In no way do I want to diminish the importance of confronting and halting the coronavirus. However, there is something scarier than the coronavirus. There is something scarier than coronavirus and all other infectious diseases, AIDS, malaria, and the common flu that alone kills tens of thousands annually. There is something scarier than the coronavirus and all the infectious diseases and all the violent deaths from war, homicides and suicides.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what is scarier than the coronavirus and all infectious diseases and all violent deaths is something we are doing too little about and too late. It is also something that is contributing to the deaths from the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Scarier Than the Corona Virus
In a report, March 6th, 2020, from the EWG (Environmental Working Group), “After decades of inaction, the EPA finally announced plans to regulate two of the most toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water. … The EPA has known for decades that these chemicals pose serious health risks, and analysis from the Environmental Working Group has revealed that PFAS contamination may affect more than 110 million Americans.“
Did you catch that? One hundred ten MILLION Americans affected by PFA’s (short for perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl substances). 110,000,000 is that numerically. And in another report, “research associating PFAS with a long list of health problems: Various forms of cancer, including testicular and kidney cancer. Pregnancy-induced hypertension/pre-eclampsia. Liver damage. Increased cholesterol levels. Increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals,” a family of potentially thousands of synthetic chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and in our bodies. PFA’s are persistent and accumulate in body tissues, making them extremely difficult to get rid of and allowing them to go on doing damage for years.
Comparison with COVID-19
The COVID– 19 virus, on the other hand, can be washed away with soap and water. We can kill it with alcohol and other antiseptics. Those affected by it who are less at risk of dying, may actually develop immunity to it. A vaccine may even be available for it at some time in the future. There is no vaccine that can protect anyone from PFA’s. Eliminating the virus is possible. Eliminating PFA’s from the environment is costly and difficult, more so than the known means of eliminating a virus.
So let that sink in. Then consider television and radio daily newscasts devoted almost entirely to “Breaking News” on the latest death and confirmed positive tests of the hundreds of thousands of people, and close to ten thousand deaths from COVID-19. This is a fraction of the number of people who died every year from exposure to toxins in the environment.
Not that I wish to diminish any of those deaths. I do hope the virus does not reach proportions approaching those of even this one group of deathly dangerous chemicals. However, there would need to be over 100 times the deaths from COVID — 19 to come close to the deaths caused by PFA’s. And PFA’s account for only a fraction of deaths incurred by exposure to other environmental toxins.
The novel coronavirus will eventually die out, may mutate to something more benign or possibly more deadly. Whatever it does, we have ways to protect ourselves from it and to minimize our risk of death from the virus. Many more of us may get sick, just as we get sick from the common cold or flu. We spend a few days in misery. Once we get better that fades from memory. Then we get on with our daily lives.
Just One Among Many
Meanwhile, PFA’s continue to proliferate. They are just one set of many compounds that have been unleashed by the petrochemical industry on the global ecosystem that will never “go away.” Not only that, companies that became very wealthy producing and selling those poisons are getting off without any responsibility for cleaning up their mess.
We have learned the virus is especially deadly in people with underlying disease conditions. Many of those conditions, including cancers, lung disease, even diabetes and high blood pressure often result from environmental factors allowed to poison our planet and our own bodies for far too long. These are all conditions for which we can only treat the symptoms. The only cure for the cause is to eliminate the poisons infecting the planetary ecosystem.
All of the focus on pollution does not even come close to considering the impact of unremitting climate change. This crisis has dropped out of the news cycle entirely. Instead, our attention has been drawn to the fear of this infectious disease. Meanwhile, a report in Forbes points out reductions in carbon emissions from so many of the workforce sheltering in place.
Lessons from Reductions
Closer to home, I noticed just this last week the treat of days of sunshine in the Pacific Northwest has not resulted in air too thick to see the blue sky. A reduction of commuter pollution may provide a reduction in greenhouse gases, at least for the short term. People are emerging from their homes during the day. We are getting to know our neighbors, albeit from a “social distance” keeping us safer from the virus. All our united efforts to curb the spread of this viral scourge may prove educational. We can use our power of collective action to turn the tide on climate catastrophe as well. It is worth some thought, while we wonder what to do with unfamiliar ways of living our daily lives.