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In last weeks Eugene Weekly there was an interesting news brief entitled: Kids: Don’t Drink the Toxic Water.  After being in a class studying toxins for three months, it perked my interest for obvious reasons.  This article tells a story, like many we have heard before, of nonsensical applications of herbicides in rural communities that don’t have any say or control over the situation.

In this case, the incident occurred very close to Eugene.  45 minutes outside of Eugene on a quite winding road lays the small community of Triangle Lake.  In December of 2010, multiple doses of Imazapyr, a non-selective herbicide, were sprayed on a recent clear cut that surrounds the community elementary school.  This occurred despite many parental complains, knowing very well that the herbicide could potentially poison the schools only drinking well.  According to the news brief, studies have shown that Imazapyr “sinks deeper into the ground than other herbicides and has a long track record of polluting ground water and wells.”

Sure enough, on the first day that students returned to class after the herbicide was applied, a few complained of minor headaches and difficulty breathing.  In fact, Day Owen’s daughter, Ivana, had to go home early after spending nearly 45 minutes near an open adjacent window.  His daughter’s throat was so swollen that she had extreme difficulty breathing.

The spraying occurred less than 60 feet from the school.  Initial water samples taken this April show that the school’s well water does in fact have Imazapyr in it.  Though the levels are almost 1000 times lower than the government’s safety level, many parents and local citizens are still concerned.

A positive aspect of this story is how local citizens took matters into their own hands and acquired a testable water sample.  Grass roots, local involvement is often the best action for local or regional change.

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After last week’s presentation on heavy metals and mercury in our food supply, I was reminded of this documentary I watched a few months ago.  The Cove, a documentary produced to shed light on Japan’s blatant illegal dolphin fishery as well as the problems of future health for many of Japan’s youth.  This movie was well produced and the film makers took much risk in getting the shots, sometimes putting themselves in jeopardy  with Japanese jail-time.  The filming location was the Japanese coastal fishing town of Taiji.  Since the Japanese have begun whaling, this has been an important port  for a base of operations and fishery development.  However, recently Taiji has been famous for other aquatic industries.  Many of the dolphins found in aquariums world wide are usually caught from the wild in Taiji.  This occurs in the yearly dolphin hunting drive.  Historically, these drives have been heavily criticized by eco-activists and environmentalists for it’s cruelty to the dolphins.  Many local fishermen intercept and drive dolphins into a bay by use of beating metal pipes on the side of their boat.  This noise somehow drives the dolphins into a cove where they are netted and sorted for prize aquarium dolphins.

But after the buyers go away what do the fishermen do with the hundreds live dolphins left in the net?  This is exactly what the documentary filmmakers hoped to find out.

The results stunned the world as The Cove won best documentary feature during the Academy Awards.  Not only did filmmakers prove that the extra dolphin were being taken to be slaughtered,  but that it was also being illegally being sold as whale meat and even put into the local school lunch program.  Since the release of The Cove, many local’s of Taiji are getting tested for levels of mercury poisoning.  According to the National Institute for Minamata Disease, tests from hail follicles from over 1000 local samples indicate that locals had about five times as much mercury in their blood than an average Japanese person would.

 

 

Homo Toxicus is a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Carole Poliquin that came out in 2009.  This film highlights many incredible findings about the toxic world as well as follows Carole as she gets tested for chemical exposure.  As the documentary explains, synthetic chemicals have lead to an increase of cancer rates.  This comes at a time when mortality rates from infectious diseases are globally declining yet mortality rates from chronic diseases (cardiovascular, cancer, etc.) have been steadily increasing worldwide.  Furthermore, pregnancy studies have shown that the bioaccumulation of chemicals and heavy metals in mothers are passed through the umbilical cord to their unborn child.

Inside of the Canadian hospital Carole listens in disbelief as her doctor read her blood analysis report to her.  Carol, a health conscious vegetarian, had over 110 environmental pollutants in her blood including PCB’s, dioxins, flame-retardants, pesticides, heavy metals including mercury, and even DDT!

The film continues with a case study from Alaska documenting hearing loss problems among Inuit children.  Their loss of hearing can be attributed to their elevated levels of mercury and PCB’s in their blood.  The contamination and exposure is most likely due to their heavy consumption of fish.  The problem is so bad in some communities that the teacher must speak into a amplified microphone just in a basic classroom setting.  Gina Muckle, a professor of developmental psychology in Quebec, explains that PCB’s and mercury have been found to change the speed at which the optic nerve processes information and data.  This affects the way we learn as well as the way we interpret visual data.

PBDE’s (Polybrominated diphenylethers) is a family of flame-retardent chemicals.  They are found in many objects such as computers, baby clothing, and stuffed animals.  PBDE concentrations have increased 100x over the past 25 years.  Concentrations of PBDE’s found in breast milk have doubled every five years as these chemicals are passed and stockpiled from generation to generation.  PBDE’s have been found to increase cases of ADD and other learning disabilities.

The first few minutes of this video are good at explaining a bit of the history of germ theory but it seems the narrator is a bit bias against the growing anti-science population.

Regardless of this slant I found the history of germ theory quite fascinating.  Around 1870 two scientists, Louis Pasteur and Antoine Béchamp, had conflicting views on disease.  Pasteur, the French chemist most well known for his work concerning the causes and preventions of infectious diseases, observes that bacteria and other organisms are mainly responsible for disease.  However, Béchamp contested his theory on the notion that it did not address the environment’s interconnectedness.  Béchamp argued that it was not the bacteria that caused the disease but the disease that cause the bacteria.  His theory, now called pleomorphic theory of disease, further dictates that the presence of a disease is an indication of overall local (or global) environmental health.

Though Béchamp’s theory has received much criticism and has been disproven on numerous occasions, I feel that part of his ideology is very important.  Just the fact that he is viewing this material from a different perspective is enough for me to at least consider his point of view.  By viewing the environment as the culprit of disease, one has to account much more than just the single-track view of infectious agents.

In the midst of Earth Day a few days ago I stumbled upon this news cast from the night of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970!

Also check out this one!

http://www.hulu.com/watch/67649/earth-day-first-earth-day-april-22-1970

In comparing what actions American people took on Earth Day 1970 and again on Earth day 2011, I found that the actions took by people in 1970 were radically different than the actions taken by citizens today. From the news segment shot in 1790, we gather that the entire United States was in a state of protest. Downtown New York City was closed to traffic and students across the states wore gas masks to school in demonstration against the rise of the chemical corporations. The actions taken by America’s youth in 1970 mainly consisted of protest and direct action.

However, in contrast, much of the nightly news that aired on April 22, 2011 detailed how people were celebrating the day this year. Much of this news focused on how to better ‘green’ ones life, as well as how to be more of an environmentally friendly consumer.

I think these two contrasts can really illustrate how our priorities have shifted over the past 30 years or so. Likewise, the role we play in being good stewards of our environment has drastically changed as well. We have slowly moved from playing more assertive roles to playing a passive-aggressive type. Evidence for this can easily be seen by the actions Americans took just a few days ago during the last Earth Day. The popular things to do on this very special day were to ‘Buy more eco’ or ‘plant a tree’ or ‘pick up trash’. The messages here all relate to mitigation instead of addressing the root of the problem.

I agree that it is hard these days to discern how to act. Upon bombardment of global atrocities, what does one do first? The problem of the prioritization of our actions, I feel, directly relates on our risk assessments and, of course, to our materialistic consumptive patterns.

This is the classic board game that has come to haunt oil giant BP because it was them who originally endorsed it in the 1970’s.  In this game of ‘hazards and rewards” players stake out their claim of an offshore oil well.  Players occasionally have to draw ‘hazard’ cards where they could potentially pay an environmental fine for such things as a rig blow out (1 million dollars).  Players are essentially mock-tycoons competing against each other.  How would a child interpret this in the 1970’s?  How would a child interpret this now?