A friend recently put me in touch with Janet Brown (not her real name). This is a woman from Chicago who had the misfortune of renting an apartment that had been sprayed with the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. Dow/DuPont produces this deleterious substance.
In late August 2018, Janet Brown visited me and we spent several hours talking. Her real education started in the poisoned apartment in Chicago.
She had read my book, Poison Spring. She wanted to talk.
A poisoned apartment
Our discussion was mostly about pesticides and the Environmental Protection Agency, which “regulates” toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos. I told Janet Brown a few of my EPA stories. And she told me her astonishing story.
Janet Brown grew up in Illinois. She got married to a doctor. She had hopes of becoming a doctor herself. However, the poisoned apartment blew up in her face, causing a tsunami of psychological and health adversities and pain.
The tragedy took place in the 1990s. Janet Brown gave birth to two children. The apartment landlord informed her he was spraying the apartment. He did that for a decade.
The effects of chlorpyrifos poisoning were devastating to her and her children. She had trouble staying awake. She was confused, ill, and endured chronic and savage headaches. The children screamed for days and months. They could barely crawl, walk and talk. Experts said autism explained their hyperactivity, inability to pay attention, low self-esteem, and aggressive behavior.
This tyranny of disease, the perpetual anguish of the mother, and the ceaseless pain of the children: their constant humiliations in school, the incomprehensible anger and hidden violence boiling over at home and everywhere else, teenagers unable to sign their name or find their shoes – all but annihilated their future.
In 2000, Janet Brown started suspecting the chemical sprayings of her apartment was probably responsible for the maladies of her children.
She saw a headline in a newspaper linking indoor use of chlorpyrifos and children’s health. The article said that a crevice treatment with chlorpyrifos put so much poison in the air that exposed children inhaled hundreds of times more chlorpyrifos than the amount EPA considered “safe.”
She called the Poison Control Center, only to be told there was nothing to worry about. Chlorpyrifos was “safe.”
At that moment, Janet Brown panicked. She rushed her children to the emergency room of a hospital. She was lucky. The doctor on duty had just taken training in chemical warfare. He told her to stop immediately the spaying of chlorpyrifos in her home. Chlorpyrifos, he told her, was a chemical warfare agent.
The light of truth
This sudden confrontation with the truth, rather than the façade of pesticide safety, started Janet Brown to healing herself. She decided she was going to get a formal education in public health and devote her life to teaching and informing people of the dangers of pesticides.
She stopped the chlorpyrifos spraying of her home. But chlorpyrifos remained, its deadly molecules locked into the teeth of her children.
I listened carefully to this extraordinary story. Unfortunately, there are probably millions of people with similar tales of deceit and personal pain. They trust advertisements and the government, only to discover an abyss of a difference between the promise and the real thing.
We concluded America’s “environmental protection” had degenerated to immoral policies satisfying the rich and powerful. I explained to her that the heavy layers of scientists, administrators, Congressional and White House officials form an almost impenetrable cover for the lobbyists and owners of toxins like chlorpyrifos. The more dangerous the chemical, the more formidable the phalanx of lobbyists.
Why were countless Americans, including this mother, being deceived and poisoned? Why did the EPA register this nerve gas, especially, for indoor use?
In 2011, scientists at Columbia University published a study of hundreds of infants that had been exposed to chlorpyrifos before birth. The study concluded that the higher the exposure of the pregnant mothers to chlorpyrifos, the larger the decrease in “cognitive functioning” of the baby. In other words, this chemical, like all organophosphates, affects the brain and intelligence of human beings.
No doubt, EPA and DowDuPont knew of this Columbia study and more important than that: they were certain chlorpyrifos was an organophosphate chemical, which, by definition, is a dangerous nerve poison. They are equally responsible for harming victims like Janet Brown and her two children. So, why did American scientists fail to raise their voice against this chemical weapon?
The companies spraying such deleterious stuff should be put out of business.
Self-reliance and the common good
However, with president Trump, don’t expect any relief from the top. On the contrary, things will get worse. That’s the nature of oligarchies. The business oligarchs (of America and the world) are under the delusion that money will even buy them health, even in an unhealthy environment and polluted world.
Any relief we experience will, ultimately, be relief from us.
Stop buying conventional food contaminated by pesticides. Support organic farmers. They don’t use toxic synthetic petrochemicals and nerve poisons. Be alert and decode the secret danger hiding in the advertisements for chemicals.
We need to educate ourselves about farming and what farmers spray the crops we eat. In fact, ask: do we need sprays in the raising of our food? Industrialized farming depends on chlorpyrifos-like substances and massive machinery. It’s no longer family farming. Is that good for America?
In the 1860s, President Lincoln founded the US Department of Agriculture as the people’s department. Now USDA is the department of agribusiness. Is that good for America?
Chlorpyrifos is on its way to extinction because a panel of federal judges agreed with scientific evidence the chemical is causing “neurodevelopmental damage” to children. In August 9, 2018, they ordered EPA to ban Chlorpyrifos. Yet the Trump Justice Department wants to reinstate the nerve poison. It demanded the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of 22 judges reconsider the banning of chlorpyrifos.
Chlorpyrifos, the tragedy of Janet Brown, and the insistence of the Trump administration to keep the neurotoxin in its deadly path of poisoning children ought to become lessons of why we must be better informed about almost everything, especially things affecting our health. Americans, especially young women, should be outraged by this act of callousness by the Trump administration.
Read the label carefully. Ask questions. Be active in the politics of your hometown and state, including the politics of the country. That’s good for your health — and democracy.
Under no circumstances should we negotiate the integrity of our health and the health of the natural world.