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You Are a Guinea Pig: What Happens to Your Body As It's Bombarded by Toxic Chemicals in Your Home

Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds

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In the 1920s, the oil industry made  the same argument about lead as an additive in gasoline, even though it was already known that it was a dangerous toxin for workers. Spokesman for companies like General Motors insisted that it was a “gift of God,” irreplaceable and essential for industrial progress and modern living, just as the lead industry argued for decades that lead was “essential” to produce good paint that would protect our homes.

Like the oil, lead, and tobacco industries of the twentieth century, the chemical industry, through the  American Chemistry Council and public relations firms like  Hill & Knowlton, is fighting tooth and nail to stop regulation and inhibit legislation that would force it to test chemicals before putting them in the environment.  In the meantime, Americans remain the human guinea pigs in advanced trials of hundreds if not thousands of commonly used, largely untested chemicals.  There can be no doubt that this is the largest uncontrolled experiment in history. 

To begin to bring it under control would undoubtedly involve major grassroots efforts to push back against the offending corporations, courageous politicians, billions of dollars, and top-flight researchers.  But before any serious steps are likely to be taken, before we even name this epidemic, we need to wake up to its existence. 

A toxic dump used to be a superfund site or a nuclear waste disposal site.  Increasingly, however, we -- each and every one of us -- are toxic dumps and for us there’s no superfund around, no disposal plan in sight.  In the meantime, we’re walking, talking biohazards and we don’t even know it.

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz are co-authors and co-editors of seven books and 85 articles on a variety of industrial and occupational hazards, including Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution and, most recently,  Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, (University of California Press/Milbank, 2013).  Rosner is a professor of history at Columbia University and co-director of the Center for the History of Public Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.Markowitz is a professor of history at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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Copyright 2013 David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz

 
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