If you are alive in 2011, no matter what your age, you have been part of one of the largest and worst experiments in history. No matter how carefully you eat or drink or watch your exposure to toxins, your body has chemicals in it that do not belong there and have the potential to make you ill, even fatally ill.
You didn't give anyone permission to experiment on you, it just happened to you. Chemicals have been spewing from smokestacks, sprayed on crops, dumped in your water, incorporated into your food, clothing and shelter. You've been exposed to large amounts mercury if you eat fish, you've breathed in asbestos from fabrics and building materials. You've ingested lead from paint. You have consumed Bisphenol-a since the 1950's or since you were a baby if you were born later. You probably have PCB's in the tissues of your body. If you eat meat, you are eating antibiotics meant for livestock. This is a particularly shoddy experiment since there is no control group, no hypothesis and the experimenters ignore the outcomes.
In spite of the fact that we have many laws on the books to protect us and federal and state regulators to enforce the laws, the sheer scale of pollution has overwhelmed us. We all pay the price for this with our health and our very lives.
For generations, environmentalists, health advocates and people with common sense have been fighting corporate interests to keep toxins out of our environment. Have we been successful? Well, we have managed to ban and regulate some of the worst poisons. In some cases we have only shifted the manufacturing and distribution channels off shore so that we primarily poison other people with those particular toxins. However, it's difficult to demonstrate any real big picture success against the tsunami of chemicals that we swim in every day.
Toxic pollution has no international boundaries. In China, a group of students shocked by the headlines about " toxic milk, tainted pork and beef and reused gutter oil" undertook a project to map toxic hot spots for food production. In Canada, environmentalists fight pollution in Lake Ontario and the massive threat of tar sands extraction fouling ecosystems. In Japan, radioactive particles from the massive failure of the Fukushima nuclear plants are being found in food and water. All over the United States, we transport out kids to school in diesel buses that spew carcinogens out of their tailpipes.
While we have seen this rapid acceleration of ever more toxic substances into our environment, we have experienced a corresponding increase in disease. Cancer rates continue to increase, although treatments have reduced the number of deaths. According to the World Health Organization's 2008 Cancer Report:
The rapid increase in the cancer burden represents a real crisis for public health and health systems worldwide. A major issue for many countries, even among high-resource countries, will be how to find sufficient funds to treat all cancer patients effectively and provide palliative, supportive and terminal care for the large numbers of patients, and their relatives, who will be diagnosed in the coming years.
The WHO warns of a possible 50% increase in cases of Cancer by 2020.
The Scientific American suggests that soaring rates of autism are linked to our constant exposure to toxics. Again, we pay an enormous emotional, practical and financial price to deal with the increase in this disease.
Links correlating many other illnesses with toxic and radioactive exposure are many and powerful. Yet we continue to operate in a manner that all but ignores this fact. It is not from stupidity. We are smart enough as a species to understand the connection. It is more likely from a combination of greed, laziness and apathy that we continue to allow this to happen.
This is not a problem that can be solved in a year. No governmental body can pass a regulation or set of regulations that will fix this quickly. The hard work of reducing exposure to toxins from our environment will occur over decades and centuries. It will take a massive shift in our thinking about the rights and responsibilities of corporations and the role of our governments, local, national and global, in protecting the commons and prioritizing human health over things like the cost of production.
The fact that this problem is so massive is no excuse to give up. It is a reason to get active. Progress in reigning in the power of corporations to poison the entire population of the world will bring with it many collateral benefits. It's an enormous cultural shift and requires dis-empowering the most powerful entities in the world. But if we don't wish our descendants to live in a world riddled by disease, genetic damage and drastically shortened life spans, we need to begin now. As we fight the important battle against climate change, we must not lose sight of the urgent need to support organizations that fight the battles against toxic exposure and unbridled corporate power.