Hello, I am an acceptable risk.

August 6th, 2003

When meeting new people, it is customary to shake hands, reveal one’s name and what one “does” for a living. As I am not currently employable due to health conditions, this presents a dilemma in correct manners. Fortunately, I rarely meet new people who are not part of the medical profession so this dilemma does not present itself often. My strategy must be worked out however, as illness is no excuse for deviating from the social niceties. Perhaps my approach should be to jealously applaud the fact that the party with whom I am speaking is a productive member of society and follow it with my own, albeit involuntarily, adopted role in society.

“Hello, I am an acceptable risk.”

The Society for Risk Analysis joins with government agencies in conferences which ask its participants to ponder how many of us can be crippled or killed in the interests of industrial interests. As our own President describes himself as the CEO of the United States, one wonders when our elected officials will begin to view us as citizens rather than as employees. The Bill of Rights guarantees that we, the people, should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was not intended to be an employee benefit, awarded only during contract negotiations in more profitable times.

The Bill of Rights does not mention that the pursuit of life is only permissible if the cost to industry does not exceed X amount of dollars to preserve that life. Mr. Bush nominated John Graham for the position of Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Mr. Graham is known for his “Harvard Center for Risk Analysis”, a group heavily funded by industry as it “researches” the amount of money it takes to prevent individuals from death or damage by various and sundry products on the market. This office is a gateway to the adoption or delay of many rules which affect health and environmental concerns. Our CEO feels he is the best party to serve in that capacity. I doubt a presidential view of the situation would be in agreement.

I became relegated to the ranks of the disabled on September 16, 2000 after a long battle to remain in the workforce with a chronic illness called, for lack of a better term, Chemical Injury. ┬áThis is a result of multiple exposures to the proliferation of legally applied poisons in occupational, residential and “common” areas open to the public. It appears I am among a group of persons for whom exposures to such products as pesticides and formaldehyde (as present in carpets, some new furnishings etc.) can cause/contribute to lasting harm. I become severely ill upon exposure to many synthetic products and must lead a life of significant isolation.

Diminution of IQ, language facility, motor skills and other neurologically based areas of performance have occurred. Industry is fond of pointing out that this ailment is controversial and poorly documented. As industry is the main source of funding for medical research, I am not surprised that “documentation” is lacking or termed controversial for any condition which asserts them to be the cause. Yet some chemicals even have warnings on them, denoting the risk of becoming sensitized to them and related chemicals from initial exposures.

The research on pesticides, which are safety tested based upon what the average healthy and genetically uniform crop of lab rats can tolerate without dying (LD50 standard), fails to tell you that the surviving rats probably don’t feel too good about having made it through the “cut”. Survivors may be brain damaged, unable to speak well (in whatever language rats communicate with one another), may be the last rats on the block to get through that darn maze, may have one heck of a time digesting food and may feel like hell warmed over on their best days. But they survived, so the chemicals must be safe and the test subjects will never contradict the findings (the rat press is highly censored). Independent researchers are just getting around to the question of impaired performance in affected lab animals and persons exposed to such materials at sublethal dosages.

Researchers under the direction of Dr. Clement Furlong at the University of Washington in Seattle, have been experimenting for many years on the manner in which our bodies process out certain pesticides utilizing an enzyme called PON 1. His mice, bred to have none of this vital enzyme, are decimated from exposures to the toxins requiring this item for safe elimination of the poison from the body. Yet the PON 1 test is not commercially available in labs even though many documented cases of pesticide poisoning have occurred in persons lacking this substance. Dr. Haley, a Gulf War Syndrome researcher at the University of Texas in Dallas, has noted that some of his subjects with extensive exposure to pesticides prior to becoming ill, are low on measures of PON 1.

Pesticides which appear to require PON 1 mediated responses to “safely” leave the systems of exposed animals include Dursban (recently removed from the market following extensive negotiation with the EPA) and Malathion, still used in the wars against mosquitos within heavily populated areas. The popular lawn chemical, Diazanon, is another which will soon go the way of Dursban.

Exposures to combinations of pesticides have been shown to penetrate the blood-brain barrier by Dr. Abou-Donia of Duke University. The data is clear on the dangers these chemicals present. We do not screen our population to determine whose immune system is at risk for becoming overwhelmed by a given product, much less the combined effects of bombardment by the hundreds of synthetic chemicals surrounding us and being ingested/inhaled daily. Yes, some will be safe while others will not be safe. How is “risk” measured? Women, children, the elderly and the infirmed do not fit the resistance model of the average healthy 35 year old male. Yet they make up the majority of the exposed population! The EPA was commissioned to consider the risks to children as being much greater than that of adults to pesticide exposures and the resulting Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 calls for the re-registration of most pesticides under a new and more stringent definition of toxicity.

Nonetheless, ever since the passage of the FQPA, industrial lobbying and a hefty concentration of our elected officials (with campaign contributions from industry), have been trying to derail the act. The EPA’s budget for enforcement is cut each year forcing them to beg companies to withdraw products from the marketplace based on their estimates of harm to the public. Of course, the products can be withdrawn without prejudice or admission of harm done to anyone so the cycle of market – harm – product revision/withdrawal just repeats itself. The fact that industry is permitted by government to keep information about toxic ingredients off the labels of their products ensures that we cannot answer direct questions like, “Do you have proof of harm from these products?”. How are statistics to be kept when people do not know when they have been exposed to particular materials?

We are an ill society with one of every five adults demonstrating some chronic ailment which is generally acquired during our working years, not in our old age. This statistic, courtesy of the CDC, does not even include children with disabilities, institutionalized adults or military personnel. The Social Security Administration says that 3 of every 10 persons entering the workforce will become disabled prior to retirement age.

Why do we constantly hear about the prohibitive costs to industry in making safer products when it is the public who bears the huge cost of medical care and support of persons who cannot work? Productivity will certainly decline as we continue to lock ourselves into sealed buildings to save on energy costs of heating and cooling while depriving ourselves of oxygen.

The three or four o’clock slump in office workers is not a reflection upon our need to rest after a vigorous day at the conference table. It is a commentary on how many hours of contact with toxic byproducts of pesticides, particle board furniture, carpets, carbonless copy paper, fumes from faxes and copiers, fragrances containing unlabelled petrochemicals etc., are necessary to drive us to fatigue, confusion, indigestion, aches and pains, respiratory complaints and more severe conditions of asthma and auto-immune disorders. When law requires only 10 percent of air intake consist of “fresh air” (your requirements may vary from one locality to another), we must assume this design is intended for some new human who has not been genetically bred as yet to withstand this onslaught. Perhaps Monsanto can manufacture a person who can withstand lower concentrations of oxygen just as they engineered soy which can withstand larger concentrations of herbicide and still survive. Of course, we don’t know whether the new human will be able to eat that soy.

Copyright, 2002 Barbara Rubin

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