Friday, July 11, 2008

Could simple choices kill us?

It was the 1970s and well-paying low-skill jobs were disappearing, endangered like the Peregrine falcons.

We were young, newly married, and in need of income. For the next two decades my husband worked entry level jobs for an agri-fertilizer company, sold animal feeds, worked for various construction companies and ran a lumber yard for 84 Lumber. He spent several years working in a factory that made rubber mud flaps and feed pans. And eventually he decided to return to college and pursue a profession rather than a job. He was hired as an accountant for companies in the aerospace industry.

In 1991, the New York Times wrote about polluters.

"The Mobil Corporation may be responsible for cleaning up wastes at 47 sites under the Federal Superfund program, a fact not disclosed in the company's annual report.

A subsidiary of the Amoco Corporation tried to install hazardous-waste incinerators on Indian lands, ostensibly to avoid state and Federal emissions regulations.

The American Cyanamid Company releases four times as much toxic waste into the environment per $1,000 of sales as the average chemical company.

These nuggets of information -- not denied by the companies involved -- are in a series of environmental profiles being published by the Council on Economic Priorities, a nonprofit group in New York that monitors social policies of large corporations. The reports are intended to appeal to socially conscious investors and to encourage companies to minimize pollution."

Not long ago local Fox-TV aired an investigative piece exploring the surprising number of NASA employees diagnosed with ALS. In conversation with one of those employees, I listened to him laugh, shake his head and tell about the lake of hazard waste materials that everyone knew about and no one dared discuss.

Other articles tell about the high rate of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in the military.

I mention my husband's list of jobs after reading an article today that begins: "New preliminary research suggests that exposure to the chemical formaldehyde, present in a variety of workplaces, could greatly increase a person's chances of developing Lou Gehrig's disease."

His choices seemed so benign. He simply wanted to provide for his wife and his babies. Did that honorable intent cost him his health? Has he developed this rare neuromuscular disease because his employers set him to work among a variety of chemicals, including formaldehyde.

What other choices do we make that will cost us our lives, our health, or maybe simply quality of life?

We often think we exist in a protective bubble. Bad things won't come to us who are doing the right things, making the 'right' choices, obeying the rules, living uprightly, following the Golden Rule....

Nature seems to live by another set of rules. If we live in a tainted environment, we will pay the consequences. It doesn't really matter who tainted it, who polluted, who continues to pollute.

The consequences for those of us living in this chemical miasma will remain the same no matter which corporation causes the problems.

Do we really care if there is global warming? Do we really want to point fingers as to who did it? Well, okay, yes, I would really like to line the culprits up along the edge of some lake of hazardous materials and push them in. But on my mature days, my better self simply wants to move forward. It is time to at least attempt to clean up this mess so that we can cut the cancer rates, the respiratory problems, the growing number of medical problems afflicting just about everyone.

What about water pollution?

What about the food chain and contamination and mishandling? Perhaps he ate too many potato chips? Maybe that's what caused his muscles to die.

When we talk about alternative energies a large percentage of Americans support solar energy research. But in that discussion, nuclear energy enters the mix. What about the radioactive waste? The chemical sludge that no one knows what to do with it? What about our space race and the fuels used to propel those shuttles and rockets? What about the chemicals that remain and must be stored or disposed of?

Should we worry more about the unanswered questions as well as the unasked questions? Should profit truly be the most important element that guides decisions at every level in every venue? Will we continue to put profit ahead of life and quality of life? Or will profits just rank first ahead of 'other' people's' health and shortened life spans.

Isn't it time to clean up our own backyards? If the owners of the companies won't, the workers must. It may be the only thing that saves lives -- including those of our children and grandchildren.

If you're shaking your head and asking, "What difference can I make?" Well, check out what differences some of our young people are making. We all must make a differences -- our lives depend upon it!

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. It's too late to change the past, but maybe we can educate the next generation to do a better job. I believe many of them are already on the right track. We are only just now becoming aware of how we are all connected.