Families Expose to Toxic Chemicals Lives’ Matter

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I am so frustrated and cannot understand how to win equal protection of health for all people.  I’ve been doing this work for over thirty years and observed that unlike food contamination or infectious disease, where health agencies move at the speed of light to keep people safe, when the source is toxic chemicals from a corporation, people are sacrificed.  I’m looking for ideas from those who read this blog.  Just recently we saw the call to action to protect public health  around the cilantro scare.

This week I received requests for help from local leaders CHEJ is working with that related to health studies and public health impacts from chemicals in their environment.

One study around hydro fracking, researchers found that pregnant women living near clusters of fracked wells were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights.  The second study found higher rates of hospitalization for heart conditions, neurological illness, and other conditions among people who live near fracking sites.

Those studies were not enough to stop fracking in the communities. In fact, health authorities said they believe it may not be the fracking at all – it could just be a random clustering of medical problems.

The third study was around a low wealth African American community in Birmingham, Alabama. Adjacent to the community is Walter Coke Facility that manufactures coke, toluene sulfonyl acid, produces pig iron from iron ore and more.

The Federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a study to determine the health risk to community families based upon exposures to arsenic, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in residential surface soil and homegrown garden produce in the communities collected from November 2012 through January 2015.

ATSDR concluded that:

  • past and current exposure to arsenic found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health. Children are especially at risk.
  • past and current exposure to lead found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health. Swallowing this lead‐contaminated soil could cause harmful health effects, especially in children and in the developing fetus of pregnant women.
  • long‐term exposure (i.e., many years) to PAHs found in the surface soil of some residential yards is at a level of concern for lifetime cancer risk.

The agency’s recommendation was for parents to:

  • monitor their children’s behavior while playing outdoors and prevent their children from intentionally or inadvertently eating soil;
  • take measures to reduce exposures to residential soil and to protect themselves, their families, and visitors;
  • have their children tested for blood lead; and
  • for EPA to continue testing for arsenic and lead in the soil and continue with its plans to cleanup additional properties (patch quilt of clean up not community wide as though the wind won’t carry toxic dust from one yard to another) to reduce levels in residential surface soil.

There was no mention of what the polluter should do. No mention of relocating families from the area to safe housing somewhere else. There was no mention of health monitoring or a clinic for people, especially children who are exposed and sick.

What level of human tragedy, suffering and loss of life will it take to stop the poisoning of American people from toxic chemicals?  The ethics behind the two responses of food/infectious disease versus chemical threats to public health is unethical.  Families being exposed to toxic chemicals matter just as much as everyone else. It’s time our health agencies stopped treating them as sacrificial families to protect corporate profits.