For Whom The Toxic Bell Tolls

For Whom The Toxic Bell Tolls
by Patricia Dines
North Coast XPress, Dec. 1997, pp. 6-8

(c) Patricia Dines, 1997. All rights reserved.

Every day the media brings news about the drastic diseases, deformities, and deaths threatening humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems around the globe. Not as often reported in the mainstream press is the growing body of evidence linking this harm to the billions of pounds of pesticides and other toxics we put into our shared earth, air, and water every year. But is it really surprising that materials shown in the lab to kill plants, cause cancer, and harm immune, neurological, and reproductive systems might be doing the same type of harm out in the world?

Consider for instance that:

* Nearly 25% of the 4,600 known mammal species are now threatened with extinction, 34% of fish, 25% of amphibians, 20% of reptiles, and 11% of birds. Even more are having population declines. Primary causes named are pollution and habitat loss. Species are disappearing even in fairly safe places like Yosemite.

* At least 67 million wild birds and 6 to 14 million wild fish are estimated directly killed by pesticides each year, not including indirect deaths from eating contaminated prey and being weakened by sublethal doses.

* Large numbers of turtles around the world, including endangered green sea turtles, are being found with gray growths covering their bodies, lungs, and hearts, blinding them and eventually smothering them to death. Those trying to save the turtles say its a race, the disease taking the turtles faster than Mother Nature can replace them. The affected turtles tend to be near heavily-populated shores, and runoff from fertilizer and farm waste are discussed as possible causes.

* A recent rash of dolphin deaths in the Mediterranean, North Sea, and North Atlantic was caused by common viruses to which the animals are normally resistant. Blood samples from dolphins off the Florida coast showed high levels of pesticide residues, major viral infections, and weak immune systems.

* In North America there are now liver tumor epizootics (the wildlife equivalent of epidemics) in 16 species of fish in at least 25 different chemically polluted fresh- and salt-water locations. When the same species live in nonpolluted waters, liver cancer is virtually nonexistent.

* High numbers of frogs with severe birth defects have been found in many places in North America, including California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Quebec Canada. Defects include missing eyes, an eye growing in the throat, and legs that are missing, misshapen, webbed together with extra skin, fused to the body, paralyzed and sticking out from odd places, and split into two half-way down. One likely cause being discussed is toxics, such as pesticides and heavy metals, interfering with the hormone messages that control the frogs formation and development. Similar effects and toxic links are being shown in other animals, such as alligators, toads, and salamanders.


And the harm is happening to humans too.

* The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concludes that at least 80% of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences.

* The U.S. cancer rate has increased 54% over the past 45 years. In their lifetime, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will get cancer. Cancer is the number one killer of adults between the ages of 35 and 64. And each year 8,000 U.S. children get cancer, and 1,500 of them die from it -- the number two cause of death after accidents.

* Numerous studies have shown significantly increased cancer, birth defects, and neurological diseases coinciding with pesticide and other toxic exposure in occupational use (farmers, exterminators, manufacturing workers, agriculture workers), home use (children and pets), and people living near farms. For instance, farmers are generally healthier, but have a higher risk of cancers like Hodgkins disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, and malignant lymphoma; pesticides are one of the reasons named. Farmers exposed to more pesticides (including herbicides) tend to have higher cancer rates, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

* Each year an estimated 300,000 farmworkers in the U.S. are made ill by pesticides. Workers children are twice as likely to be born with deformed limbs.

* Its estimated that nearly half the U.S. groundwater and well water is either now, or potentially, contaminated by pesticides. In 1995, Environmental Working Group found weed killers widely used in agriculture in the tap water of 28 out of 29 cities across the Midwest, often at levels exceeding federal health standards for weeks or even months at a time.

* Every U.S. woman has pesticides, dioxins, and PCBs in her breast milk. DDT levels commonly found in breast milk would be forbidden if found in cows milk. DDT in the body shown strongly correlate with increased breast cancer. These harmful chemicals can also be passed to children in utero and through breast milk.

Toxic chemicals are traveling and accumulating at dangerous levels in even remote parts of our world. Inuit people in the pristine Canadian Arctic were recently assessed as more polluted with some of the worlds most toxic chemicals than any other group of people on earth. Those eating mainly fish and marine mammals heavily contaminated with accumulated pesticides show pronounced immune system deficiencies, particularly among breast-fed infants and children. Meningitis and inner ear infections rates are 30 times that of American children. Many Inuit babies cant be vaccinated -- they don't produce an antibody response. Polar bears, seals, fish, and birds of prey are also heavily polluted, and Arctic ecosystems are under threat.

* The number of U.S. lakes and rivers with fish considered dangerous to eat jumped 26 percent from 1995 to 1996, according to the EPA.


And the list goes on, giving a consistently clear picture of how toxics are permeating our world and our lives, at every level harming organisms, causing suffering, and tearing apart the interlocking ecosystems upon which all life depends. What are we doing to ourselves!?

Our government and the manufacturers say we needn't worry about being exposed to these toxics, that they're not a threat, that we require these poisons to survive. But most of us sense that toxics don't really ensure our survival but fundamentally threaten it, that they're often directly and indirectly related to the increases in sick humans, animals, and ecosystems, and that poisoning is no way to treat a sacred and beautiful planet. We know that, ultimately, its not money, corporations, or jobs that feed us, but Nature -- Nature that magically creates our food, air, and water, and is, from our births to our deaths, our umbilical cord -- and our Home.

Thankfully, there is a bit of government control on the use of some pesticides and toxics, and many wonderful alternatives have been created and are being used -- largely as a result of courageous citizen and scientist action. But incredibly high quantities of dangerous poisons -- both old and new -- are still being used, causing horrifying harm and reflecting how we, overall, still think and act as if Nature were our enemy and our dumping ground.


To stop the harm and find the true joy of reconnection with nature and each other, we have to stop the ongoing poisoning being done in our name. To do that, its vital for many of us to (1) see that the situation is serious enough to warrant immediate action; (2) educate ourselves, users, and others about the specifics of toxics and their alternatives and the need to shift rapidly to less-harmful approaches; and (3) join together in committing to a non-toxic future for us all.

It's important that we start by examining and changing our home use of toxics. But that's not enough. We can only truly protect ourselves and our world if we work to dramatically reduce our shared exposure as well -- in our schools, offices, stores, apartment buildings, parks, forests, roadsides, neighborhoods, food, and agriculture. To do this, large numbers of us need to stand up and publicly say that we see the connection between toxics and our current health and environmental crises, and that we are committed to living on this planet without senselessly tearing it apart. We spend much energy, money, time, and heartache attempting to deal with the many harmful effects of these materials. How much more efficient to direct our energy, attention, and resources to stopping the problems at their source!

And when we do act -- turning away from poisons and towards safer alternatives, using our creativity and passion to better and better align with the miracle of natural design -- ah, what a happier healthier world we help create for us all!

I'd be delighted to talk with you further about how we can invent the path there together.

For more information on Patricia Dines organization Community Action Publications (CAP), see the Resources list on the next page.


(c) Copyright Patricia Dines, 1997. All rights reserved.


[Article also had Resources list.]

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