Green Communities, Healthy People


Fauquier Times Democrat

Bill Couzens

03/27/2007 Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Building “green” communities is all about sharing a vision. Shared community visions for greening typically include sustainable solutions for the environment, economy and human health.

While not always the intent, often when considering taking steps to protect the environment, communities consequently protect human health. And while it’s often more politically acceptable to discuss “greening,” the reality is that when steps are taken to protect the environment, we often reduce the number of cancer-causing environmental exposures.

Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia has taken steps to warn of those unnecessary and preventable exposures – especially those linked with cancer.

While behind many other states, state officials now recommend that pesticide application sites not be located next to schools. Other steps have included the promotion of pesticide drift best-management practices.

Gov. Tim Kaine seems to understand the unnecessary and preventable exposures, suggesting pesticide use be limited, relative to the fragile condition of the Chesapeake Bay.

One concern for Virginia waterways relates to endocrine disruptors, which scientists refer to as “hormone mimics,” and other compounds that are increasingly common in our waters.

Endocrine disruptors in the environment may include pharmaceuticals in untreated wastewater and pesticide runoff. When absorbed into the body, these synthetic chemicals either mimic or block hormones, and disrupt the body’s normal functions, including sexual and reproductive characteristics.

There is a growing concern, as experts have documented intersex fish in the U.S. and in Europe.

If secondary sites such as waterways suffer the impacts of exposure to toxic pesticides that can alter the gender of fish, one must conclude that there are outcomes for human health when exposures are in primary sites, such as classrooms and/or play spaces.

Especially in the case of children, who are likely to be exposed to substances in their environment at higher levels than are adults. Exposure to toxicants such as pesticides at such times may result in irreversible damage, even though the same exposure to a mature system may result in little or no damage.

When we understand where and how these exposures come into play, it becomes clear that with children’s activities – including hand-to-mouth contact and limited hand-washing – the transference of exposures can come in a multitude of ways besides air.

One program that has been recently promoted to the governor is the notion of posting and notification relative to pesticide applications in Virginia schools, a practice done in other states to reduce unnecessary and preventable exposures.

When communities work to reduce cancer-causing environmental exposures, they in turn are presented with an opportunity to reduce the incidences of other illnesses, such as asthma, the number-one reason for missed school days with an estimated 10 million missed schools day last year in this country.

Our environment and the condition of human health is the proverbial mirror for the planet. When our planet is at risk, our health is at risk.

Never before has there been so much cancer in both adults and children. And while the cure is important, our focus needs to be directed to fewer cases.

We live in a world where less is more.

Greening communities to include towns, schools and hospitals are presented with vast opportunities where less really can be more for our environment and human health.

Less is more, when there is less cancer.

Bill Couzens, is the founder and president of Next Generation Choices Foundation