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Health effects of long term pollutant exposure – A known unknown?: Part I

Posted on May 24th, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

In his 1973 book, “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”, the German born economist E. F. Schumacher stated:

“No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation….”

The “substances” Schumacher was referring to were the radioactive waste products generated by the nuclear power industry. We will discuss the nuclear power industry and the background and implications of the full Schumacher quote at another time. Nevertheless, this quote equally applies to the great number of highly toxic chemical pollutants realeased into the environment on a daily basis through human activities. And as they have also not been “made safe” before release, they pose a potential threat to our health and wellbeing. Rather than accepting responsibility for cleaning up our messes, we either rely on nature to make them “safe” for us or hope we are diluting them enough to make them safe by dumping them into something as large as a river or ocean: The “Dilution is the solution to pollution” approach. Certainly, many of the toxic chemicals from industrial and agricultural waste products are gradually degraded into less toxic materials by nature, either through chemical processes, like heat, light and UV radiation, or through the action of microorganisms in the soil or water. But is it really this simple? Read the rest of this entry »

Fukushima – A Warning

Posted on May 2nd, 2011 by Stephen Hardy | No Comments | Print | RSS

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 was a disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nightly the news showed images that looked like they had come from a Hollywood disaster movie. But these images were real, affecting real people and devastating real lives.

Japan is a proud and resilient nation. They will rebuild; they have done it before. In time and with human effort and commitment, life will return to normal. Or will it? The earthquake and tsunami of March 11 is fundamentally different to any disaster Japan has suffered before. It is fundamentally different because none of the previous disasters caused a leak in a nuclear power plant, releasing radiation to contaminate the environment. As a result, there may well be large parts of Japan where life can never return, let alone return to normal.

I won’t discuss the wisdom of building nuclear reactors on the coast of an earthquake and tsunami prone country or whether we should embrace uranium and plutonium to satisfy our growing lust for energy. I’ll leave that topic for another time. What I want to talk about today is what the radioactive material leaking from the damaged Fukushima reactors means for living systems and public health. And I also want to talk about the mixed or downright misleading information coming from the mass media. Read the rest of this entry »