Eliminate Systemic Contamination

From the Foundation's 1996 Annual Report

By harnessing energy, we gain the ability to transform materials. Smelters heat ore to yield metals. Chemists crack complex hydrocarbons into simple chains, combine them with elements, and invent substances hitherto unknown both to science and to nature. Biotechnology vats warm bacteria to create human medicines. The list of benefits appears endless, and the results—comparing material use today with that of one hundred years ago—are seemingly miraculous.

Along with these gains have come significant risks: Not all of the metals we smelt or the chemicals we invent are benign. It would seem a simple lesson, one we have been learning for a long time: from lead in Roman water supplies to lead in 20th century gasoline and paint, from mercury-induced insanity in hatmakers (hence the phrase, mad hatters) to mercury contamination in gold miners’ infants, from DDT killing birds to DDE interfering with the action of human hormones. Simple it may be, but it is also a lesson we seem destined to learn and relearn by ghastly experience and at great cost. And as the scale of the human enterprise grows ever larger, the risks taken become greater. Scientists have found that many toxic compounds have spread throughout ecosystems, to animals and people over the entire Earth.

The foundation works to combat the threat of systemic contamination in three related areas:

Environmental threats to children’s health, particularly lead poisoning, asthma and fetal contamination that undermines normal development. Children are not just little adults. Their lives put them at greater risk of exposure than adults, and their immature state of development makes them more vulnerable than adults even to the same amount of exposure. Grant-making emphases include training for local communities to reduce lead in public housing, to combat air pollution in urban centers, and to heighten awareness of pesticide risks.

Contamination in Russia and the NIS. The economic and political system of this former empire paid virtually no heed to the health costs of toxic contamination; as a result, its citizenry suffers mightily today. The foundation supports local activism and policy analysis within Russia and the Newly Independent States, both directly and through grants to small international organizations working closely with grassroots activists in the region, particularly to facilitate electronic communication.

Contamination of aquifers. No water source is more difficult to cleanse once contaminated than underground aquifers. Yet the activities of agriculture, industry, and waste treatment all place aquifers at risk. even as growing demand for drinking water is forcing communities in increasing numbers to turn to aquifers for their supplies. Foundation funding helps local communities develop the scientific and organizing capacity to advocate effectively for groundwater protection.
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