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#94 - Doctors, Grass Roots Activists To Meet, Discuss Toxic Exposures, 11-Sep-1988

An important first-of-its-kind meeting will occur early next month
(Oct. 7 and 8) in New Orleans, LA. Grass roots activists are urged to
attend, but so are scientists and medical doctors. It is the First
Annual Scientific Assembly for Environmental Health, and it represents
a bold new departure by the grass roots movement against toxics. For
the first time ever, grass roots activists have convened a medical
conference to discuss toxic exposures and what must be done about them.

With this conference, the grass roots movement ratchets up the pressure
on polluters, declares its independence from the medical establishment,
and begins to set its own agenda for the future. The Chemical
Manufacturers Association (CMA) and the American Medical Association
(AMA) had best pay close attention. Bob Dylan said it: "Something is
happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?"

The grass roots movement against toxics gets its primary energy from
people who have become sick from chemicals. This is not principally an
environmental movement--it is a movement of people fighting for their
lives, fighting for their rights, fighting for justice for themselves
and for their children. If they happen to save the whales in the
bargain, so much the better. But that's not the main goal: the main
goal is simple human health, a safe home, good food and water, a fair
shake for people and their neighbors.

Many of the victims of modern chemistry are literally fighting for
their lives, and the lives of their children. They are real human
beings with real stories to tell. They are not "hysterical housewives."
They are mothers of children with Hodgkin's disease, or leukemia or
chronic bronchitis, or with chemical sensitivities so bad they need to
carry an oxygen tank to the supermarket. Or they are people with
emphysema or eczema or any of a hundred other disabilities brought on
by the chemicals spewed into our homes, or workplaces, our schools by
the "better living through chemistry" mentality. Some are people who
have a neighbor or a friend whose life has been disrupted, in some
cases, destroyed, by toxic exposure. Their message is urgent and
compelling and simple: we want justice, an end to the pain, the
suffering, the carelessness and cruelty of the users and dumpers of
toxic chemicals.

As the nation's use of chemicals increases at a steady 6 percent per
year, the ranks of the victims grow apace. Leaders like Lois Gibbs,
whose children were affected by chemicals dumped at Love Canal, have
given strength and a voice to victims who used to think it was their
own fault that they were sick. Or who were content to remain silent in
their rage. No more. The new leaders have spawned other leaders and now
nearly 5,000 groups of citizens have spontaneously arisen across the
country to protect themselves from toxics. It is a movement without a
name, though we think of it as the Movement for Environmental Justice.
It is growing daily, and it is on the move. Industry calls it the NIMBY
movement (not in my back yard). But industry misses the point. It is a
NIABY movement--not in ANYONE'S back yard. No one should be victimized
by chemicals, this movement says. It is not "chemophobia." It is common
sense.

The conference October 7 and 8 has been organized by Linda King, who is
on the staff of Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste's (CCHW's)
southern office in Harvey, Louisiana. At 35, Linda is, herself, a
victim of chemical exposure. For several years she lived in Nitro, West
Virginia, in one of the most polluted valleys in America. "You could
tell what plants were operating by the color of the sky-red, orange,
brown, green, or black," she says, not joking. Linda believes her most
serious exposures came from releases from a chemical plant run by
Monsanto. "Some days you felt as if your lungs weighed 150 pounds," she
says. Since those days she has become increasingly sensitive to all
sorts of chemicals--she has developed allergic reactions to food
additives and home cleaning products and industrial solvents in
household water.

The general syndrome is called "ecological illness" or "environmental
illness." It is a burgeoning field of medical study, but the medical
establishment (the AMA, for example) does not recognize the existence
of the syndrome. It took Linda King five years to find a doctor who
would treat her illness with anything except tranquilizers, who would
take her seriously and try to understand her condition.

"The patient is victimized twice," Linda says, "first by industry, then
by the medical establishment." Most victims fall silent, blame
themselves, retire from life so to speak. But increasingly, the victims
are seeing that they can fight back.

One of Linda King's ways of fighting back is to organize an "awareness
service" that she calls the PHYSICIANS CLEARINGHOUSE, to provide news
and information, a network for medical doctors interested in ecological
illness, and for victims. The service costs $25 per year for
professionals, and $15 per year for non-professionals. Each month,
Linda mails six to eight pages of material from medical journals, to
increase awareness of new developments in the field. To subscribe,
write: CCHW, P.O. Box 926, Arlington, VA 22216; (703) 276-7070.

The conference coming up Oct. 7 and 8 is aimed at two groups of people:
medical practitioners, and grass roots community leaders. Two separate
sets of workshops will be run for the two groups, but there will be
general sessions and social events where the two groups can mingle.
Enrollment is limited, so contact Linda King at (504) 340-2321, or Jeff
Daigle at (504) 9281315. Don't just show up unannounced; make sure
there's still space by phoning ahead.

Anyone interested in ecological illness will want to read three
publications: (1) ECOLOGICAL ILLNESS LAW REPORT, edited by Earon Davis,
P.O. Box 6099, Evanston, IL 60091; phone (312) 256-3730; $30/yr.; (2)
THE REACTOR, edited by Susan Molloy, P.O. Box 575, Corte Madera, CA
94925; phone (415) 924-5141; $20/yr ($10 for low income) and (3) THE
DELICATE BALANCE, edited by Mary Lamielle, Environmental Health
Association of New Jersey, 1100 Rural Avenue, Voorhees, NJ 08043; phone
(609) 429-5358. $15/yr ($10 for low income, $20 for businesses). Note:
Next week we'll continue our series on U.S. waste problems. "What we
must do." In it, we are discussing waste haulers, waste producers, and,
finally, remedies.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: physicians; citizen groups; environmentalists;
conferences; la; toxic exposures; exposure; chemical manufacturing;
chemical manufacturers association; american medical association; ma;
health; health statistics; disease statistics; hodgkin's disease;
leukemia; cancer; bronchitis; chemical production; chemical industry;
lois gibbs; love canal; nimby; linda king; cchw; monsanto; water;
ecological illness; environmental illness; jeff daigle; monsanto;
environmental illness;