Chemicals are making
people sick. Why aren’t we doing anything?
Let’s talk peanut
butter and jelly. According to an account in The New York
Times last year, more and more schools are banning peanut
butter, that childhood staple, because peanut allergies are
apparently on the rise. In rare cases, the allergy is so
severe that it can kill, although there is an antidote.
Asthma and allergies
are the Rodney Dangerfields of disease — unless, of course,
you happen to have them. Years ago in the Texas Lege, a fellow
named E.W. Robinson of Amarillo was going through a
confirmation hearing on his appointment to the Air Pollution
Control Board. Not precisely a militant environmentalist,
Robinson allowed that he would be against air pollution that
was very harmful to people.
How about pollution
that causes asthma and allergies? Well, you don’t die of that,
replied Robinson reasonably.
He would have had an
easier time getting confirmed if there had not been a senator
on the committee who had serious allergies and felt that his
suffering should be taken seriously.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity afflicts somewhere between 15
percent and 30 percent of all Americans, according to
different surveys. That’s between 37 million and 75 million
people who report that they are unusually sensitive or
allergic to certain common substances, such as detergents,
perfumes, solvents, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and foods.
& Health Weekly reported in February 1998: “An estimated 5
percent (13 million people) have been diagnosed by physicians
as being especially sensitive. Many of these people react so
strongly that they can become disabled from very low exposure
to common substances. Typical symptoms include prolonged
fatigue, memory difficulties, dizziness, difficulty
concentrating, depression, feeling spacey or groggy, lack of
motivation, shortness of breath, headache, nervousness, muscle
aches, joint pain, chest pains, nausea and more.”
As you can see from
this partial list of symptoms, practically anything can be
blamed on MCS. It sounds like hypochondriac heaven, which
makes it easy to dismiss.
But Rachel’s reports:
“MCS has been recognized by its symptoms for 50 years because
MCS sufferers in many geographical areas, researchers studying
them and doctors treating them have reported a remarkably
consistent picture of disease. However, because MCS sufferers
react to chemicals at levels that are hundreds or thousands of
times lower than allowable occupational exposures, traditional
toxicology dictates that their symptoms cannot be caused by
chemical exposure. ... In sum, because MCS does not fit any of
the three currently accepted mechanisms of disease —
infectious, immune system or cancer — traditional medicine has
not known how to explain MCS, and so has often labeled it
’psychogenic’ — originating in the patient’s mind.”
Meanwhile, the chemical
companies, like the tobacco companies before them, are
dismissing all this as “junk science.” They have funded their
own research group: the Environmental Sensitivities Research
Institute. Rachel’s reports that Monsanto, Procter &
Gamble, the Cosmetic Toiletries and Fragrances Association,
and other companies involved in the manufacture of
pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other chemicals each pay
$10,000 a year to keep ESRI going. The head of ESRI, Dr.
Ronald Gots, also runs the National Medical Advisory Group,
which provides expert witnesses to defend chemical
corporations in tort lawsuits.
As Rachel’s also points
out, “The stakes are enormous, and the chemical industry knows
it. If a clearly defined disease emerges from research of MCS,
with chemical causes that are understood, then it can’t be too
many decades before chemical corporations will have to face
liability and compensation claims from millions of citizens
harmed by their products.“
Rachel’s recommends the
book “Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes” by
Nicholas Ashford and Claudia Miller as a lucid and thoughtful
account of the current science and medicine on MCS.
© 2004, Quad-City Times, Davenport,
IA A Lee