Off net reading

/ 20 April 2003

Several days without high speed internet access have reminded me that I am still a voracious reader, although now it’s print I’m absorbing in my moments of rest, rather than the net.

I’ve been reading Sandra Steingraber’s book “Living Downstream,” which is at once both a memoir (she’s a cancer survivor) and a particularly poetic but also scientifically accurate discussion of environmental toxins. At one point in the book she is describing the enormous sea change in the US that happened subsequent to WWII, when the petrochemical industry which had grown up to support military needs poured its new products into the consumer markets. We went from mechanical methods of pest control in farming, for instance, to chemical methods. We went from plant-based dyes, paints, solvents and linoleum, to organic chemical replacements (“organic” in this case meaning carbon based, usually petrochemically derived).

We still haven’t begun to catalog, let alone quantify or analyze, the impact of this sea change on our health. But there are signs too numerous to count that it is primarily a deleterious impact. I wonder what the aftermath of Gulf War II will bring? It seems to me, at a minimum, a host of returning veterans who have witnessed sights and sounds our civilian population in the US have been “spared” (but which, in some detail, are available in European media). These same veterans will have also been doused with a huge host of pesticides, been in close contact with depleted uranium weapons, been injected with vaccines of dubious utility, and inhaled vast amounts of burning petrochemicals.

And these are just the obvious impacts on our veterans. One of the most compelling points Steingraber makes is that spilling toxins into the environment anywhere on earth always has an impact everywhere. So just as the civilians of Iraq and the broader middle east are struggling right now with the enormous amounts of toxins we’ve deliberately used in waging war, we, too, whether in Europe or the US, will eventually reap this ugly harvest.

I wonder how many of us living “safely” in our middle class enclaves have any idea the legacy we’re bequeathing in this war to our children? (And need I mention the toxic hatred which breeds terrorism…?)