Up in smoke, down like toxic rain
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) remain in the environment long after their release. Generally released to the air, POPs end up into our lakes, rivers, and seas, in the soil and plant life, and, ultimately, in the food chain. POPs are produced either as products (like many pesticides), as components or contaminants of products (like dioxin residue in paper), or as by-products (like dioxin and furans) when medical, industrial, or municipal wastes are burned.
Many POPs have hormone-mimicking properties which damage reproduction and interfere with the ability of populations to sustain their numbers. Many also weaken the immune system which decreases the ability of populations to withstand disease. Because POPs concentrate in the food chain, species at the top of the food chain are generally at greatest risk. Each species lost is like cutting a thread in the web of life. As these threads are severed, the web weakens which threatens the beauty and the function of the natural systems that sustain life on earth.
America's fish populations continue to dwindle due to loss of habitat, overfishing, and both industrial and agricultural pollution. As a natural resource, however, our fish are nearly gone. Nearly every state has issued fish advisories warning the public of the danger of eating fish heavily contaminated with POPs such as PCBs and dioxin. And, as the natural resource value of fish vanishes, we stand to lose not only a bountiful food source, but our last connection to the life ways of our ancestors. Fishing is a cultural tie that binds us, body and soul, to one another, to generations past, and to Mother Earth.
POPs are a fundamental threat to our families. POPs have now been detected in that most inner sea, the amniotic fluid of the womb, and in the cord blood which nourishes fetal life. Nursing infants receive dioxin in breast milk at levels which alarm many health professionals. Babies of those who subsist on fish are in immediate danger. Various POPs act on the nervous system to retard the brain, impair the immune system, promote cancer, interfere with our hormones, and produce genetic mutations which can be passed on to the next generation. The most basic act of the human family, to engender and nurture the next generation, is now imperiled by this deadly class of pollutants.