A different kind of human right violation.

Environmental issues are often left out of many human rights discussions to focus on more direct abuses. This is an overwhelmingly important topic to human rights, so why is it so often shrugged off? Why do people not see environmental abuses as violations against their human rights? Why are they not more angry at the amount of toxins and pollutions they are subjected to through their daily living practices?

The area where I live (Kitchener-Waterloo region) is reported to have some of the worst air quality scores for ground level ozone in Ontario. Ozone is a key ingredient of urban smog. It is mostly formed with oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), combined with heat. When it forms in the atmostphere it provides a filter for damaging ultraviolet light emitted by the sun. When it forms on the ground, it can have severe health effects for humans and damaging effect for plants and animals. Repeated exposure can cause permanent structural damage to the lungs, aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis and even death. It also interferes with the ability of plants to produce and store food and makes them more susceptible to disease, insects, other pollutants and harsh weather. Plants that are unable to produce or store food are unable to produce food for us to eat.

Burning of fossil fuels is one of the main emittors of nitrogen oxides. In Kitchener’s case, it is reported that over half of our pollutant load comes directly from coal plants in the Ohio Valley across the border. Ontario is contributing to the pollution as well. Ontario ranked 5th highest for pollution release in North America with 184,415 tonnes of pollution released per year, mostly created during the production of electricity utitlities. Our pollution affects more than just Ontario residents, and we are affected by pollution created elsewhere. This is bigger than just a national problem, it is a global one. We are affected by everyone else.

This pollution is causing great harm to people and is even responsible for human deaths (around 2000 per year in Ontario alone). It is costing a great deal of money to our health care system, our lives, and our future. If you doubt this, take a look here. The sad thing is that it is mostly avoidable. There are other electricity production and industrial options that do not have this effect. So why do we continue to allow extremely environmentally damaging industries and production facilities?

The sad reality is that this problem encompasses so much more than air pollution. We are bombarded with toxins and pollution at every turn. In our products, in our homes, in our water… Clean water is a thing of the past, as the levels of pharaceuticals, pollutions and toxic chemcials rises and rises and becomes harder and harder to remove or even test for. In fact, the “acceptible” levels of toxins allowed in our products is incredibly disturbing. Many antiquated laws allow known dangerous chemicals to remain in our products in certain levels.

The US Environmental Protection Agency reviews about 17,000 new industrial compounds each year, with about a 90% approval rate. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires that any chemicals that display evidence of potential harm to humans must be tested before approval, however, only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the US have EVER been tested despite their potential to harm. A similar occurence is happening here in Canada, though perhaps in slightly lower numbers.

Testing the levels of toxicity in humans leads to incredible results. The average person has at least 100 toxins in their body and perhaps even more than this, some in incredibly damaging levels. Unfortunately, the testing is super expensive (like $15,000 to test for only about 300 toxins– and there are literally THOUSANDS upon thousands that we are potentially exposed to). Many of the toxins stay on in our bodies in our fatty tissues and are not removed naturally. They build up over time with each exposure and are passed on to our children at birth. Many of these toxins found in every day products are hormone disrupters, or are incredibly neurologically damaging or carcinogenic (cancer causing). The overall costs of using these type of chemicals is incredibly high.

Regardless of your beliefs on climate change, does it make any sense to continually toxify ourselves with polluting and damaging practices? These practices are interfering with our right to life, and our right to an adequate standard of living and health for ourselves and our families. From a purely economic standpoint, they are costing us BILLIONS of dollars each year.

The current “acceptible” levels of toxins and pollutions are causing us great harm, and this needs to change. Humans are innovators. We have the capacity, skill and determination to overcome many problems. So why are we stuck in the stone age of production, when there is soo much information on the subject and acceptable alternatives to use? Why do we not learn from our studies and use technologies that are already in existence to slow or stop the production of new toxic or polluting substances?

My thoughts on the matter– it comes down to one thing. Money. The profits to be made or lost for corporations, and the overall effect for the economy.

That’s just not a good enough reason for my human rights to be interfered with. I cannot avoid these chemicals, even if I live a life full of organic foods; pollution and toxins still rain down on me. They are still introduced through products with flame-retardants sprayed on them. They are still introduced through everything else I use in my home. They are still breathed in through my lungs, and are everywhere I go in society.

Toxins and pollutions won’t be reduced overnight, but ignoring environmental protection acts or allowing lax policies is certainly not helping. We need to take a stand for our own human rights. Why do we have agencies for our protection, if their number one concern lies with industry and corporate rights and not with the general public? This is a major disservice to humanity and needs to be changed.

It’s time humans wised up to their own stupidity and started to make real changes. Our future depends on it.

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  1. Totally hitting the nail on the head!

    The most impoverished areas in my city are those in which there is the most pollution. In November last year a group of slum dwellers just below my office confronted the ‘rich man’ living in a walled house next to them over his constant dumping of raw human waste in their storm water canal. He called in the police and had them roughed up. That month, a cholera epidemic broke out in the slum. Three slum dwellers died.

    Environmental issues should be at the top of every human rights agenda.

  2. That’s soo sad. It angers me to think that people would be so heartless that they would do this, especially the roughing up of those who would dare complain.
    It’s strange, because if you were to tell this story in North America people would be absolutely outraged, but in essence, this is what is happening all over the place– yet in more indirect ways. It’s a different level and scale of what’s going on. Here in North America, we may have requirements for raw sewage in residential areas, but there are no requirements for many other more deadly pollutions. And the corruption that goes on here happens behind closed doors and sometimes even through somewhat “legal” channels, but it happens none the less.
    It always seems to come down to money. Those who make it, have more say. They seem to have more rights than those who don’t have it. This is just not right. We should all have the same rights. We are all human.

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