By Sarah Lovinger
I have been thinking about environmental toxins a lot lately. From the nuclear accident in Fukushima Japan to the 25th anniversary of the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl to my own work as part of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition — a group of 50 nonprofits working to clean up or shut down Chicago’s deadly and dangerous coal-fired power plants — I am becoming more and more aware that we are all constantly exposed to toxic chemicals and radiation. How much exposure endangers our health? The answer to that question depends on whom you ask.
I’m a wife and mother, so I ask that question in order to do what I can to protect my family. I am also a primary care physician and the director of the Chicago chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing what we cannot cure. If the levels of radiation emitted in the above-ground testing of nuclear weapons (now universally banned) could increase disease — particularly cancer — rates, shouldn’t your physician know about this? If nuclear accidents in one country sent billowing clouds of radioactive waste half-way around the world and landed in the soil where a grazing cow was busy producing milk that your child would some day drink, shouldn’t public health officials know about this risk? If many U.S. farmers applied the weed killer atrazine — a proven endocrine disrupter — to their land every spring, and the runoff ended up in drinking water all across our country and babies, children and adults drank water putting them at higher risk of subsequent infertility and prostate cancer, shouldn’t the medical community be aware of this and take action to restrict the use of this widespread chemical?