When I tell people that pollution made me sick, I get one of two reactions: absolute agreement or utter disbelief.
I'm not sure why we’re so skeptical that we have a serious pollution problem in our country and that pollution is unhealthy.
I think it’s an understandable disbelief, though; it’s the same disbelief we feel when people do terrible things to other people on purpose.
But it happens, such as polluting our environment with harmful things---however inconvenient it might be to accept this.
It's inconvenient to believe that the industry that makes Houston so prosperous is also the thing that is most harmful to it. It's inconvenient to believe that there are harmful pollutants in our air, water, soil, food, shampoo, cosmetics, and yes, even our children's toys. It's inconvenient to believe that these things---these everyday things---could seriously harm us and our children.
But more than that, it's scary, so it's easier to turn our faces and hide from the inconvenient truth.
The truth stares me in the face many times every day. It’s in my hair, my cells, my brain, my endocrine system, my rising health care bills, and my family’s stress and anxiety about my health. It’s in the handfuls of medication I take daily to try to maintain something close to healthy. It’s in the fear I have of cancer, because we’ve already had that scare once.
It’s in the questions my children ask me for which I have no answers, “Mommy, why are you always sick, will you always be sick?”
I found the truth a month ago when—after two years of testing---my doctor said, “It’s the hydrocarbons in your area. They’re endocrine disruptors, and you’re a textbook case.”
* The endocrine system regulates metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, and mood. It’s key to a healthy immune system and the body’s ability to fight disease.
* A mutagen changes your genetic information (usually DNA). Most mutagens are also carcinogens.
* A carcinogen causes cancer.
Endocrine disruption sounds relatively innocuous when you just say the words. But it’s not. It means there are mutagens in your body, damaging your organs, messing up how they work, creating a poor quality of life and health and potentially causing cancer.
These mutagens come from pollution…from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among other common pollutants, such as pesticides. They bind to your fat cells. If your body can expel them as fast as or faster than they enter, then they might not do much damage, but if for some reason, they come in faster than your body expels them, you can end up very, very sick. Like me.
It might harm unborn babies, mutate bodies, and prevent children from growing and developing properly. Because these toxins attack the endocrine system, the reproductive and hormonal organs are at great risk.
However, my doctor’s diagnosis was bold: endocrine disruption in humans has been a fiercely debated topic for over 20 years.
But I knew he was right.
After countless missed diagnoses, specialist referrals, medical exams, and costly medical procedures and treatments (none of which worked), I finally had a diagnosis that fit exactly.
It explained my failing pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, the constant abdominal cysts, the pain, the forgetfulness, the weight problems, the fatigue, the depression, the migraines, the life-threatening allergies, and it even explained why it seemed as if my body had tumors: the PAHs disrupted my endocrine system and made my body malfunction as if I had cancer. In my body, PAHs act like tumors.
People can debate the effects of pollution and endocrine disruption in humans as much as they want. I know the truth. I know it’s real, and I know I must live with it and suffer from it every day.
* The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (part of the CDC) released a Public Health Statement for PAHs because they’re a hazardous substance that may harm you.
* The EPA flagged 1,408 hazardous waste sites as the most serious in the nation. At least 600 of the sites on the NPL have PAHs and are potential or actual sources of human exposure.
* 42 of these sites are in Texas, and 18 are in the Houston-Galveston area.
* My town hosts one of the worst offenders, which ranks on the Toxic Release Inventory list.
I’d like to leave you with a few parting thoughts:
By allowing any amount of pollution, which is harmful to humans, we are asking citizens of the United States to endure harm.
In her book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson wrote in Chapter 2, The Obligation to Endure:
“There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.
When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.
It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”
If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”
That was forty-five years ago.
People in Houston seem to accept being sick, having terrible allergies, and high rates of cancer as normal. At some point, common became confused with normal. It’s not normal. It doesn’t have to be like this; it shouldn’t be.
When I moved to Houston three years ago, I was very healthy. Since moving here, I have had to endure increasingly bad health…due to pollution.
My doctor’s ultimate prescription is for me to move away.
Is this the future of our town and community? That people will have to move away to preserve their health? Their children’s health?
It seems a sad prognosis to me, for Houston.
Please tighten emission restrictions. Help us clean up our town so that it isn’t known as the most polluted city in the USA…the unhealthiest due to pollution.
Help keep the wonderful people who make it a great city right here, because they don’t have to choose between health and community.
We need the EPA for that…we need you to set strict limits, enforce them with a zero tolerance policy for noncompliers, and set limits that put the citizens and their health and future as the highest priority.
The truly inconvenient thing is that we are being asked to endure this pollution and its harmful effects on our health.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Note: And think of me in the morning as I present this. For locals, here is the information:
The EPA is coming to Houston on November 27 to hold a public hearing on NESHAP (National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants). It will be the only one of its kind in the country. The hearing will provide an opportunity to formally ask the EPA to set fair standards, so that families living close to the refineries can have a chance to breathe cleaner air.
The hearing will be held at the Hartman Park Community Center, 9311 Avenue P. The hearing will begin at 9 am and continue until 9 pm or later, if needed, with meal breaks at 12:30 and 2:00 pm.
(That's the Pasadena/Galena Park/Ship Channel area.)
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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