"We all live in the same chemical neighborhood"

Posted on

Here’s a remarkable piece — Ruth Rosen’s latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle. To grasp it fully, however, non-San Francisco Bay Area residents need to understand what Bolinas, California is. For which I offer this small set of prefatory remarks from yours truly:

From childhood, I’ve been a bird watcher. My best friend and I used to sneak out to Central Park in New York City, which sits right smack dab on the Atlantic flyway and where, during migration season you can still see 15-20 different kinds of warblers, tiny gems of birds, in full mating plumage on a single good day (and maybe a couple of dazzling Scarlet Tanagers thrown in for the bargain). Of course, in the late 1950s, before the Sibley bird guides and fancy bird feeders were everywhere, and birding had become a boom industry, for a teenage boy to go look at birds was a dirty little secret, the sort of thing that could ruin your life among your peers. Well, the secret never slipped out, not at least until the world caught up with me, and I’ve never lost the joy I find in birding.

I suppose I’m already making a short story long, but the area around the small, once hippie-ish, now upscale town of Bolinas, less than two hours out of San Francisco, has the look of a rural paradise and Bolinas lagoon is filled with a host of fabulous ducks and pelicans, and willets, and avocets, and stilts, and egrets, not to speak of seals galore. (Let’s ignore the fact that on my first visit out there in the early 1970s, I mistook a humble surf scoter for a tufted puffin…) There are no factories, no industrial combines, nothing but your basic health food stores, upscale inns and the like.

So to discover — see Rosen’s piece below — that residents of Bolinas, leading the good life, are in fact walking toxic waste dumps, chemical stews, and that one resident who was recently tested had traces of 101 industrial toxins in his body, not including arsenic and mercury, is sobering to say the very least. Imagine what residents living near petrochemical, downscale Richmond in the Bay Area have in their systems, or residents of the near toxic city of El Paso toward which I’m flying today.

About a year ago Bill Moyers, a brave voice on public television, took was tested by the same group for a fine show he was doing on industrial pollutants with similarly startling results. To view a chart of the 84 pollutants found in Moyers’ body at the very interesting website mentioned in the piece below click here If I might add anything to Rosen’s account it would only be this: We already know, or suspect, that these industrial toxins are individually bad for us, but of course we have not the slightest idea what happens when they mix it up in the industrial soups which are now our bodies.

We are, it turns out, walking, unmonitored lab experiments for corporate America, which now has the government of its dreams in place. This is the sort of discovery that should lead to massive government testing and monitoring not only of our environment, but of the companies that turn us into lab rats and yet, of course, we’re moving in the very opposite direction. Perhaps there’s the faintest satisfaction in knowing that the people who are doing this to us evidently can’t help but inflict the same on their own bodies, no matter what kind of gated and guarded communities they retire to each night. Tom

Polluted bodies
By Ruth Rosen
February 3, 2003
San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle

When Michael Lerner volunteered to give blood and urine samples to medical researchers, he figured they’d only find a few chemicals in his body. After all, Lerner, the president and founder of Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in Marin County, has lived in Bolinas for 20 years, eaten a healthy diet and avoided exposure to industrial chemicals.

He was wrong. Researchers found his body polluted with 101 industrial toxins and penetrated by elevated levels of arsenic and mercury.

Scientists call such contamination a person’s “body burden.”

Lerner was one of nine people — five of whom live and work in the Bay Areas — who were tested for 210 chemicals commonly found in consumer products and industrial pollution. Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the Environmental Working Group of Oakland and Washington, and Commonweal collaborated on this innovative study of the body burden.

To read more Rosen click here