As a former teacher of students with autism, a current and lifelong fear-er of cancer, and an avid environmentalist, I always saw a link between these three “interests” of mine. Many types of cancer can be/have been linked to the various environmental toxins introduced into our environment by major polluting industries (plastics, chemical, coal, oil, to name a few major offenders).
Yet, with autism, the link has long been mentioned, studied, and brushed aside due to lack of evidence. I’d imagine that if you had a line chart with three lines, one for the rate of environmental toxins 1900 to present, and the other two with the rate of cancer and autism cases during that same time, the three lines would ride the same “hockey stick curve”.
Scientific American has recently published a new study linking autism to the environment. The study mentions that:
The scientists who authored the new study advocate a nationwide shift in autism research to focus on potential factors in the environment that babies and fetuses are exposed to, including pesticides, viruses and chemicals in household products.
And goes on to share:
Many researchers have theorized that a pregnant woman’s exposure to chemical pollutants, particularly metals and pesticides, could be altering a developing baby’s brain structure, triggering autism.
The common argument by those looking to disprove such a link is that, with modern technology and know-how we are able to screen and diagnose more people for cancer and autism — cases which would have gone undiagnosed in the past. True, and like autism and cancer, we are able to test for toxins in our air, soil, and water better than ever before. However, unlike autism and many cases of cancer we can discover the source of these environmental toxins and stop them from entering our food chain.
Want to decrease the rate of cancer and autism in the country/world? Stop these toxins from entering the environment. Donating to cancer and autism research will indeed help with reactionary measures, treatments, and other innovations. Yet, donating to groups like Sierra Club who take these major polluters to court to curb toxic emissions, stop illegal dumping, and force the clean-up of Superfund and other toxic waste sites would work towards prevention. You can also help by not supporting these major polluters.
Five quick ways to do that:
1. Drive less–Less cars will be manufactured (keeping a myriad of toxic waste out of the environment) and less gas/oil consumed and burned. Bike, walk, car-share, take mass transit…
2. Avoid plastics–The major way to do this is by shopping less and to attempt to get the bulk of your groceries from local markets.
3. Use natural cleaners–Plant-based cleaners are much safer and better for you and the environment than their chemical-cocktail counterparts. Better yet, make your own. Vinegar is the wonder cleaner!
4. Turn off the electricity–Turn off lights when you leave a room. Limit yourself/family to 3 TV shows per week (at most). Turn EVERYTHING off and get outside.
5. Buy organic–It is a crazy American phenomenon that we should be saving and cutting corners on our food purchases. That’s insane! Food is the one area where money should be an afterthought. There is nothing more important than putting tasty, healthy, whole foods into your body and keeping harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers out of our soil (and food). Having been focused on cheap food production–aided by industrial fertilizers and pesticides–for so long has depleted our soil of important (cancer-fighting) nutrients. Also, organic cotton is a great choice when clothes shopping considering conventionally grown cotton uses more harmful insecticides than any other single crop.
Like most things, the problem with these solutions is time. Just as there is no quick fix for global warming, there is no quick fix for preventing cancer and autism–and we are a quick-fix society. If clean-up and emission prevention began today at the rate it should, the rate of cancer and/or autism (if it is indeed linked to the environment) would not drastically decline today.
The water cycle and the amazing living, cleaning, healing potential of the earth would take years to flush out the toxic waste that is deeply embedded in it. And even after hundreds of years it still wouldn’t all be gone (plastic photo-degrades).
The fact is consumption and consumerism will continue–but unless they continue on a much smaller and more focused track–things ain’t-a-changin’. Unfortunately, neither cancer nor autism are going anywhere soon.
Photo Credit: piX1966 on Flickr under Creative Commons license.