Capitalism’s Deadly Quartet — Food, Plastic, Air, Weathering!
The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Definition: An ecological bridge between land and sea … the wrack line.
I’ve been looking at the unimagined biological and genetic effects on planet earth caused by “better living through chemistry” capitalist mentality. While Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring, catalogued just one aspect of the plethora of physiological effects on animal life, in 2021 we can confidently state there is so much evidence of all the pollutants, toxins, spewing gasses, pesticides, hormone disruptors, radioactive isotopes, forever chemicals, nanoparticles, fungicides, heavy metals and waste pits conspiring to completely disrupt all manner of life.
In that process of contemplating this yesterday, while railing against local older folk who will for Year Two have a Zoom Earth Day (April 22) instead of celebrating this day utilizing our amazing atmosphere and beachside waysides to bring people together, I walked the wrack line.
This is that “line” of organic material that ends up on beaches when tides go back out. It is a biologically important micro-ecosystem of seaweeds, crustaceans, shells, decaying birds and fish and mammals. This wrack line is studied by marine biologists. It provides an amazing supply of food and building components for living crustaceans.
Homo Sapiens pick through the wrack line for treasures like polished agates, whole shells, burled drift wood, and seeds from afar. These wrack lines, unfortunately, are now clogged with that deadline by-product of “better living with chemistry,” plastics. There’s other rubbish, for sure, from the by-products and by-processes of consumerism and industrialism.
There are hidden ones, like radioactive isotopes and impossible to pronounce elements added to the periodic table of elements since I was a high school student in 1973.
The wrack line is also symbolic, allegorical, since if we look deeply at all those industrial processes and all the other processes tied to a Military-Medical-Pharma-Fossil Fuel-Mining-Big Ag-AI-Surveillance-Retail-Media Complex, the fallout of negative chemical influences on humankinds and all flora and fauna are worth a billion lifetimes worth of investigations. This system is run on untold new polymers, additives, lubricants, surfactants, stabilizers, metals, organic compounds, forever chemicals, volatile organic compounds, PFAs, PCBs, resins, and other dandies as part of the sloughing off, combusting, off-gassing, leaching, reactive synergistic war on plant life, animal life, genetic life.
This is far from hyperbole, though in essay form the reader might pause and doubt some of my veracity, but the fact is that any process in this system of consumerism and capitalism ruling the land by the rich who are not held to account with highly regulated precautionary principles and do no harm ethos WILL spoil life in some form or fashion.
For an on-line newsletter like Hormones Matter (where I’ve written a few pieces a few years ago) there are synergies being studied tied to hormones, entwined to biological processes at the cellular and genetic levels within the humanscape. These trillions of cells, these highly complex and fragile human systems of biology are studied with a fair mind, kind heart and open dialogue to help people mitigate, survive or reverse many of the ailments covered, all somehow tied to epigenetics and physiological deregulation and autoimmune discombobulating, to put it brutally simplistic.
The wrack line for those readers/chronic illness sufferers tapping into sources like Hormones Matter is composed of all those people struggling with their ailments and diseases, under a system of Western Patriarch and Machismo Arrogant Medicine. The wrack line in a larger sense is that proverbial line in the sand for communities far and wide attempting to provide safe water, safe food, safe products, safe air, safe housing in order to congregate as a community of caring, supporting and holistic healing.
The concept of holism, community-engagement and community-directed support for health, safety and prosperity is truly built into Homo sapiens DNA, yet under capitalism and rampant consumerism and this highly dog-eat-dog wrecked Darwinism, it has been perverted, subverted, derailed and forcefully forgotten. Memory holed. Orwellian in it’s scope — Organic Food is Poison, Disease is Health, Community is Dangerous.
Imagine the starvation in places like Yemen, and in dozens of other countries because of the strategic playbook moves of predatory, disruptive, and destabilizing capitalism. Starvation because of failed governments after wars and proxy wars. Failed crops because of soil degradation, negative weather patterns, and criminal ill distribution of wealth.
The number of countries that are forced to use the so-called green technologies Rachel Carson alluded to in her 1962 book is more than 150. GMOs, high fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Massive factory farming, concentrated feeding operations. Round-up Ready crops and sprays are just the tip of the iceberg. The economies of scale have created lakes of blood, waste, urine. The amount of pig waste that gets untreated is equal to four humans per pig.
And this stuff is collected near waterways, rivers, streams, and enters the water table and into croplands. These ponds are emptied with gizmos that spray the liquid poisons into the air, onto vast miles of cropland. Atomized death.
So even before the products get to the table, wrapped in plastic, sped along vast fossil fuel spewing supply lines, and before the hormone disrupting, and antibiotic-laced flesh gets cooked in millions of ovens, the seed of disease has already been planted throughout the land. These places of sacrifice, so-called sacrifice zones in a form of disaster capitalism, are also termed forms of environmental racism.
This system of genetically engineered transgenic foodstuffs, and this system of chemicals beyond chemicals sprays on crops, well, that is the modern food system.
The results are firmly planted in research paper, journal article, white paper, and on-the-ground ground truthing. I’ve seen in my 38 years teaching, each year, more and more nervous ticks, attention deficits, learning deficits, food allergies, mental acuity challenge, physical ailments, chronic illnesses in my students, pre-teen all the way up to adults.
Asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, brain fog, emotional discombobulating regular bouts, and more. I’ve even had the “luck” to teach active military at an academy and on several military bases/posts. The amount of destroyed immune systems, as well as the toll on hearing, sight, thinking and the body, well, it’s no wonder so many utilize the socialized system of health called the Veterans Administration. I have had people show me reports of the negative effects of the forced vaccinations and medical treatments soldiers in or out of war time have been burdened with. Lots of reports of service connected disabilities, and we are not just talking tinnitus or a back injury. We are talking more than just Agent Orange. We have a suite of illnesses and diseases tied to service at or around Camp Lejuene. There is a documentary titled, Semper Fi, which I have reviewed and screened to homeless veterans at a 24 hour facility I worked in as a social worker run by that poverty pimping place of ill repute, Salvation (starvation) Army. That camp/base was a dumping ground for chemicals used to propel internal combustion machines, and to clean those machines – dumped into the water.
The result of that human forced wrack line – miscarriages, Parkinson’s, tumors, cancers, and any number of diseases. This list below for Camp Lejeune conditions is very similar to other workplace “injuries”:
- Adult leukemia.
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes.
- Bladder cancer.
- Kidney cancer.
- Liver cancer.
- Multiple myeloma.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Parkinson’s disease.
It’s a small and incomplete list, and of course, the tally doesn’t include all the learning disabilities, all the attention deficits, all the allergies, all the other cancers that offspring might develop over time.
I haven’t touched upon all the genetic mutations in animals, frogs with extra legs “growing” out of their heads, or butterflies dying by the billions, or bird eggs thinning and thinning.
This is the way of our system – wrack lines from the chemical companies are equally on my mind when I walk these beaches and contemplate the billions of gallons of contaminated water from Fukushima about to be released intentionally.
The food of capitalism is industrialized, ramped up to unimaginable scales that require energy inputs, fossil fuel inputs, and massive clear-cutting and bulldozing of natural ecosystems. From industrialize coffee plantations in Vietnam, to miles of monocrop organic (sic) strawberries in California, to confined animal feeding operation to oil slicked sea.
A society that warns pregnant women to not drink the well water in those eight states that produce most of the soy, corn, chicken, beef, pig, and eggs for this country, well, if the wrack line is not absolutely warped and demonstrably upside down, then I find it difficult to give a more simple, pure example of this sickness.
Don’t drink the water or you may have a miscarriage, or you might give birth to a diseased baby? If that isn’t truth in advertisement, then I don’t know what is.
Imagine the exponentially worse conditions in Mexico, in other countries, without as robust a phalanx of groups fighting against and exposing this crime against humanity.
But the irony is there are more water defenders, crop defenders, community defenders in many Latin American countries, than in this country, per capita. There is a reason we have organizations that expose the murders of environmentalists throughout the world for attempting to hold accountable and stop so many US and transnational/global corporations in the business of creating their own wrack lines – oil, mining, cattle, swine, commodity crops, corn, sugar, and a suite of other capitalistic systems of oppressive business models and pollution creators..
Just the short elevator speech on Atrazine, the most widely used pesticide in our crop systems in the USA. Imagine, this is acceptable risk, allowable negative effects of this poison: “Large numbers of chemicals that are included in pesticides cause toxicity and as a result loss of neurons occurs through necrosis or by apoptosis. Such neuronal loss is irretrievable, and may result in a global encephalopathy. This is known as neuropathies.” Just go to the research site, Beyond Pesticides.
Here, some facts about Monsanto’s Roundup:
Although glyphosate should be associated with a low toxicity recent studies related to the potential toxicity of this herbicide have pointed out more evidence of the health risks .In this sense, in 2015, the herbicide glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. A growing body of literature points to possible, adverse environmental, ecological, and human health consequences following exposure to glyphosate and/or AMPA (its primary metabolite aminomethyl-phosphonic acid), both alone and in combination with ingestion of genetically engineered proteins.
Environmental studies encompass possible glyphosate impacts on soil microbial communities and earthworms, monarch butterflies, crustaceans, and honeybees. Studies assessing possible risks to vertebrates and humans include evidence of rising residue levels in soybeans, cancer risk, and risk of a variety of other potential adverse impacts on development, the liver or kidney, or metabolic processes.
— Impact of Glyphosate on Human Health: Risks and “Needs” of its Use by Maria Drumond Chequer Farah and André Leiliane Coelho.
The fact is just Genetically Modified soybeans grown in the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay — accounting for 86.6% of the 11.6 billion bushels of soybeans produced globally in 2014, and nearly all global trade in soybeans and soybean-based animal feeds — have been a plague on ecosystems — terrestrial, avian, aquatic we call Mother Nature — as well as a plague on humans, children, adults and the unborn.
Indeed, more and more independent researchers are looking at Roundup as a source of dozens of ailments, from gut diseases to attention disorders. Imagine the “null” use of the precautionary principle just with this one weed killer! Multiple the number of other poisons and toxins entering the food-stream by hundreds.
Refer to the first part of this series related to the spraying of chemicals closely formulated from the precursor, Agent Orange (a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D with some dioxins thrown in) — including Roundup and 2,4-dimethylheptane.
Plastic in Your Poop
The work of artist Chris Jordan on plastics and just on the consumer waste in our capitalist consumer society is amazing. His documentary, Albatross, stays with me as I walk the wrack lines on the Central Oregon Coast. I’ve walked wrack lines all over the world, and been in places where plastic bags and single-use plastic containers and bottles have destroyed ecosystems, on beaches, in harbors and along river ways. Here, on the coast, we get all manner of bits and pieces and larger trash, mostly plastics, on those wrack lines. Microplastics, well, the schools here in this county where I substituted I had the opportunity to talk about plastic bag bans, the effects of plastics on marine life, and the inevitable class giggle topic of plastic in our poop. The reality is that every person on planet earth has microplastics in their feces. We talked about plastics in everything they eat, the packaging, the clothing, in bottled water, and the soil. I showed parts of Albatross. That bit of relevant education, from a well-traveled substitute, got me banned from the school system for showing these documentaries, “for upsetting the students (customers).” For me this is yet another symbolic wrack line in my life, one of the washed up and failed education system that I might allude to in part three of this series.
As a diver, as an environmentalist, as a deep green sustainability proponent, and as a journalist and teacher and someone with a load of urban and regional planning under my belts, the reality for me is we have been at war with nature, with ourselves. Plastic is yet another symbolic manufactured element that is emblematic of our capitalism gone wild. Plastics are the thing of fossil fuels, and heavy natural gas consumption. Those fancy polymers are more than just a physical eyesore in the form of Pepsi bottles and single serving ketchup packets. This stuff is entering the blood-brain barrier, and is causing untold havoc on the human biological ecosystem. Delayed or premature puberty. Diabetes. Gut ailments. The reality is we do not know all the possible negative health outcomes of microplastics alone, as opposed to microplastics mixing with all those nanoparticles and the other chemicals coming into play in the human physiology.
Last year, I viewed on line a Remote Operated Vehicle filming the deepest part of the globe, the Mariana Trench, with ghostly images of single use plastic shopping bags floating by. It wasn’t a surprise, since I have been a scuba diver for more than 45 years. That revelation was, however, yet another cut in the 10,000 cuts of spiritual and intellectual death people like me have to steel himself from.
So, things may go better with Killer Coke, in the minds of marketers and consumers, but the reality is that if we take one thing out of the complicated web of processes and products, separate one intended or unintended consequence of the revolutions we label industrial and post industrial (Fourth Industrial Revolution is a digital one, so research that through writers like Cory Morningstar, Whitney Webb and Alison McDowell), we see that Minute Maid/Coca-Cola’s heavy use of sugar and HFCS, and their anti-labor union work in tropical countries where their oranges and other citrus crops are under armed guard, behind concertina wires and CCTV security system bring with them huge intended and unintended consequences: negative impacts to ecosystems – nature, culture, economy, communities, human health.
Again, John Muir a hundred years ago, stated it clearly —
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
— My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911, page 110.
Now, let’s reverse this adage by stating it this way – When you put in anything by itself from industrialized processes, we find it hitches onto one thing or many things in the Universe of the biological universe.”
So, those deadly Bic lighters and all those bits and pieces of plastics washing up on shore into wrack lines, or clogging rivers and wetlands and deltas, well, we can see the effects on a meta and micro scale.
Akin to global biogeochemical cycles, plastics now spiral around the globe with distinct atmospheric, oceanic, cryospheric, and terrestrial residence times. Though advancements have been made in the manufacture of biodegradable polymers, our data suggest that extant nonbiodegradable polymers will continue to cycle through the earth’s systems. Due to limited observations and understanding of the source processes, there remain large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics. Thus, we prioritize future research directions for understanding the plastic cycle.
So, microplastics in poop just is the funny side of things for elementary and junior high school students. The reality is microplastics are found in the liver, lungs, spleens and other organs of humans. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical in the production of plastics. It’s a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies.
It would be naïve to believe there is plastic everywhere but just not in us, said Rolf Halden at Arizona State University. We are now providing a research platform that will allow us and others to look for what is invisible – these particles too small for the naked eye to see. The risk [to health] really resides in the small particles.
This bioaccumulation in tissues, that is, in the animals we eat, like tuna or salmon, is also part of the bioaccumulation of plastic particles in the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink. With the Covid-19 hysteria, plastic masks, plastic everything, is now in the waste stream. As one Wall Street guru stated, “Plastics, that’s what you should invest in . . . the goofy plastic shopping bag bans is making MORE money for the plastics industry . . . more heavy plastic bags are being purchased to make up the difference.”
Disaster capitalism, and shock doctrine, which writer Naomi Klein has written about extensively, is tied to that old saw that the GDP goes up when Walmart of Amazon delivers more things to places and communities under some sort of disaster. When hurricanes and tornados hit, companies far and wide make money. Wars in the Middle East, well, the list of corporations that make money on the entire effort of war and warring, it’s huge. The disease maintenance of USA’s private for profit medical systems, whether it’s a for-profit United Health Care, or for-profit nonprofit religious hospital, makes people money. Lots of it. Poverty and disease and war are profitable circumstances for a large swath of American businesses.
The public pays for the diseases and illnesses and loss of time with family, lost wages, lost communities. We pay for the birth defects in our newborns, and we pay for the multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s in our older people. The externalities of capitalism are the various issues Hormones Matter covers when looking at diseases. The convenience of plastic bottles and pipes in our homes is the cancers of the future. Those plastics in the belly of whales, birds and albacore are the bioaccumulated toxins in our daily meals. We don’t need to study the great Pacific plastic gyre to understand how plastics break down, unseen, or subsurface. We will at some point have more plastic particles in the oceans than all the organic biomass. These are not the fictions of Ursula La Guinn or Margaret Atwood.
Weathering and Weather Proofing
This is descriptive of how to keep that house from getting peeling paint, curling roof tiles, mossed over eaves, and worn down carpets and floors. It sounds benign, too, when we look at the studies around weathering for African-Americans. For youth, we utilize ACEs — Adverse Childhood Experiences for outcomes here in Oregon as social services practitioners.
10 ACEs, as identified by the CDC-Kaiser study: Abuse. Physical. Emotional. Sexual. Neglect. Physical. Emotional. Household Dysfunction. Mental Illness.
These are what a child’s circumstances could be no fault of their own. Poverty, parent(s) with substance abuse issues, with mental health issues, with spousal abuse in the home. Of course, the more direct of these 10 on the developing child will create probable outcomes, possible lifetime issues. Pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps is an inane concept for youth presented with one or many of these areas of ACEs. Yes, poverty hurts, but if the family has sets of resilient measures and safety nets, then the negative future effects on the child with that one ACE could be actually negligible or even self-empowering.
But now that other overarching set of circumstances tied to the idea of weathering:
Repeated exposure to socioeconomic adversity, political marginalization, racism, and perpetual discrimination can harm health. This weathering has created a slew of medical issues for African Americans, especially, but other minorities like Latinx. However, the fabric of a racist society with all the heavy hand of Jim Crow and The New Jim Crow is q quilt of many death by a thousand cuts for Blacks. Quality of life diminished, but also life expectancy cut too.
In her later work, Dr. Arline Geronimus and other scientists who embraced the weathering hypothesis extended it to apply to Black adults in general, not just Black women.
For instance, a 2006 paper by Dr. Geronimus and colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that Black adults “experience early health deterioration as a consequence of the cumulative impact of repeated experience with social or economic adversity and political marginalization.”
In the NPR interview, Dr. Geronimus explained the notion of weathering using a metaphor that is in equal measure disheartening, troubling, and alarmingly true.
Referring to the activist Erica Garner, who died of complications from a heart attack at the age of 27, Dr. Geronimus said that the feelings of stress leading to such an early death are like playing a game of Jenga.
Paraphrasing the activist’s sister, she said: “They pull out one piece at a time, at a time, and another piece and another piece, until you sort of collapse. […] I thought that Jenga metaphor was very apt because you start losing pieces of your health and well-being, but you still try to go on as long as you can.”
— Medical News Today
Another feature and term is the allostatic load — the repeated exposure of societal and economic stress creates a physiological response, and weathering. These are biomarkers such as cortisol levels, sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure reactivity, cytokine production, waist-to-hip ratio, and glycated hemoglobin levels.
I’ve seen this up close and personal first-hand when I started teaching in El Paso, at community colleges and universities. I saw this in the faces and body blows and prevalence of diabetes and heart disease and asthma in the parents of my students. Many of the parents were from poverty and from racist communities in Texas. These parents were categorized as non-white Hispanics. Many were farm laborers, migrant workers. Many were cooks and maids and construction laborers.
This relationship I had with my students and their families and my friends, as well, was parlayed into more observations in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Belize. The more pressures on people, on indigenous poor people, the more rapid the decline. In most cases. For Black Americans, this is a triple whammy since there are a few examples of Blacks overcoming the poverty and the heavy toll of hard work and constant Diaspora. But just because there is an Orpah or Vice President Kamala Harris, doesn’t mean anything to the Black or Latinx in constant struggle to work their bodies hard, sometimes three jobs a person, to get out of institutionalized and systemic poverty.
My friends in the Army and Air Force, African American friends, still paying the toll of a life before military service and even racism while in the armed services. This weathering is both descriptive of a general biological and mental toll on people always on the move, always going from paycheck to paycheck, always one step ahead of the repo man or forced eviction from the county sheriff.
So many of my Black colleagues in social services have told me that “this office, this job, this nonprofit, well, it’s like the old South — this is not my house.” The toll on my colleagues with the overt and covert racism was huge. Just going out into a rural area of Oregon to serve foster children clients for a Black woman was more than just nerve-racking. Seeing confederate flags in yards populated with snarling pit bulls with 2nd amendment stickers on pick-up trucks with bumper stickers stating, “This vehicle is protected by Smith and Wesson,” caused great emotional harm. I was asked many times to accompany my fellow social workers on these calls.
This higher level of sickness and weathering and death at an earlier age is not just a matter of economic circumstances. No matter how hard people in the USA want to hem and haw, “racial disparities in poverty suggested to the researchers that living in a ‘race-conscious society’ and the efforts required to cope is what causes weathering.
This leads to other factors tied to weathering in a more geographically determined way — environmental racism. The father of environmental justice is in fact Dr. Robert Bullard, an African American professor of urban planning at Texas Southern University.
His website states it succinctly what this environmental injustice/racism is:
America is segregated and so is pollution. Race and class still matter and map closely with pollution, unequal protection, and vulnerability. Today, zip code is still the most potent predictor of an individual’s health and well-being. Individuals who physically live on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ are subjected to elevated environmental health threats and more than their fair share of preventable diseases. Still, too many people and communities have the ‘wrong complexion for protection.’ Reducing environmental, health, economic and racial disparities is a major priority of the Environmental Justice Movement.
Weathering then takes on another component — polluting industries and agricultural practices end up on the wrong side of the tracks. Exposure to massive amounts of chemicals goes right into the lap of migrant farmers and field hands. Those plastics refineries are in the low rent district of a town or city. The burden of air contamination and dirty water (think lead and Flint, Michigan) is placed more heavily on people of color.
Yet as we now know, chemicals and carcinogens are an equal opportunity killer when it comes to our food system as it is sold in grocery stores. More than 80 percent of the wheat products — bread, pasta, crackers, cereal — have Roundup in them from field spraying close to wheat harvest. We all are in one giant rotating mass experiment. The weathering of the human psyche kills us earlier, but the weathering creates by poor nutrition, poor choices, polluted choices, that is now flowing out from the Black community into many more communities.
You Are What You Eat, Drink, Read, See, Say, Dream, Do, Hope for, Plan, Listen to, Care About
This is a thread to my teaching and my own life — you are what you do, or what you do not do. Replace the subheading above with the negative, and that also explains a person’s heart, hearth, health and hopes.
I used to have my college students go over the implications and deep multiplicity of concepts and research topics tied to photographer Peter Menzel’s and writer Faith D’Aluisio’s travels around the world and their documenting the foundational human behavior of what we eat. Their project, “Hungry Planet,” depicts everything that an average family consumes in a given week—and what it costs.
Their book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats in 2005, showcases meals in 24 countries.
Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.1
They did follow up with a worldwide day’s worth of food.
Vietnam, The Rice Farmer
Name: Nguyen Van Theo
Age: 51; Height: 5′ 4″; Weight: 110 pounds
Caloric value of food this day: 2500 calories
- BREAKFAST: Rice noodles, 2.7 oz. (dry weight), boiled and eaten with fish sauce, 1.5 tbsp.
- LUNCH: Pork loin cooked with bean sprouts and green onion, 3.6 oz. Pork back cooked with pickled mustard greens, 3 oz. White rice, 1.4 lb.
- DINNER: Pork back seasoned with fish sauce and caramel sugar, 1.6 oz. Eggs, from his chickens, fried with green onion, 2.6 oz. Spinach and spinach water broth, 5.2 oz. White rice, 1.4 lb. Homemade ruou thuoc (strong rice wine with herbs), 1.9 fl. oz.
- THROUGHOUT THE DAY: Green tea, 7.8 fl. oz. Tobacco, 0.5 oz. Boiled rainwater, 1.6 qt.
“In this food portrait, a pile of last year’s rice straw lies in the background. It is used as fuel to boil water in the family’s small kitchen. Cisterns collect rainwater for drinking and cooking.”
Those so-called food deserts, the neighborhoods where there are more 7-11’s, gun shops, liquor stores, PayDay loan outfits and fast-food joints than anything else, including a place to purchase green groceries and a place to learn how to cook them, that’s another project of weathering the body to fit the capitalist quick dirty buck schemes. Imagine food disparagement bills, so-called Cheeseburger bills, that prohibit media from attacking bad food and fast-food for negative health outcomes. Imagine that scenario, and it isn’t in a Brave New World, but it has been an un-brave old world of protecting polluters, whether it’s coal ash and smelters spewing in the air, or if it’s bad food, nutritional empty food, salty-greasy-sugary foods pushed down the throats of toddlers by school systems. Weathering also caused by subsidies for the big eight — soy, wheat, pork, dairy, corn, beef, poultry, canola — but nothing for the organic vegetable and fruit farmers. A decent sized organic apple costs as much as a cheeseburger, Coke and fries.
Yes, I worked in Vietnam, and yes, the mother’s milk in 1996 had 15 times the EPA’s allowable PCBs in it, thanks to the gift that keeps on giving — soil laden with those carcinogens and dioxins from Agent Orange. The places I went to were just getting snarled in dirty motorcycle traffic and more and more cars. The lifestyle became more supercharged, more consumer focused, and alas, beautiful trees would be cut down to accommodate larger and larger lorries and semi-trucks.
In the hinterland, where I also spent time with scientists from Hanoi and from the UK and Canada, I did engage with robust and personal conversations with Vietnamese, sometimes ethnic Vietnamese, in their homes, as they shared meager but tasty meals, sharing bongs of tobacco, and yes, the rice wines. Not to idealize the rural and agrarian and sometimes subsistence lives, I still know for a fact from my other travels into Latin America, there is a multitude of negative prices to pay — Faustian bargains galore — for adopting Western consumerism, lifestyles and diets. Obviously, a refrigerator is life-saving, for sure, and a fan, another lifesaver. But the rolled cigarette smoke in the air and lungs, as well as the black soot and persistent aromatic particles are more carcinogen and COPD gifts that come in a delayed package.
Weathering. Sort of the reverse weathering, far different than the weathering of Black men and women in the USA. But still, a good way to look at things broadly. That consumption of everything, from books to movies, from beer to beets, from burgers to briskets, all of it has a short-term and long-term effect on everything, inside the person’s body, all the way through the economic and environmental/cultural webs.
The Air We Breathe at Home
This sort of polemic can really never end, for in fact, there are literally entire human lifetimes of work which could easily be put into book form to the 10th or 100th power. The simplest things like soil and water are easily seen as what should be help sacrosanct, but inevitably, we see that the systems in place through industrial ag or industrial harvesting, anything on an industrial level, including such amazing practices as mountain top removal for coal, or fracked subsurface geology for bitumen, or cyanide slurry sprayed on rocks to get at gold.
Necessity, for capitalists, is the mother of invention. And the “necessary” thing (necessity to be gotten at is, of course, profits.
I remember my mother, who grew up in Canada, Powell River, the largest pulp mill in the world at the time placed there, producing megatons an hour of paper, newsprint, tissue. The town is on Indian territory, but I never knew it as a kid visiting there. What I remembered was the heavy weight of the air, that burn rotten egg smell, the sulfuric acid like sing at the back of the throat. Then the quaint town was hit with ash showers several times a day. I recall free car wash stations in several parts of town to keep the old Ford’s paint from really peeling.
Many townspeople were hit with lung diseases, eventually COPD and emphysema in their 30s or 40s. My mom was constantly having bronchitis in both lungs. Other youth also had the same problems. The giant company of course rattled off plausible deniability, citing poor genes, poor lungs, poor diets, you name it.
I could see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and hear it, all those blasts of pollutants coming from the cookers and bleachers and peroxide vats. The proof was in the back of the throat and in the hacking up of green stuff, but again, jobs, a union, a company town ethos.
I had to really reach middle age to understand that British Columbian town, and the pre-white man history: These were Coast Salish people of the Tla’amin Nation. The gold fever created a spot for gold prospectors coming from Vancouver Island to make their way on the Fraser River for that boom or bust quick fortune.
This is leading up to that air we breathe, the stuff my daughter and stepdaughter breathe in their respective schools they attend. We are talking about dust collected and analyzed from a university revealing again, more invisible-to-the-eye gifts that keep on giving: Study.
Cell-based assays are an emerging method to quantify the total activation or suppression of hormone receptors by complex environmental mixtures of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Compared with traditional targeted laboratory approaches that measure each chemical in a mixture individually, cell-based assays of dust are inexpensive, rapid, and statistically simple to model. Hormonal activities in assays of dust also reflect the combined effects from co-exposures of all hormone-disrupting chemicals in the sample, including unmeasurable chemicals and unknown regrettable substitutes. The assays account for any mixture effects, such as when a chemical’s effect is triggered, enhanced, or reduced in the presence of another chemical.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), organophosphate esters (OPEs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are hormone-disrupting chemicals that migrate from building materials into air and dust.
We aimed to quantify the hormonal activities of 46 dust samples and identify chemicals driving the observed activities.
We evaluated associations between hormonal activities of extracted dust in five cell-based luciferase reporter assays and dust concentrations of 42 measured PFAS, OPEs, and PBDEs, transformed as either raw or potency-weighted concentrations based on Tox21 high-throughput screening data.
All dust samples were hormonally active, showing antagonistic activity toward peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPARγ2) (100%; 46 of 46 samples), thyroid hormone receptor (TRβ) (89%; 41 samples), and androgen receptor (AR) (87%; 40 samples); agonist activity on estrogen receptor (ERα) (96%; 44 samples); and binding competition with thyroxine (T4) on serum transporter transthyretin (TTR) (98%; 45 samples). Effects were observed with as little as 4μg of extracted dust.
This is a scientific research study of 46 dust samples from 21 buildings on a US university campus. It’s the old flame retardant sloughing off issue. Imagine, there is no evidence that flame retardants applied to all manner of things prevents fires. But we know that more than 90 percent of Americans have the retardant in their/our blood, and we know the health effects include infertility, diabetes, obesity, abnormal fetal growth, and cancers.
This study helps explain how these PFAS and flame retardants enter the body. For the initiated, PFAS first gained press as compounds in Teflon. They are utilized as part of a coating for carpets, furniture, and clothing. Even inside electronics you’ll find these PFAS. And much-much more:
Right off the bat, when baby comes out of mother’s womb, she is exposed to hundreds of chemicals, including PFAS and another species of flame retardants found in the dust — polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. These PBDEs may have been phased out in eight years ago — after they were implicated in health issues such as infertility and thyroid dysfunction. But they are still around, in all sorts of products. Recycled plastics contain them as well. Swaddled babies wrapped in PFAS and other materials coated and sprayed with organophosphate esters.
The price of capitalism and better living/dying with chemistry is a sick and sickening society: again, just these family of chemicals cause through some very sophisticated and synergistic processes amazingly harmful things such as “impaired fetal development, obesity, decreased vaccine response, preeclampsia, testicular cancer, immune dysfunction, kidney cancer, and elevated cholesterol levels.”
Some price we pay for the air we breathe!