Today, we will talk about the consequences of the fact that we have become a society completely dependent on chemicals. As I pointed out, we have traded our long-term well-being for the convenience of chemicals as we continue our review of John Kerry's book, "This Moment on Earth." Tuesday, I will not write a diary, as Monday is my busiest day of the week. However, I will have a post on Wednesday.
Teresa Kerry writes that we are exposed to hundreds or even thousands of chemicals each day. My first thought, given that my own community has a lot of concer survivors, was to wonder if there was a relationship between the environment and cancer; and sure enough, cancer is one of her main topics during this section of the book.
Teresa writes that there are 80,000 chemicals that are in regular use in this country; out of the top 3,000, we make or import about one million tons of these chemicals each. Despite our advances in environmental safety laws, we are actually a labratory for corporate libertarianism gone horribly wrong. New chemicals are only required to be tested if they are similar to chemicals that have already been shown to be harmful. Chemicals are not supposed to be banned unless they present an "unreasonable" risk to the environment; in practice, that means that only five chemicals or chemical compounds have been banned. Manufacturers do not have to label all of the chemicals that they put in our foods and products.
Like the Mad Scientist creating Frankenstien, this is an example of Corporate Libertarianism run amok. The example of the Great Depression has shown us that unregulated corporations cannot be trusted to protect our economy. Yet we have hardly any regulations when it comes to protecting our long-term health. Many regulations were gutted by both the Reagan and Bush administrations based on the outdated notion that the markets can be more trusted to self-regulate than we can regulate them. In other words, they think we are too stupid to figure out regulations that help protect the long-term health of our communities.
There is a big difference between Individual Libertarianism and Corporate Libertarianism. The former has made some of the best arguments about stuff like Iraq, the Patriot Act, the 9th and 10th Amendments, immigration, drug legalization, and stuff of that nature. This is the kind of Libertarianism that has a lot in common with the Democratic Party. But Corporate Libertarianism is totally different -- it is little more than Republican Propaganda for Corporate Welfare disguised as concern for individual liberties. A perfect example is laws gutting regulations against CAFO's disguised as bills to protect small farmers here in Missouri and elsewhere.
Ideally we should have regulations that are based on sound science and that prevent corporations from pursuing short-term profit at the expense of our long-term health. Regulations should also be preventative as well -- prevent harmful chemicals from ever getting into the environment in the first place and giving people breast cancer and other such diseases.
One study cited by Teresa Kerry found that there are as many as 200 synthetic chemicals in our bodies -- many of them which have been banned for decades. Another study by the Environmental Working Group found 455 different pollutants in our blood, urine, and breast milk. Ms. Kerry herself wrote that she has high levels of mercury and lead in her body. The lead came from old lead pipes that have never been replaced; the mercury came from rivers near power plants that released the stuff into the water.
In addition, one out of three women will develop cancer in their lifetime while one out of four will develop depression at some point. 5-10% of all couples will be infertile while Lupus and MS are both on the rise. In 1960, 1 out of 20 women developed breast cancer; now, the number is 1 out of 7. Breast cancer develops in clusters; for instance, there are high levels of breast cancer in the Philadephia to NY corridor as well as the Marin County (CA) area. And a disproportionate number of these women are in their 20's and 30's when they get it; this is well before they are supposed to start getting mammograms.
Teresa Kerry then zeroes in on Cape Cod, which is the site of one of these clusters of high breast cancer rates. She focuses on Cheryl Osimo, Ellen Parker, and a number of other women who got together and formed the Silent Spring Institute after Rachael Carson, who herself died of breast cancer after her prolonged exposure to DDT.You can find their website here.
Their main contribution was that breast cancer is caused by environmental pollution -- specifically, endocrine disruptors, which mimic the estrogen which can cause breast cancer. Much of this research can be found in the book Our Stolen Futures, which also argues that synthetic chemicals also undermine human fertility, intelligence, and survival. The authors of this book maintain a website here, which provides updates based on the latest research.
Teresa Kerry writes that the Silent Spring Institute builds on other research, including the following:
--Ana Soto and Carlos Sommenchein, who made the accidental discovery that nonylphenol can cause breast cancer. They discovered that cells in the tubes that they were using for another experiment that were not treated with estrogen were still expanding abnormally; it turned out that the company that they had gotten their test tubes from had changed the chemical formula of their tubes; it turned out to contain nonylphenol. Recent research in 2005 has corraborated this discovery.
--Mary Wolff of the Mount Sinai, NY School of Medicine, who discovered a link between breast cancer and organochorines, including DDT.
The Silent Spring Institute got a $3 million grant from the State of Massachusetts to conduct a study to see if there were links between breast cancer and the environment. Known as the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study, it found the following:
--There was a 21% higher rate of breast cancer in the Cape Cod area than the rest of the state; it could not be explained by normal factors.
--Women who lived there 25-29 years were 72% more likely to get breast cancer than women who had lived less than 5 years there.
--Women who lived in areas treated for tree pests between 1948 and 1995, women who lived near cranberry bogs (sprayed for pests), women who lived near farmland, and women who did not have a tree buffer to protect them against pesticide chemicals were the most likely to get breast cancer.
Teresa Kerry writes that these results were replicated by the US Geological Survey, which also found that pesticide runoff from sewage and pesticides and birth control pills led to the femization of male fish, frogs, and turtles as well as cause male smallmouth bass to lay female yolks.
Another cause of breast cancer has been shown to be phthalates. The Breast Cancer Fund explains:
Phthalates are a versatile class of chemicals that are widely used in consumer products to soften plastics, carry fragrances, and act as solvents and fixatives. They are most commonly found in vinyl plastic products, particularly toys, medical tubing, medical fluid bags, floor tile and other building materials. They are also in a range of cosmetics where they are used to disperse fragrances, stabilize the cosmetic on the skin, and provide flexible hold in nail polish and hair care products.
Sources and Exposure
The phthalates studied vary in their health effects and in what we know about how people are exposed. Diisonyl phthalate (DINP) and di-(2 ethyl hexyl) phthalate (DEHP) are used in vinyl plastic toys for example and children are exposed through chewing which easily releases the phthalate from the plastic. DEHP can also leach into the blood from medical tubing and devices. Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) are used in cosmetic products where the exposure can occur through inhalation, absorption through the skin, and oral ingestion. More information is needed about how people are exposed to butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) from specific products.
They were founded by a lady named Andrea Martin, who was a three-time cancer survivor who led cancer survivors on climbs up some of the world's highest mountains to show that anything was still possible even if you still battle cancer. She was an effective advocate for breast cancer research, getting millions of dollars of funding for the research and she was a staunch environmentalist as well as a good friend of Senator Diane Feinstien and Congresswoman and current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Kerry writes that Environmental Health Perspectives did a study that exposure to chemicals by women altered the makeup of their sons; a study by them found that the higher the levels of phthalates in women, the more likely there were to be fertility defects in their sons.
And even though it has been over 25 years after DDT and PCB's have been banned, the chemicals have still been found in homes 25 years after they were banned, which proves the fact that they do not simply break down like most chemicals.