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Poisoned for Profit, A Review from Greenpeace’s Mark Floegel

Consider the environmental woes that confront us. Consider drinking dry the sea. They feel about the same.

Global warming, overfishing, deforestation, uncontrolled release of genetically modified material, nuclear waste.

So cut it down, make it manageable. Choose a single issue – say the release of toxic chemicals into our air, soil, water and our bodies. Reduce it further; only look the effects on human health – in fact, just look at the effect on the health of children.

Even this, perhaps, is more than we can bear.

Poisoned for Profit by Philip and Alice Shabecoff (Chelsea Green, 2010) tours the landscape and history of post-war America’s poisoning of its population, particularly its children.

How can it be? How can a nation that has attained so much and claims such moral high ground in human rights and social values simultaneously pump out poisons that have sent American rates of birth defects, childhood cancer, asthma and diabetes on an ever-rising trajectory?

Laying out their case in the form of an indictment, the Shabecoffs present the evidence, naming names – at least some of them. General Electric, Monsanto, Dow, Dupont. Poisoned for Profit details the manufacturing processes of each of these companies create the poisons that now infest the nation’s human environment.

Detailed reporting reopens old wounds for anyone who has witnessed or been affected by modern toxification. How the industrial feedstock chemicals get into our air and water, invade our bodies, how the bodies of children are so much more susceptible than those of their parents.

The Shabecoffs show how, worse still, the corporations responsible for this pollution – the Dows and Monsantos – knew early on what the likely effects of their activities would be. How those same corporations act – singly and in industry-wide concert – to shift the blame for their poisons onto the victims themselves, to obfuscate issues, distort science and economics and use cohorts of attorneys and war chests of cash to pervert the justice system – all with the single goal of corporate profit. This is the sea that must be drunk dry, if we as a species are to thrive.

To the PR staff at General Electric or Dupont, childhood illnesses due to environmental poisons (not theirs, they’ll stress, maybe someone else’s), is an “unintended by-product” of this late industrial age. As social commentator Joan Dickenson pointed out, there are no “by-products.” There are only products. Whether the corporation intends them or not, cancers and birth defects are products of the corporation, just as much as Teflon or a quarterly dividend.

Poisoned for Profit shows how state and federal agencies tasked with protecting health and the environment are manacled by the same cohort of attorneys, plus lobbyists, plus trade associations. The politicians of the legislative and executive branches, who should intervene on behalf of citizens – children in this case – are trapped, perhaps too willingly, by the need for constant infusions of campaign cash, of a magnitude multinational chemical companies can afford but sick children cannot.

To hold this ocean – or even, say, the Gulf of Mexico – in one’s mouth seems impossible. Perhaps it is, but parents, their communities, dedicated environmentalists and journalists like Phil and Alice Shabecoff are draining this ocean every day.

The appendices to Poisoned for Profit provide helpful information for protecting yourself and your family, beginning from the moment you plan your family and working outward through your home diet and community. It’s difficult and painstaking and it shouldn’t fall to parents to go to such lengths to protect their children from corporations that would poison them, but it’s the only way to drink the ocean dry.–Mark

This blog comes from Mark Floegel, a senior investigator in Greenpeace USA’s research unit. 

Poisoned for Profit is available in our bookstore.


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