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Interesting Information: Cancer Rates, Delmarva Peninsula

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Interesting Information:  June 14, 2010

Cancer Rates, Delmarva Peninsula

The Maine Organic Farmers’ and Growers Association quarterly journal came last week some time.  The journal always list up-to-date information about toxins.  This issue had a piece of information that I’ve searched for, off and on, for some time–cancer rates on the Eastern Shore.   

The area where my niece Catherine died, called the Eastern Shore, is part of a larger geographical structure called the Delmarva Peninsula–for the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia which make it up.  The Delmarva peninsula is known for chicken production (growing and slaughtering) and for truck gardening.  The produce goes to neighboring urban areas, among them DC and Baltimore. 

Catherine lived just downwind from a chicken processing plant.  Neighboring fields were covered routinely with chicken manure.  These plants pumped bloody water into the bay.  Indeed, pfiesteria piscicida was discovered in the Chesapeake Bay very near her home south of Onancock.  Pfiesteria piscicida kills, massively kills, fish.  And, it has been associated with both the handling of pig and chicken manure in large, industrial practices, as a quick google search demonstrates.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfiesteria_piscicida  and http://www.grist.org/article/last/

Anyway, here is the article from the June-August 2010 MOFGA journal, pages 9 and 10.  I’ve just retyped it exactly as it appears:

“Sheila Pell reports in Emagazine that some 70 percent of U.S. broiler chickens, as well as turkeys and swine, are given the arsenic-based growth promoting feed additive roxarsone.  While some of that organic arsenic remains in chicken meat, most is excreted and breaks down into inorganic arsenic, a strong promoter of many cancers.  In Prairie Grove, Arkansas, which is surrounded by large poultry factory farms, and where manure from those farms is used extensively as fertilizer on area fields, incidences of rare cancers are high.  A decade ago, the town’s 2,500 residents learned that 17 children there suffered from cancers including brain and testicular cancer and leukemia.  Likewise, the  Peninsula, another area with factory poultry farms, has one of the highest cancer rates in the United States.  Manure that isn’t used as fertilizer is added to cattle feed.  The National Chicken Council claims that roxarsone, an antibiotic, contributes to “animal health and welfare, food  and environmental sustainability.”  (“Arsenic and Old Studies–Pressure Is On to Ban a Hazardous but Profitable Feed Additive,” by Sheila Pell, Emagazine, March-April 2010; http://www.emagazine.com/view/?5064). 

High cancer rates on the Delmarva peninsula…  It’s nice to see it confirmed…

When Catherine was dying, and we all started at looking at why she might have gotten such an aggressive cancer–it killed her in a year despite every medical intervention tried, including a stem-cell transplant at Duke–we wondered about all the cancer in young people where she lived.  We wondered about the water.  We wondered about the truck gardening.  We really wondered about the chicken industry.

The Eastern Shore in perfectly suited for large industry, in that while there are some wealthy people who have vacation homes, most of the area is poor.  The chicken and produce industries provide jobs–though many of them, I suspect from looking at who was working in the fields, are going to illegal immigrants.  Anyway, no one locally will fight what is happening to the environment–even though many families have been struck with the nightmare of cancer.

Arsenic has never been banned in the United States, and it is still used agriculturally. 

 

Written by louisaenright

June 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Tipping Points 4: The Emperor Has No Clothes

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 4

April 7, 2010

The Emperor Has No Clothes

 Will Allen was the keynote speaker at the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) Common Ground Fair in September 2009.  I would have gone to hear him rain or shine.  His 2008 book THE WAR ON BUGS is a history of agricultural and home-use chemicals in the United States.  Allen tells this ugly story to spotlight the Emperor’s nakedness:  our society does not have a mechanism to protect people from the excesses of the market.  Corporations, acting rationally in their own best interests, are making irrational decisions that adversely affect everyone.   

The historical process Allen describes is present in the development of most American industries, but if we look at just the agricultural and home-use chemical industry, we can see clearly how irrationality has replaced rationality, how we are all, including those making decisions within this industry, being massively poisoned.  Allen exposes how the modern web of players—corporate industry, scientists in academia, media, politicians, and the government organizations whose charters are to protect citizens—cooperate to relentlessly and, so far, successfully push the products of this industry. 

Allen tells how the loss of nourishing soil fertility begins in Europe alongside the birth of the capitalistic paradigm.  The landgrab enclosure movement of 1400-1500 halts the use of the common lands; forces large numbers of peasants to relocate to cities, which makes their labor available for industry; and allows, for a few individuals at the top of the society, the acquisition of both land and cheap labor.  The stage–designed by those with the cultural power to change the laws and to control the policing mechanisms–is set now for agricultural profit taking and the accumulation of capital.  Productivity, however, declines (3-4). 

This process of careless large-scale monocrop farming is duplicated in America, except for a small group of mostly small, northern, self-sufficient yeoman farmers (3-15).  Rich men exhausted land fertility and moved to new land–which was, often, given to land companies for free or for a few cents an acre by the government in charge (21-22).  For instance, in 1749 a land grant from King George II helped organize The Ohio Company.  By 1792, after the Revolution, this land company controlled 6,700,000 acres of land along the Ohio River, making George Washington, one of this land company’s leaders, one of the richest men in America (6).        

By the early 1800s, soil fertility on large-scale farms was devastated (13).  But, the first chemical quick fix was discovered.  Peruvian bird guano, mined by slaves and prisoners, was imported in the late 1820s–until supplies were exhausted in the late 1850s (25-26).  Next, fertilizer merchants created, manufactured, and sold, with relentless, repetitive advertising campaigns, attempted copies of the natural guano (30-31). 

So, writes Allen, the stage is now set for the seemingly benign and cheap chemical fix for ruined land, for pest control on monocrops, and for the promise of the reduction of labor costs.  But, the actual price was and is the continued degradation of the land and of the food since, while these farmers produced cheaper food, this food was of poorer quality and contained poisons (139). 

Also, the developing commercial fertilizer industry allowed the continued acquisition of land by large-scale commercial farms since the process whereby small farmers who could not compete lost their land accelerated (46).  Additionally, large-scale farmers had political power.  They could and did control access to the developing transportation systems bringing food to markets that were becoming increasingly centralized in cities (66-67). 

The next set of fertilizers, continues Allen, are the waste products of industry:  sodium nitrate from salt mining; arsenic and lead pesticides from iron and copper smelting, fabric dyeing, and paint manufacturing; cyanide gas from ammonium-cyanide production; natural gas and hydrogen used to make nitrogen for fertilizers, from gasoline or coke manufacturing; and fluorine from uranium mining.  So, as time passed, our food, more and more, was grown with industrial wastes (xxv-xxvi). 

But, what Allen is able to show by looking so closely at the history of this industry is the pattern that evolves for American industry formation.  What evolves alongside the markets for these waste products—and which still exists–is a top-down imposition of junk science.  Industry endows academic “research” departments and laboratories to support the use of industrial waste products.  Academia ignores actual data from the field that does not support the new message.  Industry organizes relentless advertising campaigns and heavily invests in the media, like farm journals, which promote the claims of the junk science that sells the waste product.  Industry controls politically the government mechanisms that should be protecting citizens.  And, anyone who protests or offers actual scientific proof that the junk science is flawed is ridiculed and/or run out of the arena (35-39, 68-73, 77-79, 82-91).          

This industry knows exactly how dangerous these chemicals are to human health because most of these chemicals (fluorines, carbonates, organophosphates, bromines, pyrethrum powder, and rotenone) were extensively tested during the war years.  The U.S. Army, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the USDA, and the “dominant chemical companies on the American side” tested thousands of old and new chemicals for their toxic potential during the war years” (131).  And, the Nazis and the cartel of companies known as I. G. Farben “experimented with all the known chemicals on concentration-camp victims throughout World War II” (129).  Yet the legal process to ban chemicals in America is limited to fights to ban a single chemical, rather than classes of chemicals, and this industry wages all out war to prevent any chemical, no matter how dangerous, from being banned 235).    

The ugly truth is that these chemicals either do not get regulated or, when regulated, are not policed adequately.  Arsenic, a heavy metal that is acutely toxic, is still in agricultural use today and will have a continued presence in agricultural soils for up to 100 years (124).  Arsenic causes cancer, lung and stomach damage, and serious debilitation to people or animals exposed to application drift (233). 

Methyl bromide has been scheduled for banning for ten years, but politically powerful large-scale strawberry, grape, and fruit farmers in California and Florida successfully obtained special-exemption uses in 2007 and 2008.  This chemical has already caused serious environmental degradation from aquifer to ozone.  In humans it causes “mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects” and is “incredibly lethal in very small doses so that pest resistance does not develop” (233-234, 244).   

Many banned chemicals, like DDT, suspended in 1972, creep back into patented chemical formulas (Kelthane) as part of the secret “inerts” ingredients.  This company was not fined by the government (175). 

Bigger and bigger farms—which grow through the logic of unregulated capitalism–means more and more chemicals are dumped into the environment and onto our food.  Surely we can recognize, thanks to Allen’s work, that the Emperor is naked, that there is a terrible flaw in our society.  Surely we can understand the history Allen charts between these abusive, needless practices and the growth of our own illnesses and deaths.  Surely the tipping point of change must be nearing where we all support our regional networks of small farmers who produce such glorious, healthy, life-sustaining food.