I Can Feel It Clogging Up The Air Tonight

9 years ago

As I've mentioned in this space before, my husband and I recently moved our family out of the city, to a small town in the country. We were looking for wide open spaces, fresh air, quaint village bakeries, the sort of healthy-crunchy-outdoorsy thing that we assumed to would better serve the end of raising of a healthy and well-rounded family. And we certainly found it, in spades. But we also found ourselves, once we arrived, confronted by the sort of controversy that we had assumed only happened in the Big City: a civic schism over how to deal with waste, and specifically over whose backyard in which to burn that waste.

The region that we moved to - not quite 40 minutes outside of the city - had recently decided to explore incineration as an environmentally responsible alternative to waste management in the area. The location of the incinerator would be in a municipality neighboring ours - not in our backyard, by any stretch, but not too great a distance from us, either. But I wasn't bothered it: landfills don't work, and we're not at the point yet, as a society, where everything can be recycled or reused, and garbage has to go somewhere, right? And the experts trotted out by local politicians all insisted that incineration is totally safe, totally clean, and hey-the-Europeans-do-it-and-they-is-greensmart-for-realz-yo. So. An incinerator might be a bit of a blight on the otherwise pristine, rolling landscape of countryside, but who ever said environmental friendliness is always pretty?

Well, not always pretty is one thing. Not always non-toxic-to-pregnant-and-nursing-mothers-and-children is quite another.

Today, in my interweb wanderings, I stumbled across this headline on the website for a Scottish newspaper: "'Super' incinerator risks lives of children warns former GP."

Oh. Um, UH-OH. I read on:

"CHILDREN'S lives will be put at risk if a £140 million "super" incinerator is built in East Lothian, an expert warned today.

Environmental campaigner and former GP Dr Dick van Steenis has warned that some of the dangerous particulates produced during incineration would be too small to be picked up by filters at the proposed Dunbar plant. He claims it would lead to increased rates of infant mortality as well as birth defects, respiratory diseases and cancers.

Dr van Steenis – who has spent over a decade researching the link between industrial pollutants and health conditions – pointed to a study of infant mortality rates in London's 625 electoral wards. The 62 wards which recorded the highest death rates – all over nine deaths per 1000 births between 2003 and 2006 – were all subject to incinerator emissions."

I don't like the sounds of that. Not as the mother of a two-year old, and certainly not as a pregnant woman soon to give birth to an infant whose mortality is of very grave concern to me. (How is a pregnant woman supposed to sleep easily knowing that the incinerator 10 miles away is releasing birth-defect-causing particles into the air that she breathes? Into the air that her already-born children breath? And what if she or one of her children has asthma? AM STRESSING OUT JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.) And I imagine that most mothers in my area would probably feel the same way.

But what am I supposed to think as an environmentalist (I'm a lazy environmentalist, but still). There are strong eco-arguments for incineration as the lowest-impact option for dealing with waste. But when there are also strong environmental and health arguments against incineration, what is one supposed to think? Until we're able to convince manufacturers of everything to only produce recyclable and/or resuable products, do we keep filling up land with garbage, and avoid burning it? Or do we burn it, and risk our health? And if burning is the most reasonable current answer, am I really a massive hypocrite for NOT wanting it in my backyard, or even in my neighborhood?

Is it possible to be a selfishly hypocritical environmentalist? Or is the other word for that, paranoid mom?

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