Wednesday, March 12, 2014


     Since the advent of civilization, when that very first stick was poked into the ground to make a hole for a seed, and the very first path was laid between multiple shelters, the ways that people farm, live collectively and interact have evolved into how we eat and live, guided by the policies of municipal services and their impact on our human health. From the crude machinery that was being used to plant and harvest crops, to the lack of adequate sanitation systems in communal living arrangements such as towns, villages or cities, the risk of disease or injury was a daily and constant threat.  Since then, we’ve come a long way.  Our technology, our understanding of the environment has allowed various laws and committees to adopt measures to ensure the safety of our municipalities through proper regulated and effective services.  Studies continue to be done and policies are constantly being improved upon in an attempt to further protect us from dangers that we may not yet be fully aware of.  

     One such study takes into question of how the quality and safety of milk and other dairy products have been impacted by the production systems in place today.  Unlike the simplistic caveat that Pasteur promoted where we simply pasteurize and all is good, this study looks at the sustainability of organic farming as a possible alternative to traditional methods within the safety limits and guidelines established by governing bodies  According to the author, organic farming "typically requires more resources and produces less food, which currently makes it less profitable and a questionable solution to meeting the world's growing food supply needs (Eramus, 2013)."  Beyond that, there appeared to be no concerns as to whether it was safer or more hazardous to the end user or those directly affected by the farming method, perhaps organic farming needs to be studied further to determine what technologies can be used to improve the subsequent environmental impact on agriculture and to see if there is a health benefit in eating organic over the more traditional chemical laden methods.

     This problem of increasing our food supply has also given rise to a number of questionable practices.  One company in particular, Monsanto, has come under fire due to their practice of genetically modifying foods to make them more viable, and drought, disease and insect resistant.  On the positive side of things, these foods, having been genetically modified to "select desirable characteristics in plants and transfer genes from one organism to another", can withstand conditions where natural foods could not.   There are also positive environmental benefits due to the reduction of the use of pesticides on genetically modified crops (Sheldon, 2011).

     On the other side of the debate is the question as to the long term effects that these genetically modified foods will have on the population.   While a "scientific consensus is emerging that genetically modified technology itself poses no inherent risk for human health", this consensus has been found to be subjective (Sheldon, 2011).  The tests that had been done on lab rats only covered the first ninety days after usage of the genetically modified food.  Later testing that was done on the same rats, found that there were repercussions from the genetically modified food that did not show up until many months or even years later.  

     In the 1800s, the practices (or non-practices) of hygiene due to the inadequacies of the services available in homes worldwide can be seen in the numerous outbreaks of Cholera among people.  This disease has been said to have caused "22 million deaths, with decadal cholera mortality rising as high as 1.5/1,000 in 1887–96, equivalent to 429,000 average annual cholera deaths (Hamlin, 2008)".  Since then, the introduction of water filtration and the treatment of effluence have been able to halt the spread of the disease in technologically advanced societies.   

     The creating of systems to keep water clean has been a goal of humankind for centuries.  Going back to the Roman era, they created aqueducts to carry fresh water to holding ponds and the waste water out of homes. This running water, indoor plumbing and sewer system which carried disease away from the population was considered to be e one of the greatest achievements in the ancient world (Heaton, 2003-2013).  

     The Roman emperors, Caligula and Nero, are suspected to have had neurosis due to lead poisoning which was caused by the lead pipes that carried the water.  Back then, technology was limited so pipes were made of lead or clay.   These lead pipes were a vital part of ancient Rome, being the basis for what we now call 'plumbing".  Interestingly, the Latin word for lead - plumbum, is where the word "plumbing" comes from.  
  To further exasperate the problem, lead, or rather lead oxide having been made from lead, was a main component in the facial make up that was popular amongst the aristocrats of the day.  Moving ahead through history, due to the demise of the Roman Empire and the resultant loss of knowledge, information and technology, lead, being readily available, was used as an amalgam to make pewter which was then used to make regular household products such as plates, bowls, cups, which were affordable to even the poorest, and later by itself as ammunition of the new doomsday devices of the era, rifles (Trousken, 2008).   This subsequently lead to a rising number of cases of lead poisoning, both slow cumulative toxicity levels from persistent low level exposures to dramatic full blown lead poisoning that killed in a most excruciating manner.  Point of note, lead used as ammunition killed by virtue of the kinetic energy imparted to it by the explosion, not by the toxicity of the metal in the human body.   

     After the beginning of the twentieth century, the infant mortality rate throughout the country and the world saw major reductions due to two specific advancements.  The advancement in water filtration technology and the development of new sanitation techniques for treating wastes rather than dumping them back into the water system thus providing for clean water that could be used for drinking, cooking, washing and other purposes such as the boiling of clean water for sterilization and the disinfecting of surfaces and hands.   

     The boiling of water also reduces the amount of lead and other metals in the water, and breaks down some organic compounds which can be harmful to humans and usually is effective in destroying parasites and other unwanted life forms naturally found in many waters.     An example of a modern water purification plant failure where a filtration system malfunctioned was the 1993 outbreak of Cryptosporidium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which affected almost a third (403,000)  of the population of the city and resulted in at least 104 deaths being attributed to the outbreak (Hoxie, 1997).  Due to technology, regulations and routine testing, such incidences have become rare and newsworthy rather than commonplace disasters that afflict cities annually.

     Today, due to the advances in technology and development of newer and better systems, the occurrence of death and disease due to the perils of our environment are becoming less and less common.   New and better policies and procedures have been implemented that will make our world a much safer place to live.    

Erasmus, L. J., & Webb, E. C. (2013). The effect of production system and management practices on the environmental impact, quality and safety of milk and dairy products. South African Journal Of Animal Science, 43(3), 425-434. doi:10.4314/sajas.v43i3.12

Hamlin, C. (2009). Cholera : The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Huff Post. (2012).  Monsanto Corn Study In France Finds Tumors And Organ Damage In Rats. Retrieved from:

Heaton, C. & Posratching, C. (2003-2013). Roman Aqueducts. UNRV History. Retrieved From:

Hoxie, Neil J.  et al. (December 1997), "Cryptosporidiosis-Associated Mortality Following a Massive Waterbome Outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin", American Journal of Public Health 87 (12): 2032–2035,

Lewis, Jack. (1985).  EPA Journal. Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective. Retrieved From:

Sheldon, I. M., Moschini, G., & Carter, C. (2011). Genetically Modified Food and Global Welfare. Bingley: Emerald Group Pub. 

Troesken, W. (2008). Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Journal Of Human Resources, 43(3), 553-575.

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