Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cleaning up our act

Our fair city/county has just received its "environmental health report card" for 2006, and apparently, we're that really smart kid who just won't always do her homework.

From TCT:

The five objectives listed as being achieved in the report include reducing toxic air emissions to 25 percent of 1993 levels; reduce asthma hospitalizations to 8.5 per 10,000 people; reduce waterborne illness outbreaks from drinking water to two outbreaks per year; increase the percent of homes tested for radon to 20 percent; and increase the proportion of smoke-free workplaces to 100%, achieved in the city of Madison but not the full county.

Objectives listed as not achieved in the report card include reducing the proportion of children who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke at home to 10 percent or less; reducing the percentage of vendors that sell tobacco to minors to 5 percent; eliminate childhood lead poisoning; increase the percent of homes built before 1950 tested for lead hazards to 50 percent; and increase recycling of municipal solid waste by 40 percent from 1996 levels.

Ongoing work on objectives include reduce infections caused by contaminated food; decrease contaminant levels in fish to reduce human exposure to persistent chemicals; increase the proportion of lakes and rivers checked for safety; reduce the number of people exposed to air that violates federal air quality standards; increase the use of alternate modes of transportation and the use of alternative fuels as a means to improve air quality; and increase the number of people receiving drinking water that meets the Safe Water Drinking Act requirements.

So the report isn't all doom and gloom, but there's plenty more to be done. The incomplete goal of reducing how much tobacco kids are exposed to in the home is especially tricky because the government can't (and rightly so) just walk into a house and tell the residents what to do. But I admit, when I see an adult smoking near a child, I have to resist the urge to slap the cigarette out of their mouth and the stupid out of their head. And I realize that, in the end, such a reaction would probably do more harm than good. It would just make me feel better.

Anyway, I'm happy to see that we've been able to make such improvements in air quality. It seems like the issue of water and soil quality are the tougher things to tackle. Every time I pass the people who regularly fish from the lakes, I can't help but think about how much mercury and other crap there will be in their catch. We should be able to eat fish from our lakes without fear of being poisoned. Same goes for our ability to even just swim in them.

But it's a giant and many faceted problem involving everyone from homeowners who use chemical fertilizers on their lawns to developments with poor soil erosion controls to farmers who cover their crops with pesticides. And while there are plenty of immediate solutions to the first two examples, we can't just make farmers stop using these pesticides outright--there'd be a huge food shortage. The plan has to be long-term, slow but steady phasing out of the old and phasing in of the new, more environmentally farming techniques. And we have to make sure it doesn't put the family farmers out of business.

So, no easy task. I'm glad it's on the agenda, though, and that someone is keeping track of the progress (or lack thereof). It's a start, even if a little overdue.

(photo credit: me)

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