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Farmworkers

Cotton Machine. In case you're wondering what this photo is on the right, it's cotton being harvested. I've put it there because I just wrote an article about cotton fever. In researching the article, I found out that this ailment was first discovered in farm workers who were inhaling unprocessed cotton as part of their work. Farm workers have a hard life--whether they own the farm they are working on or not. When I found out about these poor souls who suffered the ill effects of cotton, completely by accident and without much public sympathy, it made me think of another group of farm workers who shared a similar fate with much more dire consequences.

The chemical methyl bromide (CH3Br) has been used for many years as a crop fumigant. The problem with the stuff is that it causes cancer. Farm workers have been trying to get the stuff outlawed for a long time--because it is killing them. No one seemed to really care. People were far more likely to stop eating grapes (with all due respect to the goals of the UFW union) than to listen to the concerns about CH3Br.

And then came the ozone hole. CH3Br is one of the thousands of chemicals that destroys stratospheric ozone. It must be understood, however, that there is so little CH3Br in the atmosphere, that it posed very little threat to the ozone layer. But soon, people began calling for a ban on the use of CH3Br for any purpose--including its use in fire extinguishers.

So let me summarize the situation:

All people are selfish. Don't think that I'm saying that the farm workers were right is asking for a ban on CH3Br and the middle and upper class environmentalists were wrong. Both groups were looking out for what they considered their best interests. But I can't help thinking that the claims of the farm workers were more compelling. There is a direct link between CH3Br used on farms and human death. If any such link exists for CH3Br and the ozone hole, it is indirect in the extreme.

And so it is with cotton fever. The truth is that my heart goes out to the farm workers far more than to the heroin users. The farm workers are just doing a job and they get sick as a result. On the other hand, no one ever made any of us do dope--much less inject it intravenously. I have great sympathy for the other problems heroin users face, of course. Heroin users suffer unnecessarily from Hepatitis, AID, and an almost endless list of other diseases. All because they like to play differently from the rest of society. Like farm workers, heroin users are a powerless minority.

by Dr. H © 2002


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