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SPOTLIGHT REPORT

Local groups work to increase awareness of environmental impact on health


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Americans are becoming more and more concerned about their health. Yet, in all of this dialogue about health, the impact of the environment is often ignored.

"I don’t think that most people are aware of the impact of the environment on health," says Dr. Lisa Doggett, director of the Austin chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "I think that’s probably from the lack of information, but it’s also very difficult to pin an individual’s medical problem to an environmental cause. It’s difficult to draw that causal relationship between one individual’s health and the environment. The way that we know that the environment impacts health is actually by looking at larger communities and larger population-based studies. We know that communities that are near power plants, for example, have higher rates of asthma. We know that people who eat fish, particularly fish that are more likely to contain mercury um, are gonna be more susceptible to mercury toxicity. So, when you look at larger communities that’s when we can really start to draw those associations."

The lack of public awareness of the impact of environment on health has led to government inaction on the issue.

"Historically, the state environmental agency – the TCEQ – has not been strong on enforcement or investigation," says Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. "An example of that is that in San Antonio, we looked into the records of the coal burning power plants there. We found that the plants there had been routinely violating their opacity, which meant that more soot was going into the air than should be and that puts citizens’ health at risk and this went on six thousand times in three years and these were six minute intervals that that was incredibly high. We found that the agency is basically in the role of helping the industries to get permits and helping them get through instead of really truly looking after the citizen's health, which is what they should be doing."

One problem that often goes unnoticed is mercury toxicity.

"Women eat fish and fish is contaminated with mercury," says Dr. Kimberly Carter, a local OB/GYN. "Mercury is not metabolized by your body so that means that while it goes through our digestive system, it does not go out of our system, so it’s stored in body fat and in other areas of the body, and we’re not sure how long it’s stored there. It could be stored for six years; it could be stored for ten years. So, the fish you eat now can affect children you have ten years from now potentially."

Air pollution also has a large impact on health, especially in children. Kimberly and Jesse Ramirez have two children, Angelica and Jesus, who suffer from asthma related to air pollution.

"They like to ride their bikes and they like to have a track next door and they like to go on the track and play you know, with the ball or you know, do different things and we can’t do those things because it’s a lot of stuff in the air," says Kimberly Ramirez. "Or, when they get home they’re tired. They don’t want to do it. They’ve been sneezing all day. They’d just rather stay indoors."

 

 

 

 

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Produced by Domenique Bellavia.

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