“Forever chemicals”! The European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet), an agency of the European Union (EU) describes polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) or “forever chemicals” as “Comprising more than 4,700 chemicals, per [sic] and are a group of widely used, man-made chemicals that accumulate over time in humans and in the environment.”
They are known to accumulate in humans, animals, water, sediment/soil, and the air.
These “forever chemicals” are known to affect human health by being linked to delayed mammary gland development, reduced response to vaccines, lower birth rate, early puberty onset, increased miscarriage risks, low sperm count and mobility, increased cholesterol levels, breast cancer, kidney cancer, liver damage, testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure), inflammatory bowel disease, etc.
In relation to “forever chemicals” the US-based National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has stated that there are grave concerns regarding their use and exposure. First, widespread occurrence — as they are commonly found in the blood, urine and bodies of humans, animals, soil, etc. Second, numerous exposure — as they are present and used in a wide range of products especially everyday items used by humans. Third, growing number — at present there are more than 4,700 such chemicals used within a wide range of industries. Fourth, persistence — as aptly named “forever chemicals”, thus they take a significant number of years to break down due to their chemical structure. Fifth, bioaccumulation — these “forever chemicals” enter the food chain and tend to accumulate in the host body over time.
As a global society we experience increased levels of asthma and eczema in our children. We then wonder why so many of our children are using puffers, wheeze and cough? One possible answer is that we as adults are poisoning them on a daily basis by exposing them to toxic “forever chemicals.”
A recent article in the Guardian regarding the high level of pollutants in the Salton Sea located in California highlighted the toxic effects of pollution. The article stated that the area is “..home to dangerous algal blooms, endless dust and noxious air….” A key cause is toxins from farm runoff such as fertilisers leaving a trail of a “powdery arsenic, selenium and DDT.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lists persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as “…toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. Because they can be transported by wind and water, most POPs generated in one country can and do affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released. They persist for long periods of time in the environment and can accumulate and pass from one species to the next through the food chain.” So, the food chain starts with plankton, then jacks (nice and fried dry), further up the chain to tuna, finally to you and I who consume anything they eat including microplastics.
A few weeks ago, I was on the world famous Grand Anse Beach after a heavy rain and guess what went floating by in the clear, crystal water…a local drink bottle. These same forever chemicals are found in the plastics made to hold drinks, water, cosmetics etc. Organisations such as the Grenada Green Group and the Grenada Solid Waste Management Authority are left with the task of cleaning up the excessive garbage from packaging. Some of this garbage comes from individuals throwing litter out of vehicles, contractors not adequately disposing of construction waste and households improperly disposing of waste. As responsible corporate citizens what roles do the bottling companies, grocery stores and other companies play in helping to clean up the garbage left from their products by their consumers?
As individuals, we ought to be scared and take stock of the poisons we place in Grenada the Beautiful. I have resided in Canada and always compared Canada to Grenada by stating that both are clean, quiet and safe. Moreover, I trusted the food system in Canada and Grenada since they are very similar. Thus, I was shocked by the article in the Canadian news, Higher concentrations of controversial herbicide glyphosate may soon be on your plate: here’s why. Thus, if allowed the foods in Canada would contain higher levels of such chemicals. The negative effects of these harmful chemicals are well known and documented, so why use them?
Back to Grenada, to the Gramoxone or Paraquat, a herbicide used to kill weeds. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes Gramoxone as a “…toxic chemical that is widely used as an herbicide (plant killer), primarily for weed and grass control. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies paraquat as “restricted use.” This means that it can be used only by people who are licenced applicators.” Recently, a neighbour sprayed grass on his property located adjacent to the public road with Gramoxone. The other neighbour’s goat ate the grass and shortly after died an agonising death. The goat was pregnant, so the kid died as well. I wonder how many individuals in Grenada the Beautiful are licenced by the Ministry of Agriculture to use Gramoxone? I also wonder why is it necessary for us in Grenada the Beautiful to use such harmful chemicals when the carcinogenic effects are well known?
As the saying goes, too much of a good thing is good for nothing. Synthetic fertilisers revolutionised farming in the early 20th century, but now as they say, the chickens have come home to roost. With excessive use we see algal blooms creating dead zones where no fish, fauna, much less humans, can survive. So far, we are still lucky to have relatively clean water in Grenada the Beautiful. We are yet to reach the stage of countries such as New Zealand where, “60 per cent of the country’s rivers carry pollution above acceptable levels, with 95 to 99 per cent of rivers in pastoral, urban and non-native forested areas contaminated.” What can we do in Grenada? We can revert to the days where we used only cow, goat and sheep manure and made compost from seaweed (we can clean up the beaches) and grass clippings (the ones without the Gramoxone) as natural fertilisers.
Organic farming can become the norm in Grenada. The Ministry of Agriculture with farmers and other stakeholders can provide the knowledge and capacity for organic farming. Organic certification is expensive and the average farmer cannot afford the associated costs. A localised approach can be adopted with the Ministry of Agriculture and Grenada Bureau of Standards collaborating to set up a “grown in Grenada” organic standard. This standard should be comprehensive with the aim of meeting and even exceeding international standards without the prohibitive costs associated with the international standards, “Grenada Organics.” The reality is that as consumers we should accept the fact that organically grown foods are not as pretty or as large as the conventional foods. Thus, food waste would also be decreased as grocery stores would not reject large quantities of food due to the “look”.
A large percentage of our foods are already grown using little or no artificial fertilisers laced with these toxic “forever chemicals” which is a testimony to the traditional methods of farming. This needs to be applauded, yet we still need to increase our production of organically grown and certified organic foods. Farmers are using these “forever chemicals” to make a “quick buck”, but they are known to rob the soil of essential nutrients, leech into the water table and accumulate in the soil. Natural based insecticides and pesticides should also be used for a healthier environment.
In addition, we as humans depend on food which require pollination, thus insects are an essential part of our ecosystem. Due to the use of harmful chemicals the article in the Guardian has stated that, “Insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years – and the consequences may soon be catastrophic…” Honey bees, butterflies and other insects are declining globally, planting flowers and decreasing the use of harmful chemicals would ensure that Grenada remains Beautiful. Plants such as marigold and lemongrass are known to act as pest controllers.
Tourism is important and can you imagine the consequences if any/all produce coming from Grenada would be organic? Individuals would rush to visit Grenada for the good, natural, local ital. This is especially important as we are now blessed with the designation of the “world’s first culinary capital” by the World Food Travel Association (WFTA). When we enter a post-Covid world (est. 2023) individuals would be clamouring for healthy food and lifestyles. Thus, organic farming provides a great opportunity to increase agriculture and tourism in Grenada the Beautiful.
Mosquito coils are used extensively to protect against mosquito borne illness. A recent study looking at the primary ingredients in coils concluded “However, the smoke may contain pollutants of health concern…. we found that pollutant concentrations resulting from burning mosquito coils could substantially exceed health-based air quality standards or guidelines…. burning one mosquito coil would release the same amount of PM (2.5) mass as burning 75-137 cigarettes. The emission of formaldehyde from burning one coil can be as high as that released from burning 51 cigarettes.” Are there alternatives to mosquito coils which use these toxic “forever chemicals”, yes, a mosquito net works just as effective with no damaging health effects such as asthma. You may also grow natural mosquito repellants such as lemongrass, sage, rosemary, etc. and by getting rid of stagnant water around your home which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Miracles never cease to exist where the tobacco giant, Phillip Morris stated, “Tobacco firm Philip Morris calls for ban on cigarettes within decade.” Maybe industries and global leaders are finally realising the negative effects of harmful chemicals and pollution. Although Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson the billionaires recently went to space with a possible aim of colonising the skies. What are the polluting effects of these space rides? If we decide to live on another planet, would we simply destroy it in the same way as we are destroying our home, earth. But mother earth always appear to ensure she has the final say, if we change a river course, she goes right back, we build dams and she destroys them, we build dykes and levees she destroys them, we drain swamps and she refills them. Imagine, we can pollute a lake and alga are still able to exist and thrive, but the lake is toxic to us humans. We as humans are now beginning to pay homage to indigenous knowledge as indigenous peoples in their respective areas have continued to act as stewards of the land.
At present, the overall air quality in Grenada is good, clean and truly fresh as the Government of Grenada has recently implemented a program to disallow vehicles older than ten (10) years to be imported. It is a well-known fact that older vehicles are not as fuel efficient as the newer models, so they produce more pollutants and “forever chemicals”. I do not drive and I take the bus at the terminal, thus I am punished each time I take the bus. A significant portion of the population use public transport at the bus terminal. I am astounded at the fact that when one enters the bus terminal it is a different world from outside. The inner space is dark, hot and full of vehicle exhaust since there is a wooden wall barricading the side facing the sea. Why, are passengers and bus drivers at the bus terminal subjected to inhaling vehicle fumes for an average of 30 minutes when waiting for the bus to be filled? I was told that the school children would wait on the “new bus”. I too was a schoolchild and yes, I waited on the “new bus”, I waited for “Cutty bus” and I am grateful that he and the other bus drivers took me to school on a daily basis. The system in place by the Ministry of Transport is excellent and efficient; no loitering, traffic wardens, police officers and transport agents at the bus terminal to ensure each bus has a turn and no loitering by the school children waiting on the “new bus”, thus, why the need for the barricade and the lack of clean air?
I believe anything I consume or that goes onto my skin which is my largest organ should be simple and natural. So why are we placing “forever chemicals” in skincare products? Our lipsticks, concealers, waterproof mascara and eye products are chock full of harmful ingredients. Get used to the saying, “if yuh cyan eat, it den doh put it on your skin” as opposed to natural, safe products. We humans believe we are the most advanced of all beings on earth, but are we, when we chose to pollute the same environment we need to live on?
There is a Cree Indian prophecy stating, “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realise we cannot eat money.” How close are we to attempting to eat money? We as humans would surely starve.
Tricia Simon is an Attorney-at-Law called to the bar in the State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Province of Ontario, Canada.