If – after a huge scientific study – you learned the area around the Great Lakes was so toxic as to cause:
low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
a) tell everyone you knew
b) tell everyone you knew and – through media – you didn’t know
c) try and get the hell out of the blighted area
d) tell no one – and cover the whole thing up.
e) answers a-c above
OK – time to do a little scoring, class.
(sigh – not that sort of scoring, folks. Spring is coming, but save it for after class)
Now for the answers:
a) – good for you for protecting the folks you know – giving them the chance to decide what’s best for them.
b) – even better…you’re looking out for the whole community
c) – high marks for self-preservation; not so much with altruism. (selfish wanker)
d) – oh…you must work for the CDC.
Now what’s the CDC? Well, they’re the Centers For Disease Control: the Federal Agency charged with sniffing out new disease outbreaks (and recognizing when old diseases return in new visits).
Oh – and they’re also charged with telling other docs – and everyone else – that something down the block…or across the Lakes…is killing us.
The CDC is the nation’s – and often the world’s – medical Sherlock Holmes. The name for what their sleuths do is epidemiology, which is basically understanding how diseases move through populations. Ideally, the understanding comes pretty quick -especially with deadly diseases.
Having a really quick report on a deadly disease – or set of diseases – moving through the public is A Good Thing. Having a really slow report is A Bad Thing – because while we wait for the report, people keep dying.
This week Truthout carried news that:
Researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
For more than seven months, the nation’s top public health agency has blocked the publication of an exhaustive federal study of environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states, reportedly because it contains such potentially "alarming information" as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates.
The CDC – suppressing breaking public health news the nine million Great Lakes region needs to know?
Well, Sheila Kaplan and the good folks at the Center For Public Intergrity have the answer. According to the Center:
Canadian biologist Michael Gilbertson, a former IJC staffer and another of the three peer reviewers, told the Center that the study has been suppressed because it suggests that vulnerable populations have been harmed by industrial pollutants. “It’s not good because it’s inconvenient,” Gilbertson said. “The whole problem with all this kind of work is wrapped up in that word ‘injury.’ If you have injury, that implies liability. Liability, of course, implies damages, legal processes, and costs of remedial action. The governments, frankly, in both countries are so heavily aligned with, particularly, the chemical industry, that the word amongst the bureaucracies is that they really do not want any evidence of effect or injury to be allowed out there.”
OK – so some government docs sat on some study a bunch of DFH demanded and no one will ever read. No big deal, right?
Well, wrong. The study was a mammoth undertaking at the behest of the US and Canadian Governments:
The 400-plus-page study, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern, was undertaken by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent bilateral organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on the use and quality of boundary waters between the two countries. The study was originally scheduled for release in July 2007 by the IJC and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Well, what the hell? Just another boring nerd exercise – let’s go fishing and forget the whole thing – let the pocket protector people play.
Uh – not so fast, tacklehead.
Might want to know more about the toxic fish you’re carrying home to the kids. Might want to know if your kids are more likely to croak just cause of where you’ve chosen to live. And about nine million other people may want to know, too.
The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the study, which warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants. In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
Nice kettle of fish we have here.
Too bad they’re too toxic to eat.
But – hey – Big Test Tube is happy.
And if you’re the CDC leadership, you know who has the power – and, apparently, you don’t risk pissing them off. Not under the Bushies, anyway.
No matter how many people your secrets kill. Great work, docs.
But…uh…that whole "Better Living Through Chemistry" bit was just an industry slogan.
"First Do No Harm" is the healer’s ancient maxim.
Next time, how ’bout acting like physicians – not like ad men for Dow and Monsanto.