Popular Science Book chapters 7-9 - SMS-HB09

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Hazardous Killers: Radon and Other Hazards
By: Kathlyn Gay
Popular Science Book Biology Honors
Heather Raya- 2
March 10, 2010
In hundreds of headlines environmental horror has been brought to the attention of the
American public. During the 1970s, efforts by private citizen organizations, governments, and
business groups helped clean up many of the nation’s heavily polluted surface water, but paid no
attention the ground water and its source. About 117 million people depend on ground water for
drinking supplies, and it is a vital resource, essential for life. So, how safe is our drinking water?
Average Americans do not have the knowledge to know that microbes in the soil are ineffective
against thousands of synthetic chemicals that prevent health threats; these microbes do not serve
as a natural filtration system in the earth to prevent pollutants like sewage. Some other pollutants
like when ethylene dibrominde (EDB), a pesticide banned in 1983, and trichloroethylene (TCE)
are found in public water supplies. Nationwide, there are an estimated sixteen thousand city
landfills and seventy-six thousand industrial landfills that are likely to “leak” hazardous waste to
groundwater supplies.
While communities carry out strategies to control groundwater contamination, many also
struggle on what to do about agricultural chemicals that can be silent hazards to health. Farm
chemicals leave dangerous residues on foods and also contaminate field workers exposed to the
toxic sprays. An estimated ten thousand deaths and four hundred thousand injuries each year are
attributed to toxic farm compound. In most sections of the farm belt, like Nebraska, Iowa,
Illinois and Indiana, nitrogen fertilizers are used to improve crop production. But it’s very costly
and the runoff gets into the well waters, testing above the safety levels set by the EPA. One of
the most potent herbicides is paraquat, which is used on millions of acres of cropland in the
United States. It is the most effective, but also the most lethal. Small doses of concentrate
Hazardous Killers: Radon and Other Hazards
By: Kathlyn Gay
paraquat-swallowed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled- can kill. Pesticides also show up in
the food we eat. Every year, farm labors suffer illnesses brought on by chemical poisoning. An
EPA study showed that poisoned workers had “difficulties in understanding the speech of others,
recognizing printed/ written words and remembering the names of objects.” Employees risk
death.
According to the EPA, an estimated thirty-three thousand dangerous waste sites are
location in the nation. Many are leaking, and one thousand need immediate cleanup. Another
type of toxic site is an underground storage tank for gasoline or chemicals. Few people living
above these locations are not aware of their situation. The problem of where to dispose of highly
radioactive nuclear wastes also involves the possibility of accidents in route. What if a truck
transports nuclear waste and crashes releasing airborne radioactive material over a community?
No major studies have been conducted to find out. Accidental discharge of radioactive materials
is always a possibility whether in transit or nuclear facilities where wastes are produced.
Americans feel that an accident like one involving the Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet
Union could happen to the United States. In April 1986, hydrogen explosions at the power plant
spewed radioactive particles carried by winds and rains to town miles away and across Europe.
Thousands were evacuated but not before they were exposed to radioactive activity. Out of the
458 people studied, 31 died; and about 90% of the people needed bone marrow transplants and
blood transfusions like treatments similar to the ones Leukemia patients receive. Many people
were blinded by a lethal gas cloud and waited endlessly for days; over two thousand people in
Bhopal, India needed medical attention.
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