Health Consequences of Environmental Degradation and Social Injustice Martin Donohoe, M. D., F. A. C. P

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  • Mercury dental amalgams pose health risks to pregnant women, unborn babies, and children (FDA)
  • Contaminant in high fructose corn syrup
  • Mercury costs U.S. economy $5 billion/yr

Decreasing Causes and Limiting Consequences of Mercury Pollution

  • Phase out coal burning power plants
  • Hospitals phasing out mercury thermometers
  • Stop buying gold (e.g., wedding rings)
  • Make healthy seafood purchases
  • Screen and treat when appropriate
  • Avoid tainted cosmetics

Minamata Convention

  • 2013: Over 140 countries (including U.S.) agreed on a set of legally binding measures to curb mercury pollution
    • As of 2/1/14, 93 countries have signed and one (U.S. has ratified)
    • Takes effect 90 days after 50 nations ratify

Minamata Convention

    • Best emission-control technologies requred for new power plants, boilers and smelters
    • Compact fluorescent lightbulbs containing over 5 mg Hg banned by 2020
    • Primary mercury mining banned (old mines get 15 yrs to close down)
    • Allows use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining; encourages nations to phase out use altogether

Minamata Convention

    • Exempts dental fillings, but encourages alternatives
    • Vaccines with thimerosol exempt
    • Bans Hg-containing batteries by 2020 (button-cell batteries exempt)
    • Bans switches and relays with Hg by 2020

Minamata Convention

    • Limits Hg in soaps and some cosmetics
    • Bans Hg in medical devices by 2020
    • Exempts religious and traditional uses of Hg
    • Bans use in certain types of manufacturing


  • Contaminates groundwater in Bangladesh, also, India, China, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of the U.S.
    • 200 million affected worldwide
    • 13 million Americans have drinking water exceeding EPA’s “safe level”
    • Exposure also via rice (esp. brown), seafood
    • Also found in apple and grape juices


Health Consequences of Arsenic Exposure

Health Consequences of Arsenic Exposure

Heavy Metals

  • Heavy metals found in over half of low cost jewelry sold in the U.S.
  • Lead, mercury, or arsenic found in 1/5 of both U.S.- and India-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines purchased via the internet


  • Welders exposed via fumes
  • Causes “manganism” (like Parkinson’s Disease)
  • Welding companies covered up link for decades (like lead paint, etc.)



  • Phosphorus in dishwater detergents
    • Contribute to eutrophication, harmful algal blooms
    • Banned in 16 states
  • Phosphate in fertilizers
    • Agricultural runoff contributes to algal blooms, dead zones
    • World supply running critically low
    • Composting would recycle, return to soil

Perchlorate (PERC)

  • Perchlorate
    • Toxic air pollutant, endocrine (thyroid) and reproductive toxin, likely human carcinogen, exposure increases risk of bipolar disorder and PTSD
    • Used in rocket fuel, dry cleaning
      • Alternative = “wet cleaning” with compressed, liquefied CO2
    • EPA requiring phaseout of use in residential areas by 2020



  • Comes from natural decay of uranium in soil
  • 1/15 U.S. homes has elevated levels
  • Cause of lung cancer
    • Causes 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in U.S. each year
  • Home detectors available, relatively inexpensive
  • Remediation lowers risk

Supplements and Milk

  • Melamine scare with Chinese milk products
    • Kidney failure
  • 37/40 herbal dietary supplements tested by GAO in 2010 contained trace amounts of at least one hazardous metal (lead, mercury, arsenic)

Artificial Turf

  • Made from “crumb rubber,” derived from recycled tire bits
  • Contains lead, mercury, benzene, harmful bacteria
  • High levels of inhalational exposure among young athletes
  • New York City park officials will no longer use tire crumbs in artificial turf fields (alternative = sand-based product)

Cell phones

  • ?Link to parotid gland tumors?
  • Link to brain tumors per WHO
    • Gliomas
    • Acoustic neuromas
  • Precautionary principle – hands-free headset
    • ?Other safety benefits?

Toxic Pollutants

  • 85,000 known or suspected hazardous waste sites in the U.S.
    • Plus up to 600,000 lightly contaminated former industrial sites (“brownfields”)
  • Will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to mitigate environmental impacts
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