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Green Intelligence

Green Intelligence: Creating Environments That Protect Human Health

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Green Intelligence
    Book Description:

    We live in a world awash in manmade chemicals, from the pesticides on our front lawns to the diesel exhaust in the air we breathe. Although experts are beginning to understand the potential dangers of these substances, there are still more than 80,000 synthetic compounds that have not been sufficiently tested to interpret their effects on human health. Yale University professor John Wargo has spent much of his career researching the impact of chemical exposures on women and children. In this book, he explains the origins of society's profound misunderstanding of everyday chemical hazards and offers a practical path toward developing greater "green intelligence."

    Despite the rising trend in environmental awareness, information about synthetic substances is often unavailable, distorted, kept secret, or presented in a way that prevents citizens from acting to reduce threats to their health and the environment. By examining the histories of five hazardous technologies and practices, Wargo finds remarkable patterns in the delayed discovery of dangers and explains the governments' failures to manage them effectively. Sobering yet eminently readable, Wargo's book ultimately offers a clear vision for a safer future through prevention, transparency, and awareness.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15638-6
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    One unexpected side effect of twentieth-century prosperity has been a change in the chemistry of the human body. Each day most people are exposed to thousands of chemicals in mixtures that were never experienced by previous generations. Many of these substances are recognized by the governments of the United States and European Union to be carcinogens, neurotoxins, reproductive and developmental toxins, or endocrine disruptors that mimic or block human hormones. In 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began testing human tissue among populations across the country to detect the presence of environmental contaminants, and reported that...


    • CHAPTER ONE Perfecting the Art of Terror
      (pp. 3-18)

      On April 8, 1951, dignitaries sat in Adirondack lawn chairs at the Officers’ Beach Club Patio, near the shore of Runit Island in the Pacific Ocean. Dressed in light summer clothing and darkened ski goggles, they waited patiently, staring out to sea. Precisely at 10:00 A.M., a blinding white light filled the sky, followed by a yellow and red fireball that lifted a fiery swirling cloud behind it. The force of the explosion pulled millions of tons of water, mud, and plant and animal life into the atmosphere, turning much of it into fine radioactive particles and mist. At its...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Strontium-90 Odyssey
      (pp. 19-39)

      Early in 1955, following the Bravo nuclear test, John Bugher chaired a secret meeting convened by the Atomic Energy Commission. Scientists had gathered to review the effects of the first thermonuclear bomb tests in the Pacific, and Bugher’s opening comments conveyed a sense of urgency. “The picture we had two years ago of being able to continue in a reasonable measured pace with respect to problems in environmental contamination has obviously not been possible to maintain. That is, events have overtaken us, and we must [accelerate our work;] weapons have taken an enormous leap in energy release during the intervening...

    • CHAPTER THREE Experiments on Humans
      (pp. 40-59)

      When general leslie groves asked the DuPont Corporation to become the primary contractor for the Hanford Works nuclear weapons production facility, Walter Carpenter, the company’s president, hesitated and then demanded that a $20 million claims fund be established to protect against unforeseeable radiation-induced harm to workers. Carpenter eventually accepted the challenge with that caveat and two others: that the company be indemnified by the U.S. government and that the facility be located in a remote area, “for safety’s sake . . . because of unknown and unanticipated factors.”¹

      When the project began, the technology was so young and poorly understood...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Nuclear Accidents
      (pp. 60-74)

      On October 10, 1957, farmers and townspeople in the rural village of Yottenfews, England, were confused and alarmed when nearly 3,000 workers from the nearby Windscale power plant suddenly appeared, commandeered their trucks and cars, and formed a caravan that steadily but quickly evacuated the area. Nearly ten years earlier the British government had built the Windscale facility to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, modeled after the Hanford, Washington, enrichment site. The air-cooled Windscale reactor had overheated and was venting radioactive iodine and uranium into the atmosphere from its 440-foot stack. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had cautioned the U.S. Army...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Sowing Seeds of Protest
      (pp. 77-94)

      In 1941, Radames Tirado was eight years old and living on the island of Vieques, off the east coast of Puerto Rico. His father built and repaired ox-drawn carts used by the island’s sugar companies to haul bundles of cane to local mills, where they were crushed for their juice. Radames, along with his seven brothers and four sisters, lived in the small village of Resolución, on the northern side of the island. The children often walked or rode horses to the beaches, where they would swim and dive for conch or lobster in the waters near shore, or search...

    • CHAPTER SIX Ravaging Landscapes and Seacoasts
      (pp. 95-105)

      The Navy fully intended to build an Atlantic version of Pearl Harbor on the triangle defined by Ceiba on the Puerto Rican mainland and the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The two islands offered the opportunity for staging mock military campaigns that demanded coordination among the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Army, often with participation of other nations in the NATO alliance. The Defense Department used Vieques as a practice and training site prior to actions in Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1961, Vietnam between 1965 and 1972, Santo Domingo in 1965, Chile in 1973, Granada in 1983, Panama in...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Mercury
      (pp. 106-125)

      In 2003, carmin ortiz-roque, an obstetrician in San Juan, Puerto Rico, led a study of the concentration of mercury among Puerto Rican women. She made a troubling discovery: women of childbearing age living on Vieques had mercury levels nearly nine times higher than their counterparts living in northeastern Puerto Rico, and nearly seven times higher than levels found in the United States. Ortiz-Roque reported that eleven of the forty-one Viequense women tested had levels of mercury “sufficient to cause neurological damage in their future children.” She then noted a correlation between mercury levels and fish intake, and that Viequense women...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Wasteland or Wilderness?
      (pp. 126-136)

      In 2001, president bush decided that the Navy should leave Vieques. His decision had grown in part from the islanders’ persistent and embarrassing protests, but he was also responding to a financially starved Congress and the expense of the impending war in Iraq. The federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission supported the recommendation for closing the entire Puerto Rican base known as Roosevelt Roads, which included Vieques. The base closure would reduce defense expenditures by nearly $300 million a year.

      Congress directed the Navy to transfer most of the base’s lands, assessed at $1.7 billion, to the U.S. Fish and...


    • CHAPTER NINE Capitalizing on Innocence
      (pp. 139-154)

      In february 1994, Cindy and Todd Ebling moved to the Prestwick Apartments complex in New Albany, Indiana, along with their two young children. At the time, Christina, age three, and Alex, only six months old, seemed healthy and active. Within several months of the move, however, both children began to experience a variety of health problems, including seizures. Their conditions worsened, leading to the hospitalization of Alex by October, and Christina by December.¹ Cindy recalled Alex’s early seizures: “First one I remember, AJ was in his walker and I thought he was choking; his teeth were gritted, his eyes watered...

    • CHAPTER TEN Without Warning
      (pp. 155-172)

      In 1999, five years after leaving the Prestwick Apartments, Christina Ebling was hospitalized again for yet another round of intense seizures. Also that year, Cindy Ebling, her mother, described Christina’s deteriorating condition to Jim Morris, a writer forU.S. News and World Report: “She’s gone downhill . . . I found her face-down in her eggs.” Morris himself noted, “Christie sat on her bed a few feet away, gaping at a visitor, drooling, and hooting as she struggled to assemble a simple puzzle,” and Todd Ebling, sadly recalling his daughter’s former intelligence and vitality, reported, “I have a hard time...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The DDT Dilemma
      (pp. 173-188)

      In 1972, William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the EPA, decided to ban the pesticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) twenty-seven years after it had been first sold. Ruckelshaus based his decision on convincing evidence that the pesticide harmed wildlife and caused cancer in laboratory animals. Rachel Carson was one of the first to express alarm over the effect of the chemical on wildlife: its use had pushed many species of large raptors, such as eagles and ospreys, near extinction. Anxiety grew primarily from DDT’s persistence and its tendency to increase in concentration as it moved up food chains from predator to predator,...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE What Is Acceptable Risk?
      (pp. 189-204)

      For nearly twenty-six years, the EPA was charged with balancing the economic benefits of pesticide use against their risks to health and environmental quality. During this period, it neglected the review of chemical mixtures, largely avoided product bans, slowed the pace of regulation, and sped the movement of new chemicals to the marketplace with incomplete testing. Some of these outcomes grew from the agency’s restricted budgets, insufficient statutory authority to limit risk, and incomplete knowledge. But the EPA routinely has been slow to react to scientific consensus that pesticide risks are greater than earlier believed.

      The EPA has had successes:...


    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Airborne Menace
      (pp. 207-219)

      Nearly 86 percent of the world’s energy is derived from fossil fuels, or hydrocarbons found in the earth. The combustion of oil, gas, diesel, natural gas, fuel oil, and coal is responsible for most of the nation’s outdoor air pollution problem. Two-thirds of all petroleum in the United States is used to move vehicles, while producing a highly diverse mixture of hazardous contaminants including particulates, ozone, nitrogen oxides, and volatile “air toxics” such as benzene. Adding to the hazard are emissions from incinerators, construction equipment, coal-fired power plants that generate electricity, two-stroke engines such as motorcycles and lawn mowers, and...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Who Is Most at Risk?
      (pp. 220-229)

      Air pollution now kills more Americans than breast and prostate cancers combined, and about as many people die premature deaths associated with particulate matter pollution as are killed in traffic accidents. Fine airborne particles are responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year.¹ At special risk are tens of millions of Americans who suffer from serious illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and lung cancer—as well as children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and those with certain genetic traits. Also during the past decade, scientists have...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Trouble with Diesel
      (pp. 230-240)

      The centers for disease control and Prevention estimated in 2007 that more than 6 million children under the age of eighteen, or 9 percent of all children in the nation, have asthma, now the most prevalent chronic disease among the young. Although children make up only 25 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of all asthma cases occur in children. Nearly 160,000 children are hospitalized for asthma annually; in fact, it is the primary reason that children living in urban areas are admitted to the hospital.¹ A 2002 study estimated the costs of pediatric asthma attributable to environmental contaminants...


    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Forgotten Lessons
      (pp. 243-263)

      The primary antagonists in these histories of nuclear weapons testing, military training, pesticides, and diesel emissions have been large public and private institutions: the Departments of Defense and the Interior; the USDA, EPA, and FDA; and major chemical companies. All have played powerful roles in shaping our nation’s chemical environment. Further, despite the very different types of risk posed in each case, there are striking similarities or patterns in how threats to the environment and to human health were discovered and either addressed or ignored. What are these lessons, and how might they guide government policymakers, corporate officials, and consumers...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Quiet Revolution in Plastics
      (pp. 264-282)

      The north pacific subtropical gyre, a slow-moving current in the Pacific Ocean that swirls in an enormous clockwise spiral, has collected two large masses of plastic trash now twice the size of Texas, one between Japan and Hawaii and the other between Hawaii and California. In coastal regions, discarded plastics that are not recycled, land-filled, or incinerated often find their way into streams, rivers, and eventually the seas, where currents have quietly collected them in remote areas of the ocean. Plastic by one estimate now constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world’s oceans. Although many types of...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Green Intelligence
      (pp. 283-294)

      I began this book wondering whether government will ever have the capacity and will to protect society from dangerous levels of pollution and commercial chemicals. My primary conclusion is that environmental risks are usually poorly understood by society at large, and neglected by states, corporations, and individuals.

      The central problem is widespread public misunderstanding of the presence and danger of chemicals in everyday environments. Innocent acceptance of chemical mixtures into our lives has led to preventable exposures and serious loss of health. The histories of strontium-90, iodine-131, DDT, chlorpyrifos, mercury, diesel exhaust, and plastic resins provide different examples of what...

    (pp. 295-301)

    The legal reforms outlined earlier describe how our nation could provide greater protection for all children and their families. Progress on these initiatives, however, is likely to be incremental. Meanwhile, there are ways you can reduce your personal exposure to some dangers by strategically changing what you buy, how you use it, and how you live your daily life.

    Your exposure to contaminants depends not only on the presence of hazardous chemicals in your environment, but also on your behavior. Consuming large quantities of just a few types of food, indiscriminately using pesticides, commuting in congested traffic, and driving a...

    (pp. 302-304)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 305-356)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 357-371)