to harm us – chronic exposure at low levels is our "World Trade Center in slow motion."

Scientists consider amphibians to be our "canaries in the coalmine" because their permeable skin permit liquids and gasses to pass through and thus their bodies will react before ours to changes in water and air quality.  Our amphibian friends are sending us an SOS in the form of frogs dying globally in "unprecedented numbers."  

It's not just frogs dying. Our pollution is killing the Inuit, whose bodies are contaminated with toxins that our companies discharged into our environment and then were carried north to the Arctic by sea currents and weather patterns. The level of contamination in the Inuit mothers' breast milk is exponentially higher than that level deemed to be hazardous waste when found in soil.

Similarly, our bodies are contaminated by chemicals and pesticides in smaller amounts than the Inuit, but a study of 10 people showed a contamination level that was "high enough" to cause scientists to be concerned while the volunteers were shocked:

"Dr. Patricia Dawson, 56, a Seattle surgeon, had the dubious honor of having 38 chemicals detected in her chemical profile. Her PBDE levels were near those found to cause reproductive problems in laboratory animals. Her levels of DDT (banned since 1972) were greater than 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation and a founder of Earth Day, was found to have mercury above a level deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury has the potential for causing learning deficits.

Deb Abrahamson, 51, a Native American living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, 54, of Seattle, were found to have very high levels of pesticides."

We are told not to worry because the chemicals and pesticides are discharged into our environment at levels which are safe for humans. However, Americans are dying and suffering diseases from the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. And, the dying and illnesses are not caused by one deadly toxic accident, but by daily life.

Contaminated Food
For years, the EPA has issued advisories not to eat contaminated fish. The EPA's 2004 advisory covered more than 1/3 of our lakes and nearly ¼ of our rivers. The EPA assured us that mercury pollution levels were dropping, citing a 45% decrease during the papa Bush and Clinton years.

The EPA did not provide more recent figures – for good reason. The number of miles of river and acres of lakes that have been subject to mercury advisories has increased substantially during the Bush term. Consequently, in 2000, there were 155 safe-eating advisories when Bush assumed office in Jan. 2001, but that number increased to 1,213 in 2004.

Two years after the EPA cited decreased mercury emissions, a study revealed that mercury contaminates every link of our food chain. The toxic cycle follows the path of companies, like coal-burning power plants, discharging mercury into an ecosystem (ocean, forest, waters, wetlands) where species become contaminated. Then, we eat the contaminated turkeys or chickens which ate the contaminated little insects. And, then our contaminated bodies become sick from a range of likely illnesses, such as kidney or neurological damage.  But, here's the kicker: It is easily reversible. Mercury levels in fish and wildlife dropped in several states that cut mercury emissions. And, the reversal process occurred in 5-6 years rather than the previously estimated 50 years.  

Despite the certain risk of illnesses, our government does not stop mercury emissions or even test and remove contaminated fish from the market.  Last spring, an advocacy group had a lab test tuna sushi from some of the "toniest" Los Angeles restaurants.  The "mercury levels of the 12 tuna samples averaged about double the FDA standard, and a quarter of the orders were near or above the limit where the agency says fish should not be sold." The FDA does not conduct "large-scale testing of fish because of the enormous time and expense." Better to issue no-fish lists and place the burden on the public to just say no to fish. So, read the EPA no-fish list and your state's list and be careful about meat and diary products as well:

"Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products, organic if possible. Remove visible fat from meat before cooking. Fish is some of the healthiest food you can eat—choose it wisely. Avoid bluefish, wild striped bass, American eel, spotted seatrout, marlin, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. Women and children should not eat tilefish or tuna steaks, and should also limit their consumption of canned tuna. Safer seafood choices include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, Atlantic herring, Dungeness crab, Pacific cod, Alaskan black cod, farmed striped bass, tilapia, farmed catfish, clams, mussels, and Pacific oysters. Check with state advisories before eating sport-caught fish or shellfish. When preparing fish, remove skin, trim the fat, and broil, bake, or grill fish so that the fat drips away.

Polluted Water

Our nation's water supplies are leaving a slow ticking toxic bomb inside our bodies to wreak death, disease and illness upon us at some point in our lives.

The TCE (trichloroethylene) case is a particularly disturbing example involving "massive underground plumes" of TCE – which is an industrial chemical -- contaminating our water supplies. Some cities have "high ambient levels of TCE in the air." The public is then exposed to TCE when they drink water, shower or breathe air in homes from TCE vapors intruding from the soil.

After 4 years of study, senior EPA scientists issued a risk assessment in 2001 that TCE was 40 times more likely to cause cancer than previously believed. The data show that detectable levels of TCE exist in 9-34% of the nation's drinking water sources and 1 in 10 Americans may have detectable levels of TCE in their blood.

Instead of imposing tough standards to limit public exposure to TCE, Bush used his corporate bean-counter mentality to delay for years.  For 2 years, the EPA battled the Pentagon, Energy Dept. and NASA which appealed directly to the White House for protection because each agency had contaminated sites. So, the White House had its anti-EPA "working group" -- comprised of officials from Pentagon, Energy Dept. and NASA -- review the issue and decide that another study was needed.

The Pentagon demanded more proof that TCE causes cancer even though 6 state, federal and international agencies classified TCE as a "probable carcinogen" and California classified as a "known carcinogen." In the summer of 2006, the new study concluded that the EPA was correct and that "evidence on cancer and other health risks from TCE exposure has strengthened since 2001," when the EPA issued its assessment.

So, during the 5 year delay alone Americans were further exposed to a "World Trade Center in slow motion."  All because limiting public exposure would require elaborate treatment facilities that "cost billions of dollars annually" and the Pentagon alone has 1,400 sites contaminated with TCE. One such contaminated site is at Camp Lejeune in California:

"Tens of thousands of Marine families were exposed to TCE in the base's drinking water supply. A preliminary study has found elevated rates of leukemia among children conceived at the base. The TCE was discovered in 1980 but not disclosed until 1985."

Sadly, TCE is not the only pollutant in our water supplies, which have lots of pesticides as well. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reported that 970 lakes and rivers in New Jersey are "too dirty for fishing or swimming," but many of these water bodies "serve as drinking water sources, habitat for fish and shellfish, and recreation for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents."

In 2006, a U.S. Geological Survey study concluded that most of our rivers and streams – and the fish – are "contaminated with pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders, but not at levels that can harm humans." However, the study evaluated data for the years 1992-2001, which means that the level of pesticides has likely increased thanks to Bush's policies. And, while the USGS says that pesticide levels complied with EPA drinking water standards, none of the water samples for the study were obtained from the point of drinking water intakes.

Polluted Air

Air pollution is causing the premature deaths of 60,000 Americans each year. Even the EPA admits that air pollution causes cancer, warning that the air pollution in NY is so bad that its residents face higher cancer risks than any other state: 68 of every 1 million New Yorkers faces the "risk of contracting cancer from breathing the air during his or her lifetime." California holds 2nd place with 66 residents per million and the national average is 41.5 per million. States dangerously high on air pollution include Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and parts of Florida.

However, these figures are based on 177 chemical emissions from 1999, and, given that Bush has relaxed air pollution standards, the cancer risk may be more widespread now.

Air pollution causes heart attacks as well as cancer and the risk of death from chronic exposure to sooty smog in California may be 2 – 3 times higher than previously estimated. This means that the current estimate of 9,000 Californians dying annually from diseases caused or aggravated by air pollution may now rise upward to 18,000-27,000. An EPA assessment also found that 1 in every 15,000 Californians is at risk of cancer caused by breathing chemicals in the air, but this number may also now be higher because the study was based on 1999 data.

A Child's Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Destroy

The range of adverse health consequences from environmental pollution is more than can be covered here. But one more must be discussed: The harm of destroying the minds of our children.

Scientists warn that a global "silent pandemic" of chemical pollutants may have "harmed the brains of millions of children" by increasing medical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease. Moreover, we may be damaging the "brain development of future generations" by not regulating exposure to "at least 202 chemicals ... known to have the capacity to damage the brain and their effects at low levels of exposure are unknown."

One example is pesticides used on our food supplies. A study by Columbia University scientists established a link between learning disorders in children and the pesticide chlorpyrifos that is used on sweet corn, a major crop in Florida.  The EPA banned the sale of this pesticide for residential use in 2001 after tests documented that it caused "adverse effects on lab animals and other tests that found traces of the chemical in children's blood samples."  Blood samples from the mothers and children showed that at least 64% had levels of the chemical in their blood. The study reported that unsafe levels of the chemical caused delays in learning rates, obstructed physical coordination and caused behavioral problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Yet, Florida State agricultural officials say the pesticide "does not pose a threat to consumers because it does not leave dangerous levels of residue on the corn. The principal danger may be to families living and working around where the corn is grown who could be affected when the insecticide is applied or the corn picked." Even if true, the problem is not eliminated, it just means that the victims will be neighbors and workers rather than corn consumers. While Florida did not conduct tests that may have revealed that the pesticide did contaminate the vicinity surrounding the farms, a study in Washington found this same pesticide at unsafe levels in the air in yards near the apple orchards.

Are Pesticides & Chemicals The New Tobacco Killer?

In 2005, the World Bank issued a report on the impact of environmental degradations on the global community and linked cancers to environmental conditions:

"For almost all forms of cancer, the risk of contracting this disease can be reduced if physical environments are safe for human habitation and food items are safe for consumption."

This finding was deemed controversial, but it is something I wondered about when my mom died from cancer. She never smoked, not one puff and no family history. At every clinic, hospital, doctor's office or treatment center, it was common for patients and their families to chat. Not one person we met had been a smoker. The same was true with online chat rooms I visited for cancer patients. This is purely anecdotal, and I am not suggesting that smoking is not a factor. But, it seems that environmental pollutants --many which are considered carcinogens -- may be a bigger factor today.  

Certain illnesses have increased over the past few decades: Autism has increased tenfold, one type of leukemia increased by 62%, male birth defects doubled and childhood brain cancer increased by 40%. And, another study claims to have linked chemical pollutants used to manufacture products as a contributing factor to "soaring rates of breast cancer."

Our government operates under the assumption that any pollutant has a safe level which may be discharged into our environment for ultimate consumption by us. But, most chemicals are not tested for toxicity before they are released into our environment and homes:

"Each year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews an average of 1,700 new compounds that industry is seeking to introduce. Yet the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires that they be tested for any ill effects before approval only if evidence of potential harm exists—which is seldom the case for new chemicals. The agency approves about 90 percent of the new compounds without restrictions. Only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity."

So, we are the guinea pigs who ultimately determine what constitutes a safe level of exposure. In the past, there were chemicals for which the US Surgeon General determined the standard for a safe level, but later we learned that the standard was wrong:

"The classic example is lead. In 1971 the U.S. Surgeon General declared that lead levels of 40 micrograms per deciliter of blood were safe. It's now known that any detectable lead can cause neurological damage in children, shaving off IQ points. From DDT to PCBs, the chemical industry has released compounds first and discovered damaging health effects later. Regulators have often allowed a standard of innocent until proven guilty in what Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and environmental health specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, calls 'an uncontrolled experiment on America's children.'"

The data shows that we are dying and becoming ill before our bodies can be tagged a toxic waste dump. We are dying from chronic exposure to low levels of chemicals and pesticides.  However, there are few studies which address what damage is caused by "chronic low-level exposure to the pollutants."  Few studies despite fact that there are more and more cases reported of permanent damage or worse from low level exposure. Air pollution is retarding the development of lung capacity in children and teenagers, who will now be vulnerable as they grow older to lung and heart problems. The study also suggested that "day-to-day exposure to relatively low levels of pollution can cause permanent damage."

We need to focus on the deadly effects of chronic exposure to even low levels of pollutants. And, given that doctors warn about adverse side-effects from mixing drugs together, what is the effect of certain chemicals and pesticides mixing together in our bodies?

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Sun Mar 25, 2007 at 05:58 PM PDT.

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