children who health systems mortality

Child deaths drop by nearly 30 per cent
chemicals cancer risk toxic protocol

Carcinogenic Carbon Tet Still Found Everywhere

Breathe easier, now that innocent kids fare better, but do watch what you breathe. We trim, blend, and append two 2009 articles from (1) the UN Daily News, May 21, on child mortality and (2) USA Today, May 19, on carbon tet by James Bruggers.

by UN Daily News and by James Bruggers

Deaths of children under five years of age have plummeted by almost one third since 1990, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Some 9 million children under the age of five died in 1997, marking a sharp decline from the 12.5 million estimated to have died in 1990.

Contributing factors were insecticide-treated mosquito nets for malaria, oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea, increased access to vaccines, and improved water and sanitation.

In Africa, high levels of HIV/AIDS, economic hardship, and conflict are still problems.

Nearly 40% of deaths among children under five occurring in the first month, even first week, of life.

JJS: That was the good health news. Now the bad.

For much of the 20th century, carbon tetrachloride was regarded as a miracle chemical: It was used to put out fires, degrease machines, kill bugs, dry-clean clothing, and even help stamp collectors detect forgeries.

From the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, most of those uses were discontinued for health and safety reasons. Then came what appeared to be the final blow: Thirteen years ago, carbon tetrachloride and other chemicals that were eating up the Earth's ozone layer were banned or restricted under the Montreal Protocol. The treaty, ratified years earlier by the United States and 193 other countries, was designed to protect the layer of the atmosphere that filters the sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

Despite all of these efforts to eliminate carbon tetrachloride -- classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen and known to damage the liver, kidneys, and brain -- it still shows up at elevated levels around the world. That's a testament to its past widespread use and its tough-as-nails persistence.

It is outside 70 of 95 schools in 30 states USA Today monitored for a week last fall, yet there were no obvious industrial sources to explain the readings.

Carbon tetrachloride accounts for 12% to 15% of cancer risks from toxic chemicals in some places.

Some carbon tetrachloride wafts up from inside landfills. Smokestacks and leaky pipes and valves at a few industrial plants in the USA and elsewhere still release smaller quantities of the chemical, which is used to make other chemicals.

Some plants may be emitting the chemical but not reporting it.

Carbon tet shows up in approximately the same concentrations -- levels that could produce between one and 100 additional cancer cases among 1 million people over a lifetime of exposure -- at monitors across the nation.

The carbon tet background levels are found nearly everywhere globally.

Many substances have hung on in the environment long after governments acted against them.

Production of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, used in electrical equipment, paints, plastics and hundreds of other industrial applications, was banned in the 1970s. Yet people still can be exposed to PCBs by eating contaminated fish and shellfish, ingesting contaminated breast or cow's milk, and breathing indoor air in buildings where electrical equipment still contains PCBs.

Lead is no longer allowed in car or truck fuel or in many paint products, yet it can be picked up from soil near homes or roads or from drinking water in old lead pipes.

Under the Montreal Protocol, developing countries still have until next year to stop production of carbon tet. For the United States and other industrialized nations, the deadline was 1996. The treaty, however, left open the possibility that some carbon tet production could continue in the USA.

US companies reported they emitted 165,000 pounds of carbon tet in 2007, the most recent year for which the numbers are available through the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory. That compares with 3.5 million pounds emitted 20 years ago.

The largest single air emission source in 2007 was the DuPont Performance Elastomers plant in Beaumont, Texas, which reported 53,000 pounds of carbon tetrachloride emissions that year. Since 2000 the plant has reduced its carbon tetrachloride emissions by 40% and now recycles more than 99% of the chemical.

The risks add up. But there is nothing air officials can do. People must wait for the risks to fall slowly over time.

JJS: The sooner we reform liability limits for risky business, the better. If that raises their costs, we could lower the taxes we impose. For public revenue, we could recover the flow of “rent” that businesses and residents, too, pay for land and resources. The public would have enough revenue, business enough profit, and life a safe environment. It’s the geonomic prescription.


Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Just Cause for Great Alarm

Careful US hospitals could save $20 billion a year

More livable communities are an Rx, but what makes them?

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