How far have we progressed in the fight against pollution? In some areas, astounding cleanup took place in the 1970s. You could breathe the air without distress. In rivers once declared dead, fish returned. But at the same time that limited progress occurred in reducing some types of pollution, scientists are only now aware that we humans pollute our environment differently than a few generations ago. In the last five decades significant changes have occurred in the types of pollution produced. Late 20th-century man endures pollution that was not experienced by former generations. Think of these facts. Since The Plain Truth began chronicling world events in 1934, chemists developed pesticides, herbicides, plastics, synthetic food additives, drugs — thousands of chemicals resulting in toxic waste: Thanks to human desire for comfort and pleasure, these chemicals and their noxious side effects are now engulfing our society! Electric utilities, petroleum refining, mechanized agriculture and food processing all use chemicals, resulting in toxic waste. Unlike smokestack pollution or filth-ridden rivers, many new forms of chemical pollution remain undetected. Decades may elapse before a problem arises. Exposure to deadly chemicals is often insidious — sometimes with fatal results only showing up years later.
The Big Change
Before 1934 chemical pollution affecting individuals usually originated from contamination on the job — lead poisoning in mines and smelters, or black lung in coal miners — and was limited to the area of production. Today as many as 1,000 new chemical formulas come on the market every year. Around 35,000 of the 50,000 chemicals now available on the U.S. market, for example, have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as either definitely or potentially hazardous to human health. And some that are banned in the U.S. are legal in other countries, and vice versa. For relatively few of these chemical compounds do scientists know the long-term effects on health or at what levels they cause health problems. Many man-made chemicals cannot be broken down naturally and will be toxic and dangerous for hundreds, some even thousands of years. Few realize how profoundly chemical development has impacted man's environment.
Our Chemical Environment
When the surge of synthetic chemical compounds first developed, global chemical and toxic waste disposal tended to be haphazard and carelessly done. Manufacturers did not realize at that time they were dumping substances that could find their way into the water supply or combine with other elements to become hazardous. Deadly mixtures of chemicals were carted off to municipal dumps or placed in drums and buried or mixed with garbage, or dumped into the nearest sewer, stream or lake. These hazardous wastes — some dating from 40 years ago — now have come back to haunt us. Chemicals leach into water supplies, rivers, even the oceans, or evaporate into the air. Declared one health official, "Toxic waste will be the major environmental and public health problem facing the U.S. [and we must add, other nations] in the '90s." Twenty years or more can elapse between the first exposure to the chemical and the onset of cancer. Consider this: Whole cities have at times been drinking from contaminated wells where toxic wastes ate their way out of the sides of drums and then seeped into the water supply. Physicians may not notice symptoms for decades. Then tragedy strikes! Who knows what problems our children face because of continual exposure to low detection level toxic waste?
What a dilemma. Man in his desire for prosperity created a Frankenstein monster. In his quest for greater comfort and convenience, for more speed and improved health, man developed chemicals resulting in toxic waste and unsuspected side effects. Almost no one at first considered the ramifications to society and future generations. The ancient prophet graphically foretold our day: "The earth is drooping, withering... and the sky wanes with the earth; for earth has been polluted by the dwellers on its face.... Therefore a curse is crushing the earth, alighting on its guilty folk; mortals are dying off, till few are left" (Isa. 24:4-6, Moffatt trans.). The let's-have-it-now philosophy threatens the future generation. Only after a particular horror appears do humans begin to consider the consequences of what they have invented. This is the way of selfishness and self-centeredness. It's time to recognize man's limited wisdom, his careless planning, and acknowledge that the whole fabric of society needs changing. It is time chemical companies and chemical consumers become concerned with causes and effects. Think before using chemicals around the home. We should ask ourselves, "Do I really need to use this chemical? Will it harm my family?" Educate yourself to alternatives — using biodegradable products — instead of using potentially hazardous chemical compounds. It is time we all begin to be concerned for the health and welfare of others and not just ourselves. A further delay and it may be too late to save humanity from the consequences of increasing chemical pollution!