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Health effects of pollution - an open discussion  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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The below is a repost of an article from Green Prophet on the health impacts of all types of pollution - air, water, soil - on human health.

As an autoimmune disease sufferer, I have long contended that such an illness is a complex interaction of genetic susceptibility (I am a third generation autoimmune sufferer), exposure to environmental pollutants and, actually quite far down my list....food choices.

What I hope to encourage here is some dialog about impacts OTHER than simply "food choices" on human health. To me, food choice is simply one aspect of a holistic view of health. We all live in the same biosphere - we are all exposed to some level of toxins. Drylands (like where I live) are potentially more prone to all types of pollutions because they tend to have less biomass to filter them out.

Green Prophet:

Pollution: What Autism, ADD, and Dyslexia Have in Common



There are many different kinds of pollution and many ways in which they are hijacking our children’s future.

Children exposed to pollution are more likely to develop autism, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia, according to Haaretz. These findings were unveiled by both scientists at a recent conference in Israel, and those are only the dangers we know about. Modern society manufactures and uses 800,000 new chemicals, hundreds of which show up in children’s blood tests.

It will take decades or more to understand how each chemical affects children’s health (and the economy), but at least one thing is certain: 25% of autism cases can be attributed to environmental factors, according to Philip Landrigan from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. This is especially disturbing for those of us in the Middle East, where we have higher rates of all kinds of pollution than most.

Landrigan explained that the international rise of autism and attention deficit disorder cases can’t be explained by genetics alone, or by higher rates of diagnosis. And while pollution is also harmful to adults and the environment, he says children are especially vulnerable.

Haaretz reports:


Exposure to substances such as lead, mercury and pesticides is particularly dangerous for children, because they are more sensitive to these materials – in part because their brains are still developing, Landrigan said. A child’s body also breaks down poisonous materials less efficiently than the adult body does, and any given quantity of chemical has more of an impact on a child because it constitutes a larger proportion of his body mass.

The United States and Europe have decent regulatory controls for manufacturers producing harmful chemicals, and public health officials are sort of monitoring the situation, but pollution is low on the list of priorities for countries in the Middle East.

Although major offenders, in the midst of so many other economic, political, and social problems, countries such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are unlikely to get a handle on their problems any time soon. Not only that, but these conditions probably won’t be diagnosed or treated.

Here are just a few examples of pollution in the Middle East and North Africa:

Egypt’s Black Cloud:

In addition to the extraordinary pollution that already defines life in Cairo – as a result of thousands of cars on the road and poor waste management systems, every year around rice harvest time, what locals call the “black cloud” hovers over the city.

Mahmud Abdel Meguid, chairman of the state-run Abbasiya Chest Hospital, told IRIN. “This pollution causes a long list of diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chest sensitivity at best, and respiratory failure at worst.”

Mercury Disposal in Egypt:

Long after the rest of the world took control of mercury disposal, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) finally teamed up with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) in 2007 to do the same in Egypt. Only recently has a proper mercury disposal facility been opened in Alexandria, where mercury-filled fluorescent tubes and other hazardous waste is now handled. Even so, 10 million – 1/4 of the tubes manufactured in the country – end up in landfills and leach into the environment.

Iran’s Air Pollution:

The World Health Organization estimates that 27 people a day die as a result of Iran’s chronic air pollution. In part this is caused by old cars that don’t meet modern emissions requirements, which in turn can be partially attributed to economic sanctions that have limited the country’s imports.

Mining Silt, Sewage, and Transformer Waste Streaming into Iraq’s Rivers:



After decades of on and off war, Iraq’s environmental problems are arguably greater than virtually any other country in the region. Among other problems, they are dealing with nuclear waste – contributing to high rates of deformed babies in Fallujah – and according to environmental conservationists Nature Iraq, entire sewage loads of Sulaimani are dumped into the Tangero river, which is used to irrigate agricultural fields and water livestock around Sulaimani, Arbat, Said Sadiq and New Halabja.

Lebanon – Sewage and Trash at Sea:

Like Egypt and Iraq, Lebanon has a serious trash problem. And sewage treatment facilities are badly in need of repair and management. This is a shame for a country that many find unique, and which boasts majestic but flailing cedar forests. There are hopeful stories of recycling and activism, but the government’s overall environmental neglect is bound to have long term effects on their children’s future.

:: Haaretz


 
Matu Collins
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This seems to me to be a place where the assertion that politics has no place in permaculture falls short. How do these companies get to poison us and our children? By giving lots of money to politicians.

How can we stop this without a political solution?

We can do some things to mitigate the effects of the pollution on our own bodies, but until the poison stops flowing mitigation is a paltry solution.
 
Zach Muller
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Hey thanks for posting this, interesting stuff. My initial response to the charge that ASD or autism is caused by pollution is that no one on earth could ever prove that is the case because the control group would have to be birthed and raised in a clean environment.

One of the principal speakers at the conference was Prof. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who noted that many countries worldwide have reported a sharp rise in recent years in the prevalence of development disorders such as autism and ADD. This rise cannot be attributed solely to genetic factors or to higher rates of diagnosis, he said, and today, even researchers who once thought environmental factors could explain only a small fraction of the increased incidence of autism, for instance, have been convinced that it accounts for at least 25 percent of the rise.



To me this probably really means " instances of these diseases are going up and we are scrambling to have an explanation, because we really have no clue"


I know there is a lot of information out there claiming that when global warming happens it makes pollution worse, and I am not denying the biosphere is clogged with manufactured poisons. , But ever since the industrial revolution began the environment and people have been consuming and absorbing toxins, sometimes at much higher rates than are currently. That reason alone is why I find conclusions about rising ASD diagnoses linked with 'sharp rises in pollution in the last few years' pretty tenuous, if not completely void of real evidence. Maybe I am wrong, I will do some follow ups on these scientists.

Thanks again for posting

Update: I read a bunch and there is a lot of talk of the possibility of toxins interacting to affect ASD. I found an article that seems to break it down a bit, and call for better designed studies if real links are to be made that article is here.

 
Bryan Jasons
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Interesting post..

I don't think there is an understanding of the etiology of autism. Autism is often diagnosed by symptoms alone. So it's probably not a good place to look if we want to be objective.

The idea that we've been exposed to toxins for generations and so it's probably not a big deal, doesn't take into consideration trans-generational and epigentic effects. Barbara McClintock showed that in Maize the expression of genes would change depending on the environment it was grown in.

"How do these companies get to poison us and our children?" It's probably because people are assumed innocent until proven guilty, and so these companies simply deny that there is evidence of harm until it's not deniable and people are dead. Caution is relatively unprofitable I guess? If the choice is protecting long term health vs. having jobs, people almost always choose to have jobs.
 
Michael Cox
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I think part of our roll when designing permaculture systems is to design them to clean and improve the environment. Water coming into our land should leave cleaner than it comes in, trees should slow wind and trap particulates, increased soil carbon content and biodiversity will help bring soil contaminants into balance.

Changing the external sources is very difficult in a reasonable time scale, but changing local conditions is more achievable than most people realise. AS more people start cultivating using permaculture principals the overall environment will incrementally improve.

On a separate line, I'm certain that many health problems are affected by the impact of artificial lighting on our internal body clock. Electric lighting has effectively separated us from our environment, impacting on mental health, sleep cycles, immune systems etc...
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Bryan Jasons wrote:The idea that we've been exposed to toxins for generations and so it's probably not a big deal, doesn't take into consideration trans-generational and epigentic effects. Barbara McClintock showed that in Maize the expression of genes would change depending on the environment it was grown in..


This was my thought as well. As humans, we tend to think in terms of "our lifetime" as a unit of measurement. But we are changing and adapting all the time as we (as a race) are exposed to a changing environment. I will have to look up Barbara McClintock's work - thank you for that.

Bryan Jasons wrote:"How do these companies get to poison us and our children?" It's probably because people are assumed innocent until proven guilty, and so these companies simply deny that there is evidence of harm until it's not deniable and people are dead. Caution is relatively unprofitable I guess? If the choice is protecting long term health vs. having jobs, people almost always choose to have jobs.


I live near a small industrial zone in central Phoenix. One of the things we have done is used Nextdoor.com (a free social network application for neighborhoods) to band together to stop/lessen some noxious fumes coming from one of the businesses. Now I know that many noxious chemicals have no smell. However, with a "win" under our belts is to begin to develop a plan to have the area's air tested and develop mediation remedies. More biomass is critical. And since many of these companies are publically held, they have grant programs. An idea that is being tossed around right now is to develop a tree planting program for the surrounding 'hoods to help filter pollutants. So we are addressing the issue from the standpoint of lessening the pollution from the source as well as cleaning the air through more biomass.

Obviously both of these things will take time. Which makes "right now" a good time to start.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Michael Cox wrote:I think part of our roll when designing permaculture systems is to design them to clean and improve the environment. Water coming into our land should leave cleaner than it comes in, trees should slow wind and trap particulates, increased soil carbon content and biodiversity will help bring soil contaminants into balance.


Absolutely - in fact I think this is our prime directive. And we can do it while we provide for ourselves in the process (thank you permaculture!)

Michael Cox wrote:Changing the external sources is very difficult in a reasonable time scale, but changing local conditions is more achievable than most people realise. AS more people start cultivating using permaculture principals the overall environment will incrementally improve.


It will take policy changes to address many external sources - but it is possible. It does take time. And you are right - changing local conditions on whatever land you have is very achievable.

Michael Cox wrote:On a separate line, I'm certain that many health problems are affected by the impact of artificial lighting on our internal body clock. Electric lighting has effectively separated us from our environment, impacting on mental health, sleep cycles, immune systems etc...


Agreed that it is not just one or two things that impact our health, but many. And it's important to acknowledge this. This is my whole argument with the folks who think that "diet and exercise" will cure all that ails you. While I do see diet and exercise as important, focusing only on these two elements is far from a holistic view of impacts on health.
 
Michael Cox
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Jennifer - agreed regarding the holistic view of health, but I also wonder how much of our bodily health is to do with emotional and mental well being? It is my experience (albeit of a limited sample size!) that those who have poor mental resilience tend to also have poor physical resilience. Modern society is changing so quickly that frantic action is taking the place of contemplation, gratification the place of satisfaction. Even in my relatively short teaching career I've noticed the difference in the students who come through - shortening attention spans, addictive and compulsive behaviours - the kids simply are never disconnected from the world. Even a few moments of true solitude without external stimulation is almost unheard of - if things go quiet for a few seconds the phones come out.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Michael - I am in complete agreement with you - emotional and mental well-being are HUGE factors in overall health. I also think that being challenged and having a diversity of experience is important.

I have been told by at least a dozen doctors and other people involved in health care that I should NOT be as healthy as I am given that I suffer from a very aggressive autoimmune disease (Wegener's granulomatosis). I have had people involved in research studies of people dealing with chronic, progressive illnesses come to my home to evaluate my "home environment" and "support network". They are ALWAYS impressed with both as I show them my permacultured living space (urban lot and home). All of these researchers have been "concerned" when they found out that I live alone and have very limited vision in addition to other physical limitations. However, when they see the web of friends and neighbors that are constantly around offering support they quickly go from being concerned to being impressed. I have cultivated social permaculture as much as environmental permaculture and it has truly paid off for me.

 
Chris Badgett
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Food choices are big, but you are absolutely correct that it's much more holistic than that. It's kind of like how permaculture doesn't have to just stand for permanent agriculture but also for a much more holistic permanent culture.

Pollution and it's impact on health is one of those perspectives in which we can really tell how connected ecology really is.

I try to do a juice fast at least twice a year to help detoxify my body (even though I already eat pretty clean).

 
Bryan Jasons
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Even in my relatively short teaching career I've noticed the difference in the students who come through - shortening attention spans, addictive and compulsive behaviours...


There are some experiments showing that various neurotransmitters and hormones can cause/contribute to, or block, excitotoxicity, which kills nerve cells and causes behavioral, learning, and motor impairments. In the animal studies, early life excitotoxic lesions in the brain can make rats run around in circles or develop states similar to schizophrenia. It's a pretty general thing, so I don't know all the details.. but it seems like children are increasingly excessively stressed, stimulated, compulsive, etc. and it might not just be the abundance of stimulation from phones and such, but an increased susceptibility to develop, or have already, pathological changes in their nervous systems. This comparison is speculative, but interesting to me..
 
R Scott
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Researchers (and most of us) tend to look at humans as ONE organism, but we are hosts to countless flora and fauna. WE ARE A COMMUNITY.

Toxins and pollution, food choices, vaccines and medicines all have effects on the community and "our" symptoms are secondary or tertiary effects.

Does our body have an organism that filters a certain pollutant? Then it won't affect us. Do we have one that mines/concentrates one? Then we are extra susceptible to that toxins effects.

Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell...

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Bryan Jasons wrote:There are some experiments showing that various neurotransmitters and hormones can cause/contribute to, or block, excitotoxicity, which kills nerve cells and causes behavioral, learning, and motor impairments. In the animal studies, early life excitotoxic lesions in the brain can make rats run around in circles or develop states similar to schizophrenia. It's a pretty general thing, so I don't know all the details.. but it seems like children are increasingly excessively stressed, stimulated, compulsive, etc. and it might not just be the abundance of stimulation from phones and such, but an increased susceptibility to develop, or have already, pathological changes in their nervous systems. This comparison is speculative, but interesting to me..


It interests me too - do you have any sources you can send me to? I'd like to increase my knowledge in this area. Thanks!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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R Scott wrote:Researchers (and most of us) tend to look at humans as ONE organism, but we are hosts to countless flora and fauna. WE ARE A COMMUNITY.

Toxins and pollution, food choices, vaccines and medicines all have effects on the community and "our" symptoms are secondary or tertiary effects.

Does our body have an organism that filters a certain pollutant? Then it won't affect us. Do we have one that mines/concentrates one? Then we are extra susceptible to that toxins effects.

Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell...



That was really well said! I was trying to get this point across to someone the other day, and I didn't do it nearly as eloquently as you just did.
 
Bryan Jasons
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