LAMENT but are we ABLE to do whats required next, history says No!
There has always been danger on earth from the dinosaurs, Saber-toothed tigers and quicksand to fast rivers and steep cliffs. We can’t take the blame for everything nor avoid all dangers but since the earliest days of humans on this lonely planet and discovering new ways improve their lives, we have unintentionally added new hazards. These are not always obvious to us at the time but have taken many years to become apparent and either be ‘covered up’ or exposed by the greater good.
In recent years and in particular since the Industrial Revolution, there are many instances or conflicts between the interests of the large companies that have introduced profitable new materials or technologies and the welfare of the general public.
Consider the dilemma, a new product that has been introduced, is selling well and has proved to be profitable, it may even be producing some short-term benefits, however there are signals that some serious harm to either the user or the environment may be associated with the product.
The large companies marketing the product will (we hope at least) investigate the claims, however if they find in conclusion that the issues may be significant and with no obvious, low cost, solution they are most likely to try and cover up.
Current examples of this phenomenon include in the Electronics world mobile phones and many Narcotic products.
Even before we discuss a relatively few examples, this article is not intended to be scare mongering or alarmist or even a paper to be used as evidence or example but to simply highlight our main goals which to advise, consider and raise some well needed questions and solutions.
Here are 3 examples of products which over time were found to be of a lethal nature and were at first denied but are now generally regarded as potential killers.
Lead was one of the first metals exploited by humans. The ancient Greeks, and then the Romans, used it for many purposes, including dishes, water and wine pitchers and water pipes. Its toxic aspect was not immediately recognised but serious problems were documented almost two thousand years ago. (This timeline we will see again)
Lead is toxic to the nervous system, bones, and to many organs including the heart, kidneys, and intestines. While early users of certain products suffered to some degree, the principal victims were miners and workers continuously exposed to it in various forms.
During the late nineteenth century, lead became an important ingredient in many kinds of paint, including house-paint. This exposed many people, including employees of paint manufacturers, and house painters.
Although lead paint was finally banned in the 70’s, it continues to be a problem due to the legacy of old residential buildings in which it was used. Children are still harmed, for example by dust on floors of apartments being renovated. Acute doses of lead, such as are encountered by workers in certain occupations, can be fatal. But even very low levels of lead in the blood can measurably degrade mental capacity and even cause behavioural problems. Other harmful effects include cardiovascular disease and stroke.
A Rhode Island civil court recently entered a verdict against three paint manufacturers that may open the floodgates of litigation throughout the USA.
The court found three paint manufacturers liable for creating a public nuisance by selling lead paint in the state. The result left the paint industry stunned, the trial bar elated, and consumers with the possibility of removing decades-old toxic lead paint from their homes.
Asbestos is a common mineral with a number of very useful properties. Some are excellent electrical and thermal insulators, and are highly resistant to heat and fire. Asbestos generally is in the form of high tensile strength fibres. In the time of the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, asbestos was mined and used to weave cloth for such applications as towels, napkins, carpets, and some forms of clothing.
Starting in the nineteenth century, the uses of asbestos expanded greatly. Applications included building insulation, pipe insulation in buildings and ships, interior fire doors, electrical insulation in hot plates and electric irons, automotive brake linings and clutches, acoustic ceilings, gaskets, and fireproof clothing for firefighters.
As youngster, I remember those long hauls in the car with parents both smoking and the environment at that time and having to breath in smoke was crazy to me but for some reason, older people found that, after enduring the initial discomfort, they get a lot of pleasure out of tobacco smoke. Eventually, for many, this pleasure becomes an addiction. Fortunately, nobody has a craving to inhale asbestos fibers, and ingesting lead dust is also not habit forming.
The tobacco industry systematically fought, and continues to fight, to obscure and to suppress information about the harm caused by smoking. They employed high-powered public relations firms to orchestrate advertising campaigns that featured actors portraying physicians endorsing such innovations as cigarette filters (at least one made with asbestos!).
They co-opt scientists via research grants and consulting, and lecturing fees to write articles casting doubt on work exposing various deleterious effects of smoking.
Using their leverage as advertisers (before such advertising was banned) they exerted influence on the mass media to play down reports unfavourable to their cause and to feature material questioning the validity of research linking smoking to various diseases. They use political contributions and lobbyists to enlist politicians on their side.
They subsidized the formation and operation of bogus public-interest groups to oppose the passage of laws such as those restricting smoking in public areas. Over a period of many decades they pioneered these and other techniques that have been refined further and are being used by producers of many other harmful products.
Mould and Fungus have existed since (depending on which camp you are in) either the big bang or since God created Earth however the facts remain that we need mould and fungus for the worlds eco system to survive and thrive.
What we do not need, is to create conditions for it to thrive in our Indoor spaces and in a similar way to Lead, Tobacco and Asbestos we recognise its potential harm and BUT solutions to deal with it have been few and far between until now.
As with Lead it was recognised around two thousand years ago and it is even recorded in the Bible as a condition to cause a house to be demolished and taken away to an unclean place.
To compare a natural occurrence to that of Tobacco may seem a stretch however what we see today is a well-recognised cover up by Governmental departments, large property owners Insurers and lobbyist to produce naysayers and refusal to tackle any issues. With us all in acceptance of the facts that Mould can ‘make your Asthma worse’ we rarely look further than this and consider the other harmful effects or symptoms of the mycotoxins affect on our Immune system.
With greater than 400,000 species of Moulds or Fungus there are 'at present' 6 identified as harmful in the indoor environment. However these are all ever present in a property and can easily propagate where there is an environmental condition to allow so i.e. high moisture and a food source.
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As with all the above obviously examples (Lead, Asbestos, Tobacco & Mould), death is the most dramatic outcome but far more people lead lives of misery due to severely damaged lungs that make each breath a struggle. The resulting weakness doubtless leads to many deaths attributed to other causes, such as heart disease.
What can we learn from the history of lead, asbestos and tobacco? All three products are very useful, the first two in a variety of practical ways, the third as a source of pleasure. As a consequence, they became big profit sources for large corporations. In each case, an individual user is not likely to experience any immediate problems indicative of serious long-term harm. This can be clearly established only via careful research and large-scale studies.
Those with the most information and expertise required to carry out such investigations are generally affiliated with the companies producing and selling the products. But identifying basic problems with products doing very well in the market place is not in the short-term interest of a company.
So, instead of trying to identify and where possible, remedy serious product problems, the natural response of an organisation is to deny the existence of the problem and try to prevent others from learning about and publicising them.
As mentioned above, tobacco companies developed many basic techniques for this purpose decades ago, and these have since been refined and expanded by corporations in other fields, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. For example, prominent physicians and scientists are lavishly paid by pharmaceutical companies to support their products in various ways, including the ghost writing of articles in scientific journals.
An obvious role of government is to protect the public and workers against such harm but as corporations have strengthened their control of government, this role has been steadily eroded. Budgets of such agencies have been kept so low that their staffs are far too small.
Politically appointed administrators often discourage overly enthusiastic professionals from taking their work too seriously. The laws under which regulatory agencies operate often restrict their power to the point where they cannot effectively carry out their missions.
The weakening of regulatory agencies has been taking place as the proliferation of new technology makes their work ever more important. At the same time, big corporations have been refining their techniques for circumventing the residual efforts of the weakened agencies.