Tipping Points 11
The Chemical Madness Maze
Three events in the past few weeks are swirling around in my mind.
First, blueberries made the “dirty dozen” produce list. At position 5, blueberries join apples (4) and potatoes (11)—all major crops for Maine farmers. Being on the “dirty dozen” list is not good for business.
Second, The President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) released its 2008-2009 report entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now.” Consumers, especially parents, are urged by the Cancer Panel to “buy food that has not been sprayed or grown with chemical fertilizers,” a message that is increasing in frequency and volume these days.
Nicholas D. Kristof called the President’s Cancer Panel “the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.” And, former President George W. Bush appointed the Cancer Panel’s current members: an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University and an immunologist at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Cancer Panel’s report is available on-line: http://pcp.cancer.gov . I urge you, especially if you are a parent or are involved in chemical applications, to read it.
Third, Maine’s Pesticide Control Board (PCB) has scheduled a series of public meetings (May 14, June 24 and 25, and July 23) to discuss the public’s right-to-know about chemical spraying. Existing law concerning the pesticide registry, where people could register to be notified of spraying, was seriously weakened last year.
The seven members of the PCB are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature. Because the constitution of this board obviously was designed for political and perceived economic reasons, board members are expected to defend their particular turfs, which includes chemical farming and forestry and chemical spraying businesses.
The Cancer Panel report states that our regulatory system for chemicals is deeply broken; that we are putting ourselves and, more importantly, our children at great risk; and that we must adopt precautionary measures rather than using reactionary measures (waiting until sufficient maiming and killing has occurred) with regard to the more than 80,000 improperly tested chemicals we are allowing to be dispersed with impunity.
In 2009, the Cancer Panel report discloses, 1.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 people died of cancer. Today, some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their life times. From 1975–2006, cancer incidence in U.S. children under 20 years of age has increased.
The Cancer Panel directly connects cancer and environmental toxins: “a growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.” The Cancer Panel is “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and that human “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.”
The Cancer Panel sums up current problems with our regulatory systems. Included among the problems are “undue industry influence,” “weak laws and regulations,” and “inadequate funding and insufficient staffing.” What results is “agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.”
For instance, the Cancer Panel determines that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.” TSCA “grandfathered in approximately 62,000 chemicals; today, more than 80,000 chemicals are in use, and 1,000–2,000 new chemicals are created and introduced into the environment each year.” Yet, writes the Panel, “TSCA does not include a true proof-of-safety provision”—which means “neither industry nor government confirm the safety of existing or new chemicals prior to their sale and use.”
TSCA allows chemical companies, reveals the Cancer Panel, to avoid discovering worrisome product information, which must be reported, by simply not conducting toxicity tests. And, as the “EPA can only require testing if it can verify that the chemical poses a health risk to the public,” the “EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce and has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.” Additionally, “chemical manufacturers have successfully claimed that much of the requested submissions are confidential, proprietary information.” So, “it is almost impossible for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”
In addition, the Cancer Panel notes that the U.S. “does not use most of the international measures, standards, or classification structures for environmental toxins that have broad acceptance in most other countries,” which makes meaningful comparisons difficult. Further, U.S. standards are “less stringent than international equivalents.”
In the chapter on agricultural chemicals, the Cancer Panel reports that “the entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.” For instance,” pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides)” approved for use by the EPA “contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.”
The Cancer Panel states that agricultural chemicals do not stay put. Sprayed chemicals migrate on the air and into the water, creating toxic trespass into other peoples’ lives. Indeed, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who is quoted in the report, writes in her book LIVING DOWNSTREAM, that “in general, less that 0.1 percent of pesticides applied for pest control actually reach their target pests, leaving 99.9 percent to move into the general environment.”
Farmers, their families, their workers, and chemical sprayers (including crop dusters) bear the highest health risks, according to the Cancer Panel. Farm children, especially those living near pesticide use, have consistently elevated leukemia rates. Exposure to the nearly 1,400 EPA-registered pesticides “has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma.”
It is very clear that we cannot continue using untested chemicals. It is very clear that we are massively harming our children. It is very clear that we must develop a political will for change and that we must devise ways to help the people caught in the chemical madness maze to escape it without undue financial penalty.
Therefore, it follows that we must all understand that the problem at hand is not how to organize a chemical spraying registry. It follows that we must all understand that the problem for individual PCB members is no longer how to protect present chemical practices. The problem that we must all now face is how to stop the use of untested, toxic, dangerous chemicals.
Statements to the PCB can be sent to the Director, Henry Jennings, email@example.com.
Write the PCB members and tell them that you recognize that they now have an incredibly difficult task. Tell them that they must understand now that their primary responsibility must be to protect us and to protect themselves and their loved ones. Tell them that this duty must supercede all other considerations.