DEAR READERS: After reading several research reports on a host of petrochemical products -- from plastic water bottles and grocery bags to styrofoam cups and packing materials -- it is evident that they are pervasive and a top environmental and public health issue.
Plastics break down into small particles that become a magnet for toxic chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in polluted sea and fresh water. Plastics disintegrate into microparticles, now present in many drinking water sources, and further into nanoparticles that can pass though the gut wall and possibly cross the blood-brain barrier.
Many anthropogenic diseases, from obesity and dysbiosis to multiple sclerosis and cancer, may well be exacerbated by these kinds of petroleum products, along with the micro- and nanoparticles in the air we breathe from other sources, including coal-fired power plants, gasoline-driven vehicle exhaust and the incineration of plastic-containing garbage.
To these we should add indoor microfiber particle “dust” from synthetic carpet and upholstery materials. These also contain endocrine-disrupting flame-retardant chemicals, which contribute to the epidemic of thyroid cancer/hyperthyroidism in cats sharing our home environments. These particles also contaminate the environment via the laundry wastewater from synthetic clothing materials. Plastic-derived and other nanoparticles in the air, rain and irrigation water contaminate our food crops, seafood and livestock feed, and thus enter the food chain and much of the food we consume.
We must quickly create and expand alternative products based on eco-friendly biochemical processes such as contained biofermentation and biosynthesis, bioremediation, sustainable biofuels and other alternative energy sources, and natural clothing and other materials derived from cotton, hemp etc. that are recyclable and biodegrade into nontoxic components. Local and international efforts to recover plastic materials from all contaminated aquatic ecosystems and unsealed landfills need to be initiated for the common good.
DEAR DR. FOX: The recent letter in reference to euthanizing shelter pit bulls who have been abused and called a “dangerous tossing of the dice” is heartbreaking.
Humans are the ones who have caused the abuse, yet we don’t euthanize them, do we? This man speaks of these dogs like they are disposable. Imagine if God felt that way about us as humans. Abuse, of any kind, is a choice. It has the power to cause complete wreckage in our lives and render us, as humans, the same status as a shelter dog.
Pit bulls have gained a reputation for responding unkindly when faced with fearful or anxiety-ridden situations. As humans, don’t we do the same thing sometimes? Just like animals, we react when things happen that we don’t like or understand. When coupled with an abusive past, people may respond in a dangerous manner, rendering us “worthless” and on our way to either life in prison or a death sentence. But should all dogs, just because they are pit bulls and have displayed dangerous behavior, be euthanized?
Dangerous people exist, just as dangerous dogs do, but that’s not the problem; PEOPLE are the problem. We abuse each other and animals then get angry when they respond. Our world is crumbling all around us, and still we blame others and seek death as an option to unwanted or undesirable behavior. If death is the “best option,” then why do we still have so many shelter animals and people spending their lives in jail? -- R.R., Farmingdale, New Jersey
DEAR R.R.: Many readers will take to heart what you have written, and most, I am sure, will agree that there are no easy solutions.
We do indeed wrestle with trying to live up to the principles of justice, compassion and reverence for life. And I agree with you that many dogs, not just pit bulls, are aggressive around people and other dogs because of human influences -- improper rearing, breeding, neglect and abuse.
But is it more or less humane to incarcerate such dogs for their entire lives because they cannot be rehabilitated, often for lack of trained staff and potentially life-threatening risks to them? I know of one instance where a powerful and unstable dog being walked at a no-kill shelter broke free and killed a small dog being walked nearby, putting both dog handlers at risk in trying to pry the one dog off the other, and the subsequent emotional trauma to both handlers. Of course, better precautions could have been taken, but what to do in cases of emergency when all animals must be removed from a shelter -- as in the case of a fire or flood?
I consider the “no-kill” animal shelter movement, which justifies releasing unadoptable cats into our communities after neutering, and incarcerating unadoptable dogs for as long as they live, contrary to the ethics of compassion. It is an abdication of the responsible application of euthanasia for the common good. No-kill shelters fill up, and then where do stray and surrendered dogs and cats go? They are often abandoned to fend for themselves, but, given room at shelters, could have been easily and safely adopted.
The pro-life movement is all very well, but its consequences should not cause more suffering just to make its advocates feel good. Such limited morality undermines the fabric of a community of compassionate and responsible living. Some veterinarians and assistants working in shelters where euthanasia is practiced on a case-by-case basis have been lambasted as “animal killers,” much like Planned Parenthood centers have been threatened by anti-abortionist pro-lifers. I can sympathize with those who oppose capital punishment and who point to the evidence of not-infrequent wrongful incarceration; but as a culture, we do need to evolve and embrace a broader bioethical sensibility, as I detail in my book “Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society.”
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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