The Toll of Native American Death Rates From Persistent Organic Pollutants

The Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace and the United Nations track the increase in Native American death rates from persistent organic pollutants.
By Matt Scanlon
June/July 2000
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Since both tradition and necessity make hunting and fishing in integral part of Native American life, the poisons hit these populations disproportionately

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If unchecked, pollution may accomplish what centuries of war, land attrition and prejudice could not: increased Native American death rates from persistent organic pollutants and eventually the end of the Native American. 

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), along with Greenpeace and most recently the United Nations, has been tracking the alarming direct increase in Native American death rates from persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These chlorine-based substances, such as dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlordane, DDT and many others, have been found in the fishing waters and bird habitats of tribal lands. Since both tradition and necessity make hunting and fishing in integral part of Native American life, the poisons hit these populations disproportionately. Unable to rid itself of POPs through the liver, the body stores them in fat, amplifying their carcinogenic and reproductive consequences.

Tom B. K. Goldtooth, national coordinator for the IEN, sees what is happening among his people as only the beginning of a global POP health crisis. "Those who imagine that we are not vitally connected to every living species and people are living in ignorance. Dangerous air and water are a shared risk."

The fact that airborne POPS are capable of traveling thousands of miles before landing in soil or water sources (thereby making the U.S. ban on the use of DDT, for instance, all but worthless) only adds poignancy to Goldtooth's assertions. His IEN has helped produce a film detailing the plight of POP-affected populations and advancing the cause of a worldwide POP ban. The film, entitled Drumbeat for Mother Earth, is available for $29.95 (proceeds go directly to the Indigenous Environmental Network) through Bullfrog Films; visit them on the Web at

—Matt Scanlon 

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