Fly free from toxic chemical use

Raptor. Photo Mary Gardner.

From the days of the dinosaurs, birds have been an integral part of our world.

People have always watched and listened to them and members of a wise culture would also be learning from them. But are we?

It’s been 55 years since US biologist Rachel Carson released Silent Spring, describing a season in the near future when birds stopped singing.

It alerted millions of people to bio-accumulation: how levels of toxins build in the bodies of birds and other wildlife.

Citizens supported government regulation of chemicals and pollutants, launching the modern environment movement. 

Thirty-odd years later another seminal work, Our Stolen Future, explained that the latest kinds of pesticides and industrial chemicals might not kill off birds directly but might actually be worse.

Author Theo Colborn identified endocrine disruptors: chemicals changing the hormones of birds and other wildlife. The chemicals cause sex changes and infertility in not only the current generation, but in the unborn, and the not yet conceived.

They make it hard for youngsters to mature properly. They shorten lifespans and make day-to-day life difficult.

Colborn explained that the same chemicals are also affecting people. She pointed to increasing rates of thyroid diseases, metabolism problems and various cancers.

Time to learn lessons

For all our bird watching and admiration, how serious are we at learning our lessons?

Right now at supermarkets we can buy our favourite endocrine disruptor: glyphosate, a herbicide that is now banned in EU.

We can even bring it home in a single-use plastic bag.

We also use another class of these disruptors called perfluorinated chemicals in fire-fighting foam, water resistant fabrics and solar panels.

The global perfluorinated chemical industry is set to be worth US$25 billion by 2020. 

What if, for every bird you see each day, you did something about our shared future?

What Carson and Colborn advocated for was the precautionary principle and you and I can do that too.

Let’s insist that industry and government first prove that those chemicals are safe and, if in doubt, question, limit, curtail. If in doubt, wait. If in doubt, stop.

Find out more. Read the books (available by interlibrary loan). Check out the North American website Toxic Free Future and the Australian National Toxic Network.

Write to the prime minister and every politician you can. Tell them you object to their proposed bill to deregulate new chemicals that come into this country.

Tell them we do not support easing the regulation of chemicals. Remind them to put the burden of proof back onto the industry.

It took a while to come to this and will take a while for us to come back from the edge. But let’s reclaim stolen futures, ours and that of wildlife.

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