Optimistic Futurist: We can protect workers and their children from harm

Published 1:06 am Sunday, November 2, 2014

By Francis Koster

Special to the Salisbury Post

The phrase “mad as a hatter” is falling into disuse. I suspect many of the kids wandering around with ear buds dangling think it refers to a character in “Alice in Wonderland.” They are wrong.

Back in the 18th century, top hats were made out of felt, which was rinsed, pressed and shaped using a rinse containing mercury.  The mercury entered the hat makers’ body little by little as they worked, causing what we would today call an occupation related illness — they went mad.

While “mad as a hatter” and the underlying cause have faded, it has been replaced in modern society by other ways people get damaged while working.

Back in the late 1960s, modern medicine told us so many people are in harm’s way due to things they work with that a law was passed in 1970 to protect workers. It is called the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Since creation of OSHA, worker deaths have been reduced 65 percent during a time when the workforce doubled. OSHA costs each citizen around a penny and a half a month.   

For all this progress, the full story is not being told. Uncounted are many health impacts caused today by chemicals not even known in 1970. These can damage the worker’s family more than they damage the employee.

First, we hurt innocent (often as yet unborn) people. Secondly, because the jobs where these chemicals are used tend to employ workers who are paid a low wage seasonally, we literally create a damaged permanent underclass who find it hard to find or hold a job again.

Good examples of this are in the fields of agriculture and lawn care.

Think about your recent wave “hello” to the familiar face of the neighbor’s lawn care guy.   

Chances are his kids have a higher rate of birth defects than other families.

In Denmark, a study collected information on 24,000 live births. They mixed 17,000 normal children, and over 7,000 children with birth defects. More than 6,000 of the birth defects cases had cryptorchidism (at birth, if a boy, some of the “man parts” are not descended where they can be seen, but are stuck up inside the body), and over 1,000 cases of hydrospadius (the male baby plumbing leaks in the wrong place). The researchers then studied the parents’ occupations.   

The researchers found much higher rates of birth defects among children of users of agriculture chemicals .

Here in the United States, evidence has been accumulating for decades.

Here is just one summary, drawn from a National Resources Defense Council report summarizing peer reviewed science:

“Mothers living in counties of high agricultural productivity or with high pesticide use were found to be at greater risk of giving birth to children with limb reduction defects than mothers living in areas of low agricultural productivity and low pesticide use.

“A study of pregnant women in Iowa and Michigan found an association between maternal exposure to multiple pesticides and an increased risk for cleft palate in offspring.

“A new study in Minnesota found a significantly increased rate of birth defects in the offspring of private pesticide applicators.”

As a result of our public policy, we create a new class of people that require extraordinary social support because of the damage done to them in the womb.

Over time, these victims may not have the mental capacity to work at modern jobs, or are damaged in ways that require extensive social support, and some percentage do things that result in expensive prison time.

If I gaze through a lens of a world where morality guides the way we construct society, we will remember the commandments that say we will not kill, or steal — even if it is cheaper.

But that is what poorly tested and regulated agriculture and lawn chemicals do.

You can take care of yourself and your families by increasing the amount of foods you eat that are labeled “organic” — not because they have more vitamins, but because they have less pesticides. You can stop using chemicals on your lawn, particularly around pregnant women.

Cities like Toledo, Ohio, distribute tips for their citizens on how to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals. You can make sure your local political jurisdictions don’t use chemicals around playgrounds, and you can help our local politicians imitate successful programs elsewhere.

To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.

Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis.