There was a great article in The New York Times back in February (I just found out about it) called “Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site?”
It talks about toxics in our bodies and in particular exposures to lead, but most importantly, the author gives a historical example of a public health change that worked.
Maybe, just maybe, the crisis in Flint can be used to galvanize a public health revolution.
In 1854, a British doctor named John Snow started such a revolution. Thousands were dying of cholera at the time, but doctors were resigned to the idea that all they could do was treat sick patients. Then Snow figured out that a water pump on Broad Street in London was the source of the cholera. The water company furiously rejected that conclusion, but Snow blocked use of the water pump, and the cholera outbreak pretty much ended.
Thousands were dying…a water pump was found to be the source…one man blocked the use of the water pump.
Oh how I wish I could block the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products!
A group of scholars, led by David L. Shern of Mental Health America, argue that the world today needs a new public health revolution focused on young children, parallel to the one mounted for sanitation after Snow’s revelations about cholera in 1854. Once again, we have information about how to prevent pathologies, not just treat them — if we will act.
The reason for a new effort is a vast amount of recent research showing that brain development at the beginning of life affects physical and mental health decades later. That means protecting the developing brain from dangerous substances and also from “toxic stress” — often a byproduct of poverty — to prevent high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs brain development.
A starting point of this public health revolution should be to protect infants and fetuses from toxic substances, which means taking on the companies that buy lawmakers to prevent regulation. Just as water companies tried to obstruct the 19th-century efforts, industry has tried to block recent progress.
Back in 1786, Benjamin Franklin commented extensively on the perils of lead poisoning, but industry ignored the dangers and marketed lead aggressively. In the 1920s, an advertisement for the National Lead Company declared, “Lead helps to guard your health,” praising the use of lead pipes for plumbing and lead paint for homes. And what the lead companies did for decades, and the tobacco companies did, too, the chemical companies do today.
Well, we here on this website are already having the revolution right here in our own homes. We all just need to make it more known.