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Toxic Substances2022-Aug-15  9:26:33 PM

 1.     Some 10 million chemical compounds have been synthesized since 1900, approximately 150,000 of which have commercial value.  Thousands of these compounds are believed to be carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors, bioaccumulative, persistent toxins, or mutagens.  Very few of these compounds have toxicology data available to adequately assess their safety. [1]


2.     Some 644 chemicals known to be toxic are now regularly monitored in the United States.  In 1999 almost 8 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the air, water and land.[2]


3.     Soil pollution is concentrated wherever chemical and metal industries emerged. Metal and paper industries, along with electricity generators, are also large emitters of toxic substances.[3]


4.     Synthetic chemical production expanded 350 times between 1940 and 1982.  Much of it was dumped illegally.  In the United States there are over 50,000 toxic waste dump sites.[4]

5.     Over the 20th century urban soils accumulated 10 to 100 times the background levels of trace metals.  Even small does may be harmful or even lethal.[5]


6.     The WHO reports that 5 million people a year die from water pollution.  An additional 3 million die from air pollution.  It is estimated that some 20 to 30 million people died from air pollution alone in the last two decades of the 20th century.[6]


7.      Recent studies by the US Center for Disease Control, and the National Cancer Institute report that 80 to 90% of cancers may be caused by environmental factors.[7]


8.     Virtually every part of the planet now shows traces of toxic substances that did not exist 200 years ago. Traces of DDT used to kill insects in temperate and tropical zones have been detected in Inuit mother’s breast milk.  Some endocrine disruptors are believed to be responsible for deforming the sex organs of polar bears.[8]


9.     Some toxic chemicals will remain active for extremely long periods – arsenic (3000 years); plutonium (xxx thousand years).


10. The amount of toxic chemicals in the world has increased exponentially over the 20th century. The chemical nature of many of these compounds is radically different from those occurring in nature, which existed throughout human evolution.[9]


11. The extent and intensity of toxic pollutants is affecting the process of natural selection, and interfering with ecosystem functions. For example, naturally occurring hydroxol radicals in the air normally destroy methane molecules.  However, these hydroxyl radicals have been depleted by the production of carbon monoxide, produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.  Methane is a potent Greenhouse gas.[10]


12. Many local and regional sites affected by toxic pollutants have the potential to be cleaned up, but at enormous financial costs.  Rescuing global ecosystems from such pollutants is an even greater challenge.[11]


13. Developed countries have been, and continue to be the major producers of toxic substances.  However, many of the more obvious types of pollution have been exported to developing countries.  This is done either by moving dirty industries to countries where environmental laws are lax or non-existent, or by exporting toxic wastes to these countries.[12]

[1] McNeil, 2000; Speth, 1988

[2] Brown, 2001

[3] McNeil, 2000

[4] McNeil,2000

[5] McNeil, 2000

[6] WHO Home Page, April 21, 1997

[7] Center for Disease Control, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “Cancer Survivorship – United States, 1971-2001; National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health, 2004

[8] Brown, 2001

[9] Ponting, 1991; Speth, 2004

[10][10] McNeil, 2000

[11] McNeil, 2000; Speth, 2004

[12] Westra and Lawson, 2001

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