What has the environment to do with health?

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A car battery recycling plant produced, when it rained, a haze that enveloped Paraíso de Dios, God’s Paradise, but years after its relocation, children are still born with high blood lead levels. This neighborhood in Bajos de Haina, 20 km west of the Dominican Republic capital, made the 2006 ten most-polluted list of the Blacksmith Institute based in New York1. Indeed, a study conducted in 2005 by the Dominican Republic Academy of Sciences reported that 93 percent of health consultations in Bajos de Haina, the country’s industrial hub since the 1970s with over a hundred assorted industries, including its oil refinery, were 93%, 83%, 69%, and 68%, respectively for asthma, bronchitis, flu symptoms, and  acute diarrhea2. Should we worry about this or the exponential increase in Latin America, for example, of mobile telephony, with the region bereft of coherent policies on handling used/outmoded and cellular telephones some of whose constituents, for example, the batteries could have levels of metals including cadmium, lead, nickel and mercury oxide, toxic to the environment and to health2? Should the region, and indeed, others, for example, in Africa, where there is also a sharp increase in cellular phone subscribers, not be initiating re-use, and recycling programs for not just cellular phones, but electronic wastes in general, or should they not? What role could the companies that manufacture these products play in such programs, and should there be legislation in place to ensure that they play such roles and if not how else could we ensure that they do? Still in Latin America, what should we say of the activities in the early 1980s at the climax of the gold rush of the garimpeiros, small-scale, self-employed gold diggers of Serra Pelada, deep in the Amazon in Brazil, vis-à-vis the then state-owned firm, Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD)? What should we say of the potential of regulations to prevent the deforestation and water pollution from the mercury used in mining operations, resulting from these activities, and which indeed, persist, with continuing discoveries of new El Dorados in the country? May be these issues bear little relevance to the much taunted, ‘reducing greenhouse gas emissions,’ that not even the purveyors of the annual jamborees of United Nations climate negotiations tire to ballyhoo, perhaps if the growth in emissions being slower, among member nations represents some form of reduction, could count for progress. 

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