The area of Salt Lake City carved out for the inland port has been mother nature’s celestial kingdom for antelopes, birds, and insects for millennia. But the attempt to “upgrade” it into the economic celestial kingdom of the state — in other words, a lot of money for special interests — will be anything but heavenly. Among the many reasons, it will likely involve an unprecedented use of toxic chemicals exposing residents throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
Recently, entire medical societies have made strong official statements regarding the danger of even small doses of many chemicals and their link to obesity, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, reproductive pathology and brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, impaired intellect, autism and attention deficit disorder. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), World Health Organization, and the Endocrine Society are all mainstream medical organizations that have, in one form or another, called for a sharp reduction in chemical exposure.
At the top of the list of dangerous chemicals are insecticides and herbicides because they are biologic poisons to living cells, including those of beneficial insects, birds and humans. Prominent researchers have for years advocated a complete re-evaluation of the rationale behind their use.
The most widely used insecticides work by attacking the nerve cells of insects. A nerve cell in a mosquito damaged by an insecticide is almost identical to a nerve cell in a fetus which can also be damaged by the same insecticide. That nerve cell can be just as critical to a fetus as it is to a mosquito. Regrettably, pesticides cross the placenta, contaminate the womb and the amniotic fluid, and impair fetal development. Pyrethroid compounds are the most commonly used insecticides for controlling adult mosquitos. Research showing human toxicity specific to pyrethroids is extensive.
Pesticides in general, pyrethroids in particular, are toxic to the brain, associated with a wide range of neurologic and brain diseases, especially impaired early brain development, loss of intellect and behavioral disorders in children. For some pesticides, brain damage has been found at the lowest detectable dose.
You ask, “How is this possible?” Here’s how. One drop of water, contaminated with just 1 part per billion of a toxic chemical, can contain 2.65 trillion molecules of that chemical, almost 30 molecules for every cell in a newborn baby’s brain.
What this means clinically was revealed in a study showing pregnant women exposed to higher levels of pyrethroids gave birth to infants that scored significantly lower on intelligence tests three years later. The brain damage was comparable to what occurs with lead toxicity — think Flint, Mich. And, as with lead, the damage is almost certainly permanent.
Most pyrethroid compounds are also endocrine disruptors, can interfere with fertility and fetal development and cause birth defects and cancer, even in future generations.
Pesticides now contaminate our air, drinking water, food and soil. They are detected on Mt. Everest, in the deepest parts of the ocean and in rainfall from the sky. Pesticides are universally found in the blood and urine of almost all human beings everywhere, in new-born babies, and in mother’s milk. While contamination is global, for Salt Lake Valley residents, the most important place to reduce chemical usage is the valley itself.
The consequence of mosquito control is just one of many issues our legislators never considered in relocating the prison or pursuing their fantasy of an inland port. Whether they would have cared had they known is fodder for cynical speculation. But mosquito control as it is all too often done, even in Salt Lake City, cannot be written off as safe, especially in neighborhoods near the port. It is yet another ugly, “inconvenient truth” of the inland port.
Mosquito populations and transmission of insect carried diseases, increase with rising temperatures. Climate change will make the problem steadily worse. But spraying enough pesticides in the area to replace mosquitoes with humans will be tantamount to blanketing it with a fine mist of brain damaging lead, several times a summer, year after year, after year.
Flint, Mich., will forever be known by the tragedy of its notorious lead scandal. Inland port cheerleaders are setting up Salt Lake City for a tragedy and scandal even worse.
Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah Honors College teaching public health and the environment and author of the new non-fiction book, “Death by Corporation: Killing Humankind in the Age of Monster Corporations.”