The current hoopla over the risk of brain cancer that cell phones might pose is almost comical. Not because it's silly; the threat is real and calls for more empirical evidence. It's laughable because of all the other carcinogenic or other health threats out there to which we pay so little attention.
Take, for example, air pollution. Ample evidence exists about the effects of short- and long-term exposure to filthy air, yet we do little to curb harmful emissions, clean up industrial waste, or to take seriously the kind of global climate changes that affect pollution.
Studies in Germany, Scotland and Mexico have revealed that people who breath in traffic fumes regularly have a higher chance of getting hardening of the arteries and that high levels of polluted air reduces lung function and growth in children. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about two million premature deaths occur annually because of air pollution in cities across the world.
Physicians also recognize the increased likelihood of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems from air pollution. Researchers suggest that living in a major city for an appreciable amount of time can place people at higher risk for cancer than if they lived in the radioactive zone near Chernobyl.
Then there's the water we drink. Increasingly, around the world, it's polluted. Again, WHO estimates that one-sixth of the world's population -- over a billion people -- don't have access to safe water. Most water in industrialized nations is now considered to be polluted to some degree by toxic bacteria and potentially carcinogenic chemicals. Even bottled water has been found to be unsafe in many instances.
Now comes the issue of "fracking" to extract natural gas from the earth, a frightening process exposed in the documentary "Gasland." Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into deep wells to create pressure fractures that release natural gas. In order for companies like Halliburton not to disclose what chemicals they were using during fracking, in 2005 Dick Cheney pushed through an energy bill that exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act that had been in place since 1974. Obviously, fracking hadn't reached his neighborhood yet.
According to ProPublica, a report by Congressional Democrats released in April revealed that "gas drillers have injected millions of gallons of fluids containing toxic or carcinogenic chemicals into the ground in recent years." An astounding 750 chemicals and compounds were used by more than a dozen oil and gas service companies between 2005 and 2009 to extract natural gas from the ground. Twenty-nine of them are "either known or possible carcinogens or are regulated by the federal government because of other risks to human health." The congressional report itself notes that "the permanent underground injection of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency."
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