The Toll of Native American Death Rates From Persistent Organic Pollutants

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PHOTO: ©1989 SANDRA HURTADO
Since both tradition and necessity make hunting and fishing in integral part of Native American life, the poisons hit these populations disproportionately

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 www.bullfrogfilms.com.

–Matt Scanlon