The ancient Iroquois founded their civilization, the oldest still-existing participatory democracy in the world, on a philosophy that asks its people to consider the impact of every decision on the next seven generations. The founding fathers of the United States also created a democracy, but, in less than 300 years, its citizens have plundered the homelands of the Iroquois and the dream of a safe environment. In 2016, the devastation increased as the federal government took aim at everything from national parks to environmental legislation with little consideration for this generation or its descendants.
Environmental Hazards in the Environment
Environmental hazards usually fall into four categories: chemical, physical, mechanical and psychosocial:
Chemical hazards include substances that cause cancer, damage the nervous system, destroy the reproductive system, lead to breathing problems, lower immunity, and poison the body. Examples include lead paint, asbestos, and pesticides.
Physical hazards can harm the body without coming into direct contact. Examples include radiation, vibration, noise, storms, and heights.
Biological hazards, or biohazards, are living substances that pose a threat to human life. Examples include bird droppings, mold, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Risks vary from diseases like cancer and AIDS to those like respiratory infections and allergies.
Psychosocial hazards are threats that affect overall health and well-being. Common examples include alcohol or drug abuse, stress, bullying, interpersonal conflict, and unhealthy workplaces.
Psychosocial and physical dangers usually arise from unsafe mechanical processes or social environments. Chemical and biological toxins, on the other hand, can pose a risk where they are used, but they grow even more dangerous when they are not properly recycled or placed in landfills.
Safe Disposal of Environmental Toxins
Recycling can be difficult for environmental toxins, especially those like lead paint and asbestos. A fire-resistant building material found in the insulation, exterior siding, or ceiling tiles of older homes, asbestos is usually safe if left intact, but its tiny fibers become airborne when it is disturbed. Anyone who inhales the particles can develop respiratory problems and various kinds of cancer, including a fatal type of lung cancer known as mesothelioma.
Hazards like black mold and pesticides also require special safety procedures during demolitions or renovations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes an alphabetized guide with directions for safely getting rid of everything from household batteries to medical waste.
It’s too late for America to change the past, and environmental legislation is currently not looking good. It's time for citizens to practice safe recycling and demand the government to do the same. In the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."