For a moment, I'd like you to play a thought game.
Millions of years from now, some other species develops intelligence. Let's say it has a long nose, tail and whiskers, but stands upright about half our size. A group of their scientists work together to dig up bones and other remains of some ancient fossilized being when one notices something's very weird about the location. Above and below the bones is nothing but normal rock, but a narrow layer around them is laden with concentrated heavy metals, radioactive daughter elements and far stranger complex chemicals, and the bones themselves contain traces of some of them.
Obviously, I'm talking about somebody digging US up; all of those are already all around us. Some will undoubtedly be permanently detectable in Earth's geology, just as we can now detect the unusually high iridium levels that mark the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Whether or not the discoverers evolve from rats (as I'm portraying) or from us might depend on what we do in the near future to clean up our world.
Dr. Laurel Schaider of Silent Spring Institute doesn't spice up her presentations with mind experiments like that. If her talk for the Dec. 2013 Festival of Giving Trees in Southbridge is any indication, she tells it pretty much as it is – and that should scare anybody who's sane and wants our children to have a future.
We have created and released thousands of chemicals, but “the health implications are not yet known” for the vast majority of them individually, never mind in concert with the rest. Often, she said, they are not regulated despite not being new, and we're beginning to notice them in water, soil and living things because our tests are increasingly sensitive.
What does that mean? Who knows.
Logically, some will prove harmless, while some will prove highly toxic in various ways or under certain conditions. But we can no longer simply take it for granted that they're safe, as the chemical firms and corrupted government watchdogs want us to. Far, far too frequently, products that received the official green light for widespread use – DDT and other pesticides, DES, thalidomide, PCBs – and other things that were unintended creations of common processes – dioxins, furans, plutonium, chlorination byproducts, unmetabolized drugs, fossil fuel-burning pollution – are proving to be long-term time bombs for us and/or other species.
Sometimes, we simply haven't looked long enough. Sometimes we have, but the facts are being suppressed in corporate interests. Recently, NPR's “Living on Earth” reported a journal owned by for-profit publisher Elsevier had retracted a 2012 paper by Gilles-Eric Seralini that found carcinogenic properties in corn that had been gene-modified for resistance to glyphosate, claiming it didn't have a big enough sample size. Eight years earlier, Monsanto had published work using the same sample size claiming GMO corn had no such effect, but had only run its test for three months; Seralini's project ran for two years. It's probably not coincidental that Elsevier had recently hired an editor whose last job had been with Monsanto.
That's just the latest example of how skewed our system is. It's no secret – now – that tobacco firms and chemical corporations routinely lied about the toxicity of their products for decades to prevent them from being labeled, restricted or banned for as long as possible. Repeatedly, they tried to tell us pesticides that came out of the WW2 effort to produce nerve gases specifically for use on humans would not harm us, even though our neural and hormonal chemistry is nearly identical to that of the target insects. Even after banning PCBs, they tell us their close chemical cousins, flame-retardant PDBEs, are harmless. The nuclear industry routinely claims our gradually-rising background radiation levels aren't dangerous and that nuclear power is “safe,” especially after Fukushima. Often, they simply lie by omission and by ensuring the revolving doors they have to government agencies prevent government from acting in the public interest.
If we were being hit by just one of those things, it might be safe to ignore it. But we're being hit by nearly 80,000 chemicals that did not exist in our grandparents' time, so many we haven't even developed tests to detect most of them. Many of the ones we can see are pervasive, often decades after they've been banned, so why wouldn't many of the rest also be?
Chemical pollutants are by far the biggest ecological change we've imposed on our world, mostly in the last century. At the same time, we're seeing huge increases in cancers, autoimmune disorders and a wide range of other once very rare illnesses at the same time. Pretending they're not related is dangerously delusional. So is pretending the corporations making them have any intention of acting in our interests until we force them to.
We MUST know what we're being exposed to. To promote such “sunlight,” we should ban the ability of any entity manufacturing or using chemicals from being able to hide their composition as a “trade secret.” For fracking fluid and countless other things, that label has been used repeatedly to hide malfeasance. If the chemistry is not dangerous, the firms have no reason to hide it, and if everyone's required to reveal it, there's no “competitive disadvantage.”
It's only common sense to say such uncontrolled experimentation must stop. I know I never signed up to be a chemical guinea pig. Nor did the countless other species we share Earth with.
Gus Steeves is a member of the Green-Rainbow Party State Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his blog.