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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 04, No. 6 - The Digest of Critical Environmental Information (WIT, 1992, 12 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSPECIAL FOCUS: The Deadly Winds of War
View the documentPOINT/COUNTERPOINT - Is The CO2 Build-Up Really A Crisis?
View the documentDESERTIFICATION: The Sands of Change
View the documentChernobyl Update
View the documentHEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT: The Cost of a Healthy Environment
View the documentGOOD NEWS
View the documentDID YOU KNOW?
View the documentVoices For The Planet
View the documentPoint of View: The Psychic Origins of War

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT: The Cost of a Healthy Environment

Many continue to question the relationship between a degrading environment and public health problems despite continuing and increasing media coverage of this relationship. The following news reports, for example, each in their own way reference how specific environmental contamination is affecting our health.


A study from the prestigious Mayo Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota, and reported in the American Review of Respiratory Disease, demonstrates that asthma rates in children and adolescents tripled in some groups over a twenty year period.

The Mayo report tracks studies elsewhere that indicate that asthma became more common in children during the 1970s and 1980s. hospitalized more young children during the 1980s and caused more deaths. Simultaneously, the federal Centers for Disease Control reported in October that the national rate of asthma deaths rose to 46 percent during the 1980s.

Researchers believe that there are many contributors to these dramatic and troubling increases not the least of which are greater recognition of the disease; greater use of child care; more cigarette smoking by mothers; and the trend toward making more energy-efficient homes. That being said, however, these reports all implicate environmental contamination (air pollution, ground level ozone pollution, etc.) as being a major contribution to this disturbing increase in respiratory disorder among young children.

SOURCE: The Associated Press, October 9, 1992.


Thirty years ago Silent Spring was published and it ultimately became the cornerstone of the modern environmental movement and led to the banning of DDT in the U.S. Despite the book's influence, it's clear that most of Rachel Carson's warnings have gone unheeded. Consider the following statistics:

1. Five times as many pesticides are manufactured for use in U.S. agriculture, forests, homes and for exports than were in 1962.

2. Today more than 440 insect species arc now resistant to insecticides.

3. In 1945, 7 percent of all crops were destroyed by insects. In 1990, the "insect damage" has risen to 13 percent of all crops.

4. Out of 129,249 employees in the U.S. Department of Agriculture only two arc assigned to the development of organic agriculture.

5. Nearly fifty million pounds of DDT have been manufactured each year and exported to foreign countries. The chemical's use was suspended in the U.S. This DDT is then imported back on fruits and vegetables in what has been labelled " a circle of poison".

6. Fully forty percent of America's biotechnology research in agriculture is devoted to developing herbicide-tolerant plant lives... e.g., plants genetically modified to survive being sprayed with a herbicide.

How does pesticide use impact human health? Consider the following:

· The number of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings around the world are estimated at 2 million with an estimated 40,000 fatalities.

· Pesticide exposure has been clinically linked to cancer and in the U.S., the National Academy of Scientists estimates that 20,000 cases of cancer are caused annually by pesticides.

· The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has detected 74 different pesticides concentrated above safe levels in wellwater in 38 states.

SOURCES: Baltimore Sun, October 7, 1992; The Global Ecology Handbook




The U.S. EPA has made steady progress toward cleaner air as is reflected in decreases during the last decade in smog levels, lead levels and particulates (dust, soot and dirt) levels in the air. That being said, the U.S. EPA acknowledges that over 86 million Americans continue to breath "unhealthy" air.

SOURCE: USA Today, October 20, 1992.


In 1980 close to 91 percent of all U.S. children had elevated blood-lead levels. Today, that number, thanks to the mandatory removal of lead from all paints and the phase-out of leaded gasoline, has dropped considerably.

Despite this progress, high blood levels persist largely because lead has infiltrated our water supplies. The problem, which tends to be concentrated among inner-city children, is particularly acute in America's largest cities. For example, 69.4 percent of the children in Boston have high lead levels in their blood; 55.5 percent in San Francisco; 51.2 percent in Miami Beach; and 62.0 percent in Philadelphia.

Lead exposure can cause a wide range of serious health problems in both children and adults from blood disorders to high blood pressure and even death.

But of most concern is the way lead exposure may be dimming the intelligence and impairing the health of a whole generation of children, experts say.

Even with low levels of lead in the blood, "we see decreased intelligence, hearing problems and smaller stature," says Sue Binder, chief of the lead poisoning prevention branch at the Centers for Disease Control.

That doesn't mean lead toxicity is turning the nation into imbeciles, but a large number of studies on the metal effects of lead exposure suggest that children with gifted intelligence may be rendered normal and children with normal intelligence may be headed for the bottom of the class.

Some historians see parallels with ancient Rome, noting that the fall of the Roman Empire may have been due to lead poisoning. Romans are known to have drunk from lead goblets and to have stored water in lead urns.

Could the health effects of lead have such serious social implications today?

"Some people ask the question 'what is the contribution that lead exposure is making to juvenile delinquency?'" says Binder.

Lead exposure is usually highest in the nation's inner cities. Binder says even moderate levels of exposure can interfere with the ability to pay attention and may play an important role in learning disorders and anti-social behavior.

SOURCE: USA Today, October 21, 1992.

Effects of lead poisoning

Source: Environmental Protection Agency; Centers for Disease Control