Sustainable Disparity

by Jan Baughman

September 9, 2002


West Nile virus is yet another among all of the threats we're faced with today. You may think of New York when you think of West Nile virus, but particularly hard hit are the sultry Delta states, Louisiana and Mississippi. Louisiana has had 222 cases, with 9 deaths. Mississippi has had 119 cases and 3 deaths. The count for New York is 16 and 2.

On Sunday, September 1, 2002 The New York Times published an article on the plight of the Mississippi Delta in the face of WNV. The accompanying photograph was that of about six young boys, perhaps 8 to 12 years of age, running with smiles on their faces in a mist of fog behind a flatbed truck. There's a man in the back of the truck, the foreground of the photo, with a mask over his face, his hand on the valve of the spraying equipment. The caption reads: "In Rosedale, Miss., children frolicking in the fog of pesticide sprayed regularly to control mosquitoes."

Children frolicking in the fog of pesticide spray.

If you're dealt the Rosedale, Mississippi card, you'll grow up in a county where 35% of the children live in poverty, 27% of the residents have less than a 9th grade education, the median household income is $14,727, and your children can frolic in pesticides. The frolicking children in the photograph are African-American, as are 69% of Rosedale residents.

If you're dealt the Long Island card you may find yourself in Suffolk County, New York, where only 3% are African American and 12% of the children live in poverty and the per capita income is $30,330 because only 8% have only a high school diploma. And if you're a woman in Long Island, you might be concerned that your risk of breast cancer is increased because of exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals, contaminated drinking water, indoor and ambient air pollution, electromagnetic fields and/or hazardous and municipal waste. Because of this concern, in 1993 Congress mandated a study and the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project was funded with $29 million to evaluate environmental risk factors for breast cancer.

Let me backtrack and add that the incidence of breast cancer (number of cases per 100,000 women) is 114.3 in the US as a whole and 118.2 in Suffolk County and 115.6 in Nassau County, Long Island.

In August 2002 National Cancer Institute scientists announced that no causal relationship was found between the four toxins evaluated and breast cancer.

The breast cancer advocacy group 1 in 9 "urges caution when reading the study's results and urges the National Cancer Institute and the New York State Department of Health to launch a more comprehensive study looking at existing toxins, synergistic properties, and most importantly, the link between breast and other cancers, the environment, DNA and genetics." More studies, more millions.

1 in 9 also has a position on West Nile virus. "While 1 in 9 generally supports actions that help protect human health, we are concerned about New York State's current policy on solving the mosquito/West Nile Virus problem. Right now, counties in New York State receive funding from Albany to spray pesticides, but receive no funding to implement less-harmful alternatives which were recommended by the Department of Health. ...DDT and other pesticides used in years past and once hailed as magic potions were eventually linked to increases in cancer and other fatal disorders. We cannot afford to take such risks again with potentially toxic pesticides, especially when current aerial spraying programs are of questionable effectiveness, and less-harmful alternatives are available." Laura Weinberg of the Great Neck [New York] Breast Cancer Coalition said, "Since there is a body of evidence that links certain pesticides to cancer and hormone disruption, the use of highly toxic pesticides for frivolous reasons is indefensible."

Frolicking in the fog of pesticide spray must fall in the category of "frivolous."

If you were dealt a card that landed you outside of the Western world, you'd live in a place where a third of all children are undernourished, where a billion people suffer from malnutrition, where 17 million people die per year from preventable diseases (the types of infectious diseases that you and I are vaccinated against, or get treatment for, without giving it a thought), where diseases from polluted water kill 12 million children per year and 20% breathe air polluted beyond World Health Organization standards.

In the West, we have the money and the inclination to spend millions attempting to disprove a negative, and turn a cheek to those being starved and poisoned around us. The world looks at the US in disdain because of our dismissive attitude toward the environment, poverty, and starvation; while the world was attending a summit on sustainable development we were planning more war. But there is one thing we can't be accused of being, and that is hypocrites. We turn a cheek toward our own, too.

Just look at Rosedale and those cute boys frolicking in the fog of pesticide spray.

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References and Resources

West Nile Virus case count

Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project

1 in 9

Population zappers


Jan Baughman is a scientist in the Biotech Industry. When Jan does not travel around the world on behalf of the company where she manages a clinical research department, she spends most of her time devouring books like candies and relaxing over the preparation of the finest recipes in Northern California. She started writing at a very young age when she found this mode of expression easier than having to answer the perpetually boring and conservative chit-chat around her. Jan's sense of observation is directly related to her sense of humor. She is a founding member and co-editor of Swans, and brings to the site wit and a lightness of being.

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Published September 9, 2002
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