The title of this post is taken from today’s opinion piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, which focuses on carcinogens in our daily life and our failure to regulate exposure to dangerous compounds.
Kristof’s point is that we should do a better job of protecting ourselves and our environment from industrial compounds. No argument there. He goes on to say that a “proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products” is suspected as a factor in rising cancer rates. Yes, argument here.
Because, geez, water is a chemical compound (hydrogen and oxygen). And the atmosphere has always been a wonderfully mixed up soup of gases, mostly nitrogen (78.08 percent) and oxygen (20.95 percent), with a sprinkle of argon (.93 percent) and a dash of carbon dioxide, neon, helium, methane, krypton, nitrous oxide, hydrogen and ozone. (Ozone, by the way, is just another way of saying three oxygen atoms bonded together). And everything we eat or drink- although we don’t usually consider it – is made of nothing but, yes, chemicals. Take table sugar or sucrose. Nothing but a collection of very familiar chemicals: C12H22O11 (12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen and 11 oxygen).
After proposing a link between too much chemistry and not just cancer but diabetes, obesity and autism, Kristof goes on to note “This is not to say that chemicals are evil…”. Darn right they’re not. We’re made of them ourselves; scientists have tallied up some 41 chemical elements in body’s construction, the largest proportion (87 percent) being hydrogen and oxygen. In other words, we’re mostly made of H2O, also known as water.
So let’s give chemicals a break, okay? They’re not the problem. The problems come from the way we mix them up, the way we fail to appreciate how dangerously experimental some of these compounds are, the casual way we stir them into our daily lives, and – here I agree with Kristof – our failure to fully fund research into the consequences of these compounds or to regulate them with any enthusiasm.
But we won’t begin to fix any of this if we don’t get the basics right. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drown my frustrations in a glass of C2H5OH, preferably of the sauvignon blanc variety.