This is a guest post from Judith A. Ross:
As a first-time mother-to-be I was acutely aware of the environmental toxins around me. I’d cross the street or take another route altogether if I saw someone spraying their roses or a lawn service truck parked between me and my destination. Those little yellow flags at the edge of a lawn announcing that it had been “treated” freaked me out.
Without even knowing all the facts, I sensed that chemicals meant to kill garden pests or make the grass grow, were bad for a developing baby. I knew that as long as he was inside me, I had to give my baby the safest and cleanest environment possible. And that what I breathed or ate, he would ingest too. We were intricately and inextricably connected.
That was back in the early 1980s. With concerns about air quality and climate change a regular part of the daily discourse, today’s moms have more access to the facts about what can harm their children. Yet, air pollution doesn’t just come out of smokestacks, crop dusters, and exhaust pipes. It can also be found in some less obvious places.
Take, for example, those innocuous looking stacks of faded blue jeans for sale at your local mall. Sandblasting, the process used for creating that distressed look, is highly hazardous to humans. A study following 32 young, male textile workers in Turkey found that six have died from an incurable lung disease called silicosis, resulting from exposure to the fine particles of sand used in the process. Sixteen others in the study have the disease, which is progressive, disabling, and often fatal.
Silica dust is an air pollutant. Those who work in mines, quarries, and construction sites are also at risk for silicosis from breathing in silica dust when rocks, sand, and concrete are crushed at their workplace. Not surprisingly, children, the elderly, and people who already have health problems are more affected by silica dust.
While Turkish authorities have banned sandblasting in textile operations, it still goes on in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and China. In the meantime, Levi-Strauss and H&M announced last year that they would ban sandblasting from all of their product lines.
But silica dust doesn’t impact only the populations who live and work around those kinds of sites, it can also be found in your own back yard. Silica dust may be present in play sand when it is made from crushed rocks rather than river or ocean sand. Parents must examine what they are buying before filling up the sand box.
The more you look, the more you learn that pollutants can be found in all kinds of surprising places. They are present in our homes, and in public spaces. For example, dangerous pollutant levels have been detected in ice arenas. As a result, over the past five years, the EPA has implemented stringent emissions standards for ice resurfacers.
It is laudable that Levi-Strauss and H&M are banning the use of deadly processes like sandblasting in the manufacture of their products. And it is reassuring that we have tools like radon detectors to monitor pollutants in our homes, and that the EPA is tracking air quality both inside public spaces and outdoors…in English and Spanish. The fact is, we wouldn’t know about any of this if someone wasn’t paying attention. If there weren’t organizations to monitor, gather data about, and set standards for air quality.
We can’t protect our children by sidestepping obvious pollutants forever. There’s so much more we don’t know about. Even though us moms are reputed to have eyes in the back of our heads, we can’t be everywhere.
Together we can continue to push Congress to stand behind the EPA and strengthen regulations that will help clean up our air. Our strong, united voice has the power to pressure both politicians and business to ban practices that pollute and implement policies that protect the air we breath — and the overall health of our planet.
Thank you, Judith! Read Judith’s post A Mom’s Pride And Worry.
Judith A. Ross is a contributing writer and columnist for Talking Writing, an online literary magazine. She has written numerous articles, profiles, and reports for academic, corporate, and nonprofit organizations, including Harvard Business Review and several publications published by Harvard Business School. Judith also blogs at Open Salon.