Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More on Environmental Poisons

I heard a touching poem this morning about a woman who died of cancer even though she ate organic fruits and vegetables and lived as natural a life as possible. I don't know why this woman died but I'm thinking more and more about environmental poisons these days.

If you broke out in a rash after using a cleaning product or a pesticide, you would conclude that you had some sensitivity to the product. But if you die of cancer five years later, you don't make the connection. You don't know which of the thousands of chemicals that you're exposed to led to your death.

The long time between exposure and death is the problem with environmental poisons. Let's say that you're a scientist and you're testing a new bug spray. You spray it around some people and six months later you issue your report that there were absolutely no harmful effects from the exposure. Several other scientists repeat your tests and confirm your claim. If many of the exposed people develop fibromyalgia, lupus or cancer years later, their doctors will never connect the disease with the cause.

If a researcher in the future explores the diseases caused by the bug spray you tested and sees the pattern that all the sick people were exposed to the bug spray and publishes a paper, the chemical industry will drag out the old studies that "proved" that the bug spray was harmless.

We need a new methodology for bringing new chemicals into our environment. Maybe the chemical industry needs to prove that a chemical is safe before they are authorized to use it. That would be expensive and slow progress but lives would be saved. The way it is now someone has to prove that the chemical does harm; that's a really hard thing to prove even when you "know" it's true.

Take a deep breath,

Dr. Ron