Lab Rats of the World Unite!

June 06, 2001
By Michael Glantz

Fragilecologies By Michael Glantz

No joke. We are ďlab ratsĒ in just about every sense of the term. Lab rats are used in experiments. The results of those experiments determine the doses of hundreds of chemicals that mammalian systems can endure before they: die, become too obese to move, become brain dead, deformed, infertile, morose, inactive, imbecilic, and so on. Lab rats are eventually put to death in a cruel way.

So, how is our life any different? We suffer as human analogs to lab rats in the open environment. Instead of being subjected to controlled experiments, we are randomly ingested with chemical compounds through the air, water, soil, food, even our shelter. These have been manufactured for the benefit of society Ė and the profit of industry.

When a new baby is on the way, parents repaint babyís room, put in new carpets, wash the windows, stack up disposable diapers, purchase all sorts of lotions. All of the new stuff smells good. Ahh, fresh paint has been applied to walls that were stripped of the old paint (before 1978 it was likely that the paint contained harmful lead, and now there is lead dust in the room). Read the label on the paint can to see what toxic substances and fumes might emanate from the new paint, or synthetic fibers from the new carpet, or cleaning solutions Ė all perfumed to be pleasing to our sense of smell.

We now know of the harmful effects of DDT (still manufactured in other parts of the world such as Mexico Ė it is not unlikely that DDT-laden products return to the United States on imported fruits and vegetables), of dioxins, of PCBs, of PVCs, of kepone, and the many chemicals with unpronounceable names that are under our sinks or sprayed on our lawns and trees.

We are warned not to eat certain types of fish from the Great Lakes if we are pregnant, thinking of getting pregnant in the next several months, or under the age of fifteen. There have been innumerable examples of chemicals and compounds getting into the food chain and into the water systems. And yet, we allow it to continue? Why? In one regard, we are not like lab rats: we can vote. We can protest. We can make demands. We can band together to fight the good cause. But we donít.

What is it that keeps us so passive on health- (if not life-) threatening chemical applications all around us? We know that most man-made chemicals have adverse impacts on the habitats of just about all living creatures. Just in the past two decades, we have witnessed the extinction of many species of wildlife, butterflies, frogs, turtles, and so on. The dodo bird became extinct in the 1700s in a cruel but quick death at the hands of bored humans. It was cruel but it was quick. The death of humans from exposure to a wide range of chemicals allegedly produced in the service of society by major corporations, while none the less cruel, is much slower and, in many ways, excruciatingly painful as one contracts some fatal illness or as oneís loved ones contract it.

The list of chemicals is not only long, it is growing. With little inspection of the impacts on the environment and on human and animal health, a pesticide or a herbicide is manufactured and tested in real time and in real life. Yes, we have become the lab rats to the corporations that are manufacturing such chemicals. Some people are more directly impacted than others: poor versus rich, South versus North, laborers versus employers, young versus old, minority versus majority culture, downstream versus upstream, and so forth.

Is there any hope for a solution? If we expect the solutions to come from politicians of any persuasion, there is likely no hope.

There is one drastic measure, however. Bill Moyers took a blood test, an expensive one, to see what man-made chemicals and other compounds are in his blood in unwanted or unanticipated amounts. He was surprised by the amount of lead, for example, among other chemicals in his system. Perhaps we should demand that all of our representatives (Congressmen and Senators in the case of the United States) submit themselves to such tests. As a taxpayer, I would support the tax dollars to be spent in such a way. Letís see if the Missouri congressman has traces of dioxin, or the New York representative has toxic substances from Love Canal, or the Hanford, Washington, representative has any radioactive substances in his or her system. Letís see what shows up in the representatives from agricultural districts or from urban centers that suffer from poor air quality. Maybe then such findings would cause our representatives to rethink how they vote to allow the manufacture and distribution of toxic substances that eventually make their way into our bodies and the bodies of our children, our pets, and our habitat. We donít need a litmus test for chemical safety. We need a blood test for our representatives.

Citizens do not have the resources to compete with corporate lobbies on the manufacture and applications of chemicals in the environment. Dupont wins. Dow wins. Even Chemlawn wins. We must identify ourselves as what we are: lab rats for industry. Then we can start to seek solutions to this situation. I donít want to be a lab rat any more. I donít want others to be lab rats, either. Chernobyl, Bhopal, Times Beach, Hanford, Love Canal, Donora (Pennsylvania), Exxon Valdez, Cancer Alley all underscore the fact that lab rats exist in just about every country. Itís time for a change, so ďLab Rats of the World UniteĒ!

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