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Friday, September 21, 2007

It's a wonder that we survived...

The more that I see of our modern paranoia with the things around us, the more that I wonder at the fact that I survived this long. And most of my peers did, too. Somehow we lived through the lead-based paint era. We played with mercury and rubbed it on coins and lived to tell about it. We lived in houses insulated with asbestos laced insulation and came out on the other side. We even survived the installation of new carpeting and marveled ignorantly at its new carpet smell. Our water lines and plumbing were a mix of lead pipes and later PCV and yet we still have our senses. And whenever mom found some mold she sprayed some Clorox on it and wiped it away without having an asthma attack. We even sprayed ourselves with DDT-based bug repellent to keep the mosquitoes away.

Maybe we came from hardier stock back then. I have no idea how the human stock got so diluted, but apparently it did somewhere along the way. These days millions have allergic reactions to the slightest hint of any of the things that we grew up with. I’ve actually witnessed a potential home-buyer having an asthma attack in reaction to being told that there was mold in the house that she was in. It was a bit strange that she had been in the house for 3 hours without a symptom prior to being told about the mold. Perhaps it was very sneaky mold that had been waiting for just the right moment to strike her down. I’ve also witnessed people who can only be in a house where a cat lives for a few moments before they begin to wheeze and their eyes to swell shut – actually my wife has that sort of reaction, too. And, I was with a lady who walked into a house with fresh carpeting and immediately had an allergy attack. I know that these reactions are real, because I've seen them take place.

I lived through exposure to a lot of those things without developing hideous rashes or requiring an oxygen mask just to breath. I still enjoy that new car smell (vinyl venting off in the car – although my wife tells me that it actually made her sick when she was a child, so maybe it’s always been an issue for some people) or of a new carpet (the glues used in the carpet venting gases). I probably wouldn’t rub mercury on a dime again, but I wouldn’t evacuate a whole school building, as recently happened in our area, just because someone dropped and broke a mercury thermometer in the hallway. And, I don’t check under the sink at someone’s house to see if their plumbing is copper or PCV before I drink the water. I’ve made it this far without being that paranoid and I think I’ll be OK for the future.

These things all made me wonder what has changed? Have we as a people changed or have the products that are all around us become all that more toxic or allergenic? I have concluded that some of both have likely happened. Maybe we as a species are becoming more sensitive to toxins, allergens and other irritants around us and maybe the wonders of science and chemistry have introduced new, more powerful irritants into our world. There is also the factor that our understanding of the world around us and the things that are bad for us has dramatically improved over time. We just didn’t know about the dangers lead and mercury in paint when I was young. Mercury was used to prevent mold in the paint back then and lead was a primary base for paints. Asbestos was considered to be a great insulator, so we made brake pads of it and wrapped our steam pipes in it. We even insulated our houses with it and made siding from it. Now we know better.

Medical science has made great strides, too. I remember that many aches and pains of my youth were written off by mom as “growing pains.” Some of those were likely warning signs of other things that eventually got better on their own - or didn't. So, now we know better; but, that doesn’t mean that we should hide in our shells from everything. They’ll likely tell us next year that shells have some toxins in them anyway and that hiding in them is bad for us, too. Certainly we need to be informed about the dangers that surround us in everyday life; but, life goes on and we can’t hide from everything - we’ll live through it. Medical knowledge has improved and new cures, at least for the symptoms, have been created. Our society has taken steps to ban or tightly control most of the really bad stuff that I grew up with; so, we're not quite as much at risk. It’s a wonder any of my generation survived, but we did and yours will, too.

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