In the summer of 2005, our lives were forever changed by our Nippenose Valley neighbor’s use of an Organophosphate pesticide, Dimethoate 4EC. The exposure killed our Golden Retriever, Tanner. Shortly after the exposure, each of my children started developing health problems. I was lost, confused and angry as I began an investigative journey that led me into our past, our present and our future.
At first, I didn’t realize that the active and inert ingredients in the pesticide that killed Tanner and harmed my children’s health are also used in gas drilling (fracking) and many common household items. At first, I didn’t realize that our exposure would lead me back to where I grew up, in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.
Growing up, my family lived within a mile of the Drake Superfund site, a former chemical manufacturing facility that operated from the 1940s through 1982. The Drake Chemical Company manufactured chemicals and intermediates including hazardous substances, such as analine, toluene, and xylene, and carcinogenic compounds, such as benzene and beta-naphthylamine.
For most of my life, and the prenatal and early years of my children’s lives in that neighborhood, I never thought about the ground water puddles we splashed in, the soil we dug in, the creeks and river where we swam and fished, sports fields we played on, or the air we breathed.
I believed the government would protect me. I had an all too common “If it’s on the shelf, it’s safe” mentality. I thought everything sold had been tested, re-tested and rendered harmless. I was wrong.
Chemicals are studied one at a time; risk of exposure calculated for a single, unique, chemical molecule. But real life is not a Petri dish. In real life, our children are being exposed to a vast array of chemicals through multiple routes of exposure that have never been taken into consideration, much less studied.
Regulation itself is a bureaucratic maze of acronyms. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C/FFDCA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) are based on a single exposure in a healthy, 155 lb male. The laws are seriously outdated. Pesticides are regulated by the FDA, and under FIFRA by the EPA. The inert ingredients in the pesticide “recipe” are protected as trade secrets, regulated under TSCA by the EPA and we don’t have the right to know what these are. In the United States, only the active ingredients must be on the label. Inert ingredients, although toxic, need not be disclosed.
Taking a look at the regulatory agencies themselves reveals enormous conflict of interest. At the state and federal level, governors and presidents routinely appoint people from industry to the highest positions in government regulatory agencies. The foxes are guarding the henhouse, allowing industry to virtually write the very laws they are governed by.
There are 85,000 chemicals on the market today. Many of these chemicals have been grandfathered in under current laws and the long-term health effects are unknown and unstudied. The burden of proof is on the consumers and not on the industries. Our legal system makes proof of causation almost impossible. If you want to claim harm, the proof and cost will be at your expense; and the industries have an entire legal team ready to fight you all the way. Should you choose to take on the giants, you will encounter resistance and a battle that the most seasoned veterans wouldn’t think of taking on.
Let’s look at only four of the thousands of chemicals that are found in everything from hydraulic fracturing fluids to pesticides and common household items:
Our youngest generation is the unhealthiest in our history. One in three American children now suffers from autism, allergies, ADHD or asthma. Our daughters are reaching puberty years ahead of the previous generations. Why? What is different in today’s world than prior decades? The answer is just two words: toxic exposure.
This daily barrage of chemicals makes individual awareness and good choices imperative. We can choose which foods, cosmetics, cleaning and household supplies we allow into our homes. However, there is an enormous difference between making bad choices for ourselves and the choices that are being made for us. How can we protect our children? These little ones are not little Democrats or little Republicans, they are children who are utterly dependant on us to make the right decisions for their future.
There are millions of people all over the world volunteering time and speaking out. There are Foodies and Ag-tivists, the Pesticide Posse and the Animal Rights-ers. In Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, the “Moratorium NOW” cry grows with each new well drilled, each new toxic accident and violation.
The era of apathy and complacency has ended. We need to reclaim democracy, to unite, to build bridges, to focus on our similarities instead of our differences. Dr Philip Landrigan is right when he says, “Our children are 30 percent of our population, but they are 100 percent of our future. They deserve our protection.” We have work to do. We can do this—together!