Friday, 20 March 2015

The Impact of Toxins on Human Beings

The recent statement from the Ministry of Health stating that Jamaicans should not experience any long term effects from the fire at the Riverton City disposal site is both alarming and troubling. Over the weekend the same government ministry told the nation that samples were taken of the air quality at two locations and that these were sent off to be tested. We were further informed that the results would have been available on March 18th and or March 19th, 2015. We are yet to hear such results. It bears thought as to how such a statement could be forthcoming as this time since the result of the air quality would be pending.  The statement from the Ministry of Health is at best premature and irresponsible. In fact further explanation is required from the Ministry of Health on this matter.
Disturbingly, in 2012 the cancer causing chemical Benzene was detected at three times the World Health Organization’s air standard as a result from a fire at the said disposal facility.
According to the American Cancer Society Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air. It is used mainly as a starting material in making other chemicals, including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from studies in both people and lab animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and cancers of other blood cells. Rates of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its major goal is to identify causes of cancer. IARC classifies benzene as “carcinogenic to humans,” based on sufficient evidence that benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia (AML). IARC also notes that benzene exposure has been linked with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NTP has classified benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substances in the environment. The EPA classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen.
It would be quite interesting and informative to find out if the Ministry of Health conducted a study to see how many Jamaicans exposed to the smoke and noxious fumes in 2012 got cancer and what type of cancer. 
Additionally, we need to know whether the Ministry of Health has any plans to monitors those 800 plus Jamaicans who had to seek medical attention due to their exposure to the fire that broke out at the Riverton City. Even without such a study being done, I think the Ministry of Health owes us some clarification of the matter.  We also need to hear from the Ministry of Environment regarding the environmental impact of the fire at Riverton City.
I am sure if the disposal site was located in an upper middle- class community, then we would not be having this discussion, since a suitable alternative would have been found.
Recall what former US President John F Kennedy said: “Our most common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal”.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Twitter: @WayneCamo