According to the World Health Organization over 25% of illness world wide is caused by environmental toxins, meaning pollution.

Arguably, the ignorance that allowed humans to mindlessly pollute the planet in pursuit of economic prosperity fueled the industrial revolution and allowed the rise of industrialized nations in the 20th century. However, today there are many reasons why this mentality must be cast aside. Modern science has recently shed light on just how negatively pollution can affect our health and our environment. 

Benzene, just one carcinogen of the many found in modern pollution, has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of life threatening hematological (blood) diseases like aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, and leukemias such as acute lymphocytic leukemia, and acute myelogenous leukemia. 

I’m sure many would point out that we have improved our nation’s air quality in the last 30 years, and that our air is now cleaner than ever. While this may be true, a large portion of our population is breathing toxic air daily. And while we’re on the subject, let’s remember the developing world. A major reason our air here in the U.S. is cleaner these days is that many big polluters have moved to to poorer nations with little or no regulation of pollution. This forces levels of pollution unknown in today’s U.S., on millions of the world’s poorest people.

Our air may be cleaner than ever, but in many densely populated parts of the U.S. the air quality is cause for alarm. Recent revelations as to the toxicity of the air outside many U.S. schools has lead the EPA to launch an unprecedented new air toxics monitoring initiative that will analyze the air outside 62 schools in 22 states. The schools are all in areas which according to government data, are determined to be toxic hot spots.

The EPA acknowledges that this program comes in the wake of a recent USA Today study which used government data to show that air outside 435 schools was more toxic than than air outside Meredeth Hitchens Elementary. Hitchens Elementary was an Ohio school closed in 2005 after the Ohio EPA discovered air born carcinogen concentrations 50 times higher than acceptable state levels.

Clearly we still have work to do cleaning up our nation’s air.

For all it’s hyperbole, I got a kick out of the following editorial from Ohio’s Ironton Tribune which makes the case for clean air as a inalienable right for all Americans. While a shade nationalistic I agree with this sentiment though I would extend the right to all inhabitants of the planet, and call it a human right. I think that the idea will almost certainly be embraced as the information age allows humans to learn exactly what they are breathing, and why it’s dangerous:

“When our founding fathers wrote that all Americans had certain inalienable rights they were trying to secure key liberties they felt all citizens deserved.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were chief among these. It would have been impossible for the authors of the Declaration of Independence to know there was at least one more they should have included: the right to breathe clean air…”

These days you’ve just got to ask yourself, why should anyone be allowed to release known carcinogens, at any level, into the air we all have to breathe?

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