E-wasted: We are all full of toxic gunkBy Graham Land Oct 14, 2013 6:00AM UTC
When profit and industry are pitted against human health, we have a consistent winner – and it isn’t your, mine or anyone else’s wellbeing. For example, it has been estimated that emissions from out-dated diesel freight ships contributes to 60,000 deaths per year. Pollution from coal in developing countries and ground level ozone in rich economies could cause millions of premature deaths in the coming decades. Yet despite this knowledge, companies use their billions to push for less regulation while governments choose industrial development over human health.
But there is an even more insidious culprit, which can’t be seen curling out from factory smokestacks or gathering on frothy lakeshores. And it’s part and parcel of the communications revolution. As more and more computers and mobile phones fill up landfills, their toxic and carcinogenic chemicals leak into the earth and groundwater, jeopardizing the safety of human food and drinking water. This happens mostly in developing countries in Asia and Africa, which have become repositories of the world’s e-waste.
Professor Ming Hung Wong of Hong Kong Baptist University is quoted in the Australian:
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the world’s fastest growing waste stream, rising by 3-5 per cent every year. These e-waste contaminated sites are extremely hard to clean up due to the complex chemical mixtures they contain.
The problem is not a crisis of information, but of action. Scientists and governments know about pollutants, but policies choose short-term profit motives over health. I say short-term because in the long run an unhealthy, non-working, dead population is less productive than a healthy one.
Dr James Siow of Australia’s National Institute of Integrative Medicine (NIIM) points the finger at governments and the healthcare industry for failing to address the link between low level pollution and the rise in chronic poor health.
From Science Alert:
One US study found 232 industrial chemicals and pollutants, including known carcinogens and complex mixtures, in the (umbilical) cord blood of newborns. This means that children are coming into the world already polluted with things that could kill them.
The problem is that we are still using many of these toxic substances. For example we have long known that mercury causes nerve and brain damage in young children – and it has been banned from dental use in Sweden for over a decade. However in Australia it is still being used.
–Dr James Siow, NIIM
Though Siow concedes that withdrawing the numerous consumer and industrial products would be costly, he believes that the long-term savings in health care would more than make up for it.
The problem, it seems, is competing interests: short-term vs. long-term benefits, industry (including pharmaceuticals) vs. national health insurance programs. In most countries it is the former that wins out and this is a largely systematic problem. In other words, capitalism by its nature does not encourage public welfare or even long-term economic plans.
For Siow it is the non-inclusion of toxicology from most medical training programs that exacerbates the problem. Doctors simply don’t know what to look for. That and the concentration on cleaning up polluted sites while largely ignoring the role of doctors who actually deal directly with patients.
For more see this interview with Siow in Vice Magazine.