Some related Situationist videos:
- “The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics,”
- “Our Carcinogenic Situation,”
- “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,”
- “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 9, 2011
Some related Situationist videos:
Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 27, 2010
From UCBerkeley News:
Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.
“Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people’s fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming,” said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.
“The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it,” agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.
But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.
Recent decades have seen a growing scientific consensus on the existence of a warming of global land and ocean temperatures. A significant part of the warming trend has been attributed to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.
In light of this contradictory trend, Feinberg and Willer sought to investigate the psychology behind attitudes about climate change.
In the first of two experiments, 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates were gauged for their political attitudes, skepticism about global warming and level of belief in whether the world is just or unjust. Rated on a “just world scale,” which measures people’s belief in a just world for themselves and others, participants were asked how much they agree with such statements as “I believe that, by and large, people get what they deserve,” and “I am confident that justice always prevails over injustice.”
Next, participants read a news article about global warming. The article started out with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. But while half the participants received articles that ended with warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming, the other half read ones that concluded with positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions.
Results showed that those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming and had more faith in science’s ability to solve the problem. Moreover, those who scored high on the just world scale were less skeptical about global warming when exposed to the positive message. By contrast, those exposed to doomsday messages became more skeptical about global warming, particularly those who scored high on the just world scale.
In the second experiment, involving 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist, researchers looked specifically at whether increasing one’s belief in a just world would increase his or her skepticism about global warming.
They had half the volunteers unscramble sentences such as “prevails justice always” so they would be more likely to take a just world view when doing the research exercises. They then showed them a video featuring innocent children being put in harm’s way to illustrate the threat of global warming to future generations.
Those who had been primed for a just world view responded to the video with heightened skepticism towards global warming and less willingness to change their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, according to the results.
Overall, the study concludes, “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.”
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs,” “Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” “The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” “Thanksgiving as ‘System Justification,’” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 18, 2010
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics,” “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Denial,” and “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”
A new blog and website, Upstream, provides daily posts and regular interviews with scientists about environmental causes of disease.
Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 4, 2010
Situationist readers may want to check out a new website and blog devoted to the problem of environmental sources of illness. The website is devoted primarily to video interviews of experts studying, and activists fighting, the effects of environmental toxins. So far, the Upstream website has fascinating interviews of Columbia University’s Dr. Frederica Perera and of Drs. Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana M. Soto from Tufts University. The Upstram Blog contains regular updates of environmental-health news stories.
In a culture and policy regime that focuses on individual causes and cures of disease, the Upstream project seems like a promising and worthwhile resource for those interested in a more situationist perspective.
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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Depression,” “The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics,” “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “Denial,” and “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2010
Excerpts from EurekaAlert:
Anger, depression, and helplessness are the main psychological responses being seen in response to the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are likely to have long-lasting effects, according to an interview in Ecopsychology, . . . .
The anger being expressed in response to the recent BP oil rig explosion and resulting spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is “a way of masking the really unfathomable and profound despair that is just under the surface as we watch this catastrophe unfold,” says Deborah Du Nann Winter, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA). In an interview published in Ecopsychology and conducted by Editorial Board member Susan Koger, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Willamette University in Salem, OR, Winter predicts a great deal of chronic depression, withdrawal, and lack of functioning among not only people directly affected by the events in the Gulf, but also people nationwide and globally who identify or empathize with their circumstances.
With the hope that the BP spill, with all the damage and suffering it is causing, will stimulate renewed environmental activism and changes in attitudes and behaviors, Winter says, “this disaster is probably just the kick in the pants that the environmental movement has needed.”
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The interview is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/eco.
For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “The Situational Consequences of Uncertainty,” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Psychological Toll of Automobile Traffic,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Denial,” “The Need for a Situationist Morality,”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2010
The Story of Cosmetics, released on July 21st, 2010, examines the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo. Produced with Free Range Studios and hosted by Annie Leonard, the seven-minute film by The Story of Stuff Project reveals the implications for consumer and worker health and the environment, and outlines ways we can move the industry away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives. The film concludes with a call for viewers to support legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Denial,” and “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2010
Anne McIlroy wrote a piece for the Toronto Globe and Mail describing research by Dr. James Swain, who is using brain imaging techniques to study the effects of poverty on the brain. Here are some excerpts.
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Over the past four decades, researchers have established how poverty shapes lives, that low socioeconomic status is associated with poor academic performance, poor mental and physical health and other negative outcomes. Swain is part of a new generation of neuroscientists investigating how poverty shapes the brain.
The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.
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He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.
Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.
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At Michigan, Swain will be looking at many different parts of the brain and the connections between regions.
His volunteers are 52 young adults that one of his colleagues, Gary Evans at Cornell University, has been tracking since they were in their mothers’ wombs. Half of them grew up in poverty, the other half in working or middle-class homes.
As early as next month, Swain will begin two days of brain imaging and tests for each volunteer. He will assess language skills and memory and study how their brains react to pictures of scary faces, and whether that reaction changes when they are stressed. (He’ll stress them by asking them to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers.)
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You can read the entire article here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” “Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” “Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,” “The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” “The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” “The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and “The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2010
Press release from University of Michigan:
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When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.
That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.
“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”
In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.
Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.
“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”
Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.
These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?
“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”
Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.
“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.
“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”
Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.
“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.
“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”
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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” “The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” “The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” “The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” “The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” and “Guilt and Racial Prejudice.” For a listing of numerous Situationist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.
Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 12, 2010
The President’s Cancer Panel last week published its 2008 – 2009 Annual Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now.” Here is an extended excerpt from the Report’s executive summary, describing the extent of the problem.
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Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.
Public and governmental awareness of environmental influences on cancer risk and other health issues has increased substantially in recent years as scientific and health care communities, policymakers, and individuals strive to understand and ameliorate the causes and toll of human disease. A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.
Between September 2008 and January 2009, the President’s Cancer Panel (the Panel) convened four meetings to assess the state of environmental cancer research, policy, and programs addressing known and potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer. The Panel received testimony from 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities, and the public.
This report summarizes the Panel’s findings and conclusions based on the testimony received and additional information gathering. The Panel’s recommendations delineate concrete actions that governments; industry; the research, health care, and advocacy communities; and individuals can take to reduce cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation, and other harmful exposures.
Issues impeding control of environmental cancer risks include those related to limited research on environmental influences on cancer; conflicting or inadequate exposure measurement, assessment, and classification; and ineffective regulation of environmental chemical and other hazardous exposures.
Environmental Cancer Research
Research on environmental causes of cancer has been limited by low priority and inadequate funding. As a result, the cadre of environmental oncologists is relatively small, and both the consequences of cumulative lifetime exposure to known carcinogens and the interaction of specific environmental contaminants remain largely unstudied. There is a lack of emphasis on environmental research as a route to primary cancer prevention, particularly compared with research emphases on genetic and molecular mechanisms in cancer.
Environmental Exposure Measurement, Methodologic, Assessment, and Classification Issues
Efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations. In addition, efforts have been compromised by a lack of effective measurement methods and tools; delay in adopting available newer technologies; inadequate computational models; and weak, flawed, or uncorroborated studies.
Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Current toxicity testing relies heavily on animal studies that utilize doses substantially higher than those likely to be encountered by humans. These data—and the exposure limits extrapolated from them—fail to take into account harmful effects that may occur only at very low doses. Further, chemicals typically are administered when laboratory animals are in their adolescence, a methodology that fails to assess the impact of in utero, childhood, and lifelong exposures. In addition, agents are tested singly rather than in combination.
Regulation of Environmental Contaminants
The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.
U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.
The line between occupational and environmental contaminants is fine and often difficult to demarcate. Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products. People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities. The reality of this unequal burden is not just a health issue, but an issue of environmental justice.
While all Americans now carry many foreign chemicals in their bodies, women often have higher levels of many toxic and hormone-disrupting substances than do men. Some of these chemicals have been found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. Thus, chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.
Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.
Exposure to Contaminants from Industrial and Manufacturing Sources
Manufacturing and other industrial products and processes are responsible for a great many of the hazardous occupational and environmental exposures experienced by Americans. Many of these contaminants—even substances banned more than 30 years ago—remain ubiquitous in the environment because they break down very slowly, if at all. Other industrial chemicals or processes have hazardous by-products or metabolites. Numerous chemicals used in manufacturing remain in or on the product as residues, while others are integral components of the products themselves. Further, in the ongoing quest for more effective and efficient ways of making industrial and consumer products, new chemicals and other substances are being created continually and existing substances are being put to new uses. Limited research to date on unintended health effects of nanomaterials, for example, suggests that unanticipated environmental hazards may emerge from the push for progress.
The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other
chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply. Farmers and their families, including migrant workers, are at highest risk from agricultural exposures. Because agricultural chemicals often are applied as mixtures, it has been difficult to clearly distinguish cancer risks associated with individual agents.
Environmental Exposures Related to Modern Lifestyles
Conveniences of modern life—automobile and airplane travel, dry cleaning, potable tap water, electricity, and cellular communications, to name a few—have made daily life easier for virtually all Americans. Some of these conveniences, however, have come at a considerable price to the environment and human health, and the true health impact of others is unconfirmed. For example, mobile source air emissions (e.g., from cars, trucks, other passenger vehicles, ships), especially diesel particulate pollution, are responsible for approximately 30 percent of cancer resulting from air pollution. Disinfection of public water supplies has dramatically reduced the incidence of waterborne illnesses and related mortality in the United States, but research indicates that long-term exposure to disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes may increase cancer risk. Chemicals used for household pest control can become a component of carpet dust, posing a risk to children when they play on the floor.
Sharp controversy exists in the scientific community as to possible adverse health effects from exposure to low frequency electromagnetic energy. The use of cell phones and other wireless technology is of great concern, particularly since these devices are being used regularly by ever larger and younger segments of the population. At this time, there is no evidence to support a link between cell phone use and cancer. However, the research on cancer and other disease risk among long-term and heavy users of contemporary wireless devices is extremely limited. Similarly, current and potential harms from extremely low frequency radiation are unclear and require further study. In addition, ultraviolet radiation from excess sun exposure and tanning devices has been proven to substantially increase skin cancer risk.
Exposure to Hazards from Medical Sources
In the past two decades, improved imaging technologies, nuclear medicine examinations, and new pharmaceutical interventions have made possible significant strides in our ability to diagnose and treat human disease, including cancer. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that some of these same technologies and drugs that have contributed so greatly to health status and longevity also carry risks.
While ionizing radiation exposures from radon, occupational, and other sources have remained essentially stable over the past 30 years, Americans now are estimated to receive nearly half of their total radiation exposure from medical imaging and other medical sources, compared with only 15 percent in the early 1980s. The increase in medical radiation has nearly doubled the total average effective radiation dose per
individual in the United States. Computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine tests alone now contribute 36 percent of the total radiation exposure and 75 percent of the medical radiation exposure of the U.S. population. Medical imaging of children is of special concern; compared with adults, children have many more years of life during which a malignancy initiated by medical radiation can develop. Many referring physicians, radiology professionals, and the public are unaware of the radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over a lifetime. People who receive multiple scans or other tests that require radiation may accumulate doses equal to or exceeding that of Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors. It is believed that a single large dose of ionizing radiation and numerous low doses equal to the single large dose have much the same effect on the body over time.
Moreover, radiation dose for the same test can vary dramatically depending on the equipment used, technologist skill, application of dose-reduction strategies, and patient size, age, and gender. Licensure of imaging and radiation therapy technologists varies depending on the type of test performed by the technologist. Some states have only partial regulation; six states and the District of Columbia have no licensure or regulatory provisions of any kind.
In addition, pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.
Exposure to Contaminants and Other Hazards from Military Sources
The military is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk. Information is available about some military activities that have directly or indirectly exposed military and civilian personnel to carcinogens and contaminated soil and water in numerous locations in the United States and abroad. However, we may never know the full extent of environmental contamination from military sources. Nearly 900 Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs. Some of these sites and the areas surrounding them became heavily contaminated due to improper storage and disposal of known or suspected carcinogens including solvents, machining oils, metalworking fluids, and metals. In some cases, these contaminants have spread far beyond their points of origin because they have been transported by wind currents or have leached into drinking water supplies.
Hundreds of thousands of military personnel and civilians in the United States received significant radiation doses as a result of their participation in nuclear weapons testing and supporting occupations and industries, including nuclear fuel and weapons production, and uranium mining, milling, and ore transport. Hundreds of thousands more were irradiated at levels sufficient to cause cancer and other diseases. These populations include the families of military and civilian workers, and people—known as “downwinders”—living or working in communities surrounding or downstream from testing and related activities, and in
relatively distant areas to which nuclear fallout or other radioactive material spread. Federal responses to the plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory. Those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure or potential health problems they may face. Similarly, most health care providers are not aware of cancer and other latent radiation effects and therefore are unlikely to adequately monitor patients for these health conditions. Exposure to ionizing radiation related to nuclear weapons testing is an underappreciated issue worldwide.
Exposure to Environmental Hazards from Natural Sources
Most environmental hazards with the potential to raise cancer risk are the product of human activity, but some environmental carcinogens come from natural sources. For example, radon gas, which forms naturally from the breakdown of uranium mineral deposits, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. Radon-induced lung cancer is responsible for an estimated average of 21,000 deaths annually. People who smoke and also are exposed to radon have a higher risk of lung cancer than from either exposure alone.
Although human activities such as mining, ore processing, use of arsenic-containing pesticides, and burning of fossil fuels are major contributors to waterborne arsenic in the U.S., most inorganic arsenic in drinking water is from natural sources. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water has been linked to skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer in both sexes and with prostate cancer in men, as well as numerous non-cancerous conditions including endocrine, reproductive, and developmental effects.
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You can download the Report, which includes details on what might be done about the problem, here.
Today, the Report will be the focus on NPR’s On Point. Guests on that show will include Sandra Steingraber (ecologist, author, and cancer survivor), who wrote “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment,” and the subject of a new documentary based on her book. She tells her story in the video below. The second video is the trailer for her documentary.
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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Denial,” “The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “The Situation of University Research,” “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”