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I watched Gasland several months ago and was extremely displeased with the negative impact hydraulic fracking has on the environment and how it results in the increase of dangerous chemicals in drinking water. The class presentation given on Wednesday about hydraulic fracking reminded me of this unsettling displeasure. Current hydraulic fracturing methods seem to fit right in, in our living in a toxic world course. The numerous amount of harmful chemicals used in fracking today have contributed significantly to the increase in toxicity of US water.

The hydraulic fracking industry is deceiving in that it tells the public that natural gas extraction has been around for decades and has been done safely. However, they fail to mention the fact that past extraction of natural gas did not contain chemicals. Older methods of natural gas extraction was much safer and less toxic than the methods used today. In the past, there was only a small amount of water used in the drilling operation and there was rarely any problems with ruined water wells and poisoned land. The most common problems in past natural gas extraction methods were a large amount of salt in the materials brought up during drilling and the brine that was recovered. This method of natural gas extraction caused very little problems and was definitely not as toxic as the hazardous chemical-based method used today. The current method for natural gas extraction can be seen in Gasland. This documentary made by Josh Fox shows the devastating effects that fracking has on drinking water and the organisms that drink that water. The fracking fluids have many harmful carcinogenic chemicals in them.

It is upsetting to know that there was once a safe method to extract natural gas, and now that people are obsessed with obtaining more and obtaining it at a faster rate that they are not considering the harmful impact that the chemicals used are having on the environment, ecosystems, and organisms (including humans) drinking this polluted, toxic water. If there were once safer methods to extract natural gas, why would we risk polluting the drinking water of millions of people and the ecosystems of an insurmountable number of organisms for a faster more toxic method?

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Reading Colburn, Dumanoski, and Meyers’ “Hand-Me-Down Poisons” and Vogel’s “From ‘the dose makes the poison’ to ‘the timing makes the poison’” reminded me of a paper I wrote about the adverse affect of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Glyphosate is sold in over 100 countries in the world, and Monsanto Company is the most popular manufacturer of glyphosate herbicides. It is the most widely used agricultural herbicide, and the second most popular herbicide for the home and gardens. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the annual amount of glyphosate used in the U.S. is 103-113 million pounds, with home and garden use totaling over 5 million pounds. Glyphosate is widely used because its chemical properties make it effective for killing all types of plants.

Although glyphosate’s toxicity levels are lower than other herbicides such as DDT, atrazine, metribuzin, or alachlor, it has been proven that glyphosate can have adverse effects on the environment in several different ways. It can directly and indirectly cause harm to birds, insects, frogs, fish, plants, and humans. Many scientists believe that the damages caused by glyphosate herbicides are minimal, but with its widespread use and chronic exposure, glyphosate has the potential to alter the environment in a negative manner. Glyphosate alone seems to have low toxicity, but in herbicides, there are also surfactants that add to the toxicity levels. The surfactants are added to herbicides in order to prevent the chemical from forming into droplets and rolling off sprayed leaves. Most of the harm caused in animals and humans exposed to glyphosate correlate to the harm done to the animals described in “Hand-Me-Down Poisons” such as; genetic damage, disrupting development, feminizing frogs, miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer.

In Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there is an example of a sustainable polycultured farm, Polyface that is run by Joel Salatin and his family. This farm uses absolutely no herbicides nor pesticides. Neither hebicides nor pesticides are needed on this farm because it follows the natural cycle of life, and is very successful. If more farms followed this method, chemical herbicides would not be needed, and would not be able to cause a negative impact on the environment. In Vogel’s conclusion, she wrote “The vast proliferation of synthetic chemicals, particularly since the 1950s, was accepted, politically and legally, in the United States based on the assumption that chemical exposure was necessary for economic progress, but the risks of polluted bodies, water, air, and food could be minimized by reducing the exposure level—dilution as the solution to pollution. By reading about and seeing all these adverse affects that pesticides and herbicides cause, is it really worth using them. Why do we continue to use massive amounts of these chemicals when we know that they are causing harm to the environment, animals, and even humans?

I remember when growing up in Pennsylvania, we would learn about hazardous materials in our households in elementary school. They would use the iconic Mr. Yuk in order to spread this awareness. It was always exciting to get those awesome green stickers and then go home and stick them on all the household chemicals.

In 1971, Mr. Yuk was created by Dr. Richard Moriarty at the Pittsburgh Poison Center in the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in order to spread awareness of hazardous chemicals in households and to prevent younger children’s ingestion of these chemicals.  Mr. Yuk was made to replace the skull and crossbones design that was thought to be appealing to children because it reminded them of pirates. They wanted to find a symbol that would be the least appealing to children so they would stay away from the harmful chemicals in their homes. In order to accomplish this, they conducted some tests amongst children, and they found that Mr. Yuk was the symbol that was least appealing. A child even called it “yucky”, hence the name.

Mr. Yuk has become a prominent symbol to educate both children and adults about poison prevention and to spread awareness of poison centers. Over 42 million Mr. Yuk stickers are given out globally each year.  These stickers demonstrate that hazardous chemicals are a part of our everyday lives, and that there are many dangerous chemicals in our households. Mr. Yuk serves as a risk awareness symbol, and now, not only are there Mr. Yuk stickers, there are Mr. Yuk t-shirts, pencils, activity sets, posters, magnets, and even spill proof thermal cups. There has even been a use of Mr. Yuk to show a dislike of hazardous companies such as BP. Mr. Yuk has been commodified in order to spread the risk awareness of the harsh dangerous chemicals that are in our homes that most people don’t even know about.  There are over four million accidental poisonings every year in the U.S. alone; thus, there needs to be something to spread the awareness of the risks of these chemicals. I believe educating children, and giving them Mr. Yuk stickers is a good start to raising this awareness.

Toy companies such as UNKL and Playmobil began creating toy figures in hazmat suits. UNKL’s line HazMaPo (Hazardous Materials Police) and Playmobil’s HAZMAT Crew have created some controversy. Is it odd or morbid to allow children to play with such toys? I think not. These toys add awareness in children to the risks that the present society faces. It makes children and the parents of these children aware of the serious risks due to the dangerous chemicals and toxins we produce and use in our everyday lives. The future relies on these children, and exposing them to the potential risks at a young age can create a less hazardous future. Not only can these toys make children aware of dangerous situations, they can also enlighten the parents of these children which can lead to changes that may prevent future toxic events. An example of children being more knowledgeable than their parents about such toxic events can be seen in White Noise.

In White Noise, Heinrich showed a knowledge of Nyodene D. and airborne toxic event situation that was far superior to any of the other community members, including the adults.  There was also a willingness of the children to participate in SIMUVAC’s simulated situations. This demonstrates that children want to learn about environmental risks, how to handle a situation if it should arise, and also how to prevent future situations.

“Some awareness of technological and ecological as well as other risk scenarios these toys indicate, from carcinogens in food to toxic spills and global warming has consciously or unconsciously, become an inescapable component of daily routine” (Heise 120-121).Toy figures dressed in hazmat suits may seem controversial, but I believe they are beneficial and key to creating a risk awareness in children and their parents. As a result, this should lead to a more conscientious society that will help prevent these risks. These toys can serve as encouragement for children to want to make a positive change in our toxic world.

There has been much discussion in class about how the media determines what is news-worthy. It was mentioned by someone in class, I believe it was Sam, who brought up the fact that the media is a business and uses stories that they believe will sell. This point reminded of the Anti-Flag song “Underground Network”. This song calls for an alternative form of media that goes beyond mass media story coverage in order to find what is truly happening in the world. Anti-Flag believes that the media is run by capitalists that are just interested in making money, not caring about the substance of the information it dishes out. This is evident in the lyrics, “Just take a look around the world and you’ll find that nearly all mass media are owned by a handful of conservative capitalists”.

This idea of a capitalist media can be seen in the novel White Noise. During the airborne toxic event, there was a gentleman who was trying to find coverage of the event on the television. When he could not find such coverage, he said “There’s nothing on the network. Not a word, not a picture” (154-155). He couldn’t comprehend why there was no media coverage of the airborne toxic event; as a result, he felt insignificant. The real reason why there was no coverage by the media of the airborne toxic event is due to the fact that mainstream media does not typically cover stories from small towns like Blacksmith. This could have led to Jack’s deception that things like this only happen in California and Japan because stories about California and Japan sell; thus, there is more media coverage of these areas.

Also the prevalence of tabloids throughout White Noise demonstrated the fact that Americans are more concerned with what is going on in celebrities lives or stories such as UFO’s, Bigfoot, and Elvis’ ghost (140) than about important events that are happening all over the world. Anti-Flag believes “corporate media can’t keep us beat down, brainwashed, enslaved”, and that “we must devise and implement alternative methods of distributing our news, our information, our ideas”. In order to get accurate informative news, we must take the capitalism out of mass media.