You can change the terms, you can change the allowable limits, you can do the risk assessment — all these things — but in the end, the fact is that you and I drink that water. You and I breathe that air. You and I live here.– Winona LaDuke
I am old enough to remember the time before the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Before environmental regulations had enough teeth to force industries to stop polluting and clean up the environment.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River fire. Yes, you read that correctly. The river was on fire.
The Cuyahoga was so polluted, it could not support life of any kind. It was brown, murky and devoid of even the slugworms and leeches that can tolerate significant amounts of pollution.
In 1969 the river, which contained a mixture of combustible hydrocarbons in extremely high concentrations, actually caught on fire and burned with enough gusto to nearly obliterate two railroad bridges which spanned it.
The Great Lakes were dead or dying, the Chesapeake Bay was filling with silt and contained several hypoxic zones, where there was not enough oxygen to support life, New York City dumped its sewage directly into the sea, and the notorious Love Canal, near Niagra Falls, was the repository of 21,000 tons of discarded toxic chemicals, including several known carcinogens.
Smog enveloped many cities, none more famously than Los Angeles, with a deadly haze of hydrocarbons and other pollutants. The air pollution in New York City was so bad, its iconic bridges were often invisible, and the toxic atmosphere in Donora, Pennsylvania actually caused the asphyxiation of 20 people. Thousands more were made ill, just from breathing.
Since the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts, the six most common air pollutants have been reduced by 50%. The number of waterways deemed suitable for fishing has risen by 12% and most of the 25 tests done to assess water quality have shown increases in the majority of locations tested.
Obviously, there has been an improvement over the last nearly 50 years, but there is a lot more work to be done to clean up God’s green earth. Simply put, we put a lot of bad stuff into our own nest.
The widespread implications of the need for environmental clean up hit home several years ago when a young man in my Honors Chemistry class wanted to do a science fair project concerning food allergies.
Now, this young man suffered severe life-threatening allergies to many different types of foods, including, but not limited to, dairy products and nuts. I agreed to allow him to do the project he wanted with the stipulation that he did not test any food he was allergic to, for safety reasons. He chose to test eggs. This is what he found.
Many times, the component of foods that causes an allergic reaction in humans is the protein. This is the case with eggs; there are proteins in the egg whites that can cause allergic reactions. Basically, proteins can come in two forms – an oxidized form and a reduced form.
Now it is known that many processed foods contain preservatives. Often those preservatives are antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of foods, which causes discoloration and spoilage. This allows foods to stay fresh longer, which is good.
Antioxidants are not only added to foods. They are also added to the packaging that food comes in. And to the food that our food (chickens) eat.
Antioxidants, in small quantities, can be a good thing. One reason fruits and vegetables are so beneficial is because they contain antioxidants, which protect our cells. The problem arises when, because antioxidants are added to so many things, they become ubiquitous. They are everywhere in our environment in much higher concentrations than normal.
Proteins that would normally be in the oxidized form can’t oxidize, due to all the antioxidant preservatives in the environment. More proteins everywhere, but specifically in egg whites, are in the reduced form now, than a generation or two ago.
This is not a problem for most people. The only ones for whom it is a problem are those with a genetically inherited sensitivity to proteins in the reduced form since more and more proteins are found in the reduced form.
Some people have an immune system that goes into panic mode whenever it encounters a reduced-form protein. “Aaaah!” The immune system screams, “Red alert! Red alert!”
The immune system goes into hyperdrive, attacking the body it is supposed to protect. This is an allergic reaction.
In the past, these individuals would not encounter enough reduced-form proteins to cause the immune system to go into a frenzied assault on the perceived invader, but now the reduced-form proteins are in a high enough ratio to trigger the onslaught, causing the allergic reaction.
This is one small example of how, by employing chemistry to perform a valuable task (keeping foods fresh longer), but not paying attention to the downstream effects of that chemical, we have caused a great deal of suffering. Many chemicals stay in the environment for a long time, long after their intended use is over.
The young man* who did the project taught me a lot, as was often the case during my years in education. He taught me not only about food allergies but more importantly, the need to pay attention; to clean up our environment for reasons we may not fully understand right now; to prevent suffering whenever possible.
All of this, and more, we are called to do.
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16 – 17.
*J.J. Volupas has written a children’s book called The Land of Not, which is meant to inspire kids with food allergies and to give them a voice. His voice is focused on teaching children with food allergies to focus on what they can do, rather than their limitations. He blogs at The Land of Can. Check it out, especially if someone you love has a food allergy.
I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well, Embracing the Unexpected for Grace and Truth, The Blended Blog for Friday Loves, Anita Ojeda for Inspire Me Monday, Just a Second for Scripture and a Snapshot, Peabea Photography for Sunday Scripture Blessings, A Spirit of Simplicity for Selah, and Counting My Blessings for Faith ‘n Friends.