Preface

Can you see the Great Milky Way where you live? Most Americans cannot. The greatest vista known to humankind is obscured by the veil of light pollution that shrouds all but the least developed regions on Earth.

From the quality of life to life itself, there is not one person who is not affected in some way by pollution. Pollution affects our ability to swim in local waters or enjoy clear views in our national parks. More critically, pollution is responsible for waterborne diseases, birth defects, increased cancer incidence, and neurological problems ranging from loss of intelligence to madness itself. Pollution can kill instantly—over 8,000 died in just three days when methyl isocynate leaked from the Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India—or it can take decades for the full impact to be known. Indeed, the number of lives cut short by the radiation released when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in the Ukraine in 1986 is still being counted.

The other fundamental truth about pollution is that we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. Yes, there are natural causes of pollution, and we include an article on Natural Disasters, but the preponderance of pollutant threats are anthropogenic—caused by man. From lead in paint to mercury in water, PCBs in rivers to VOCs in the atmosphere, from CFCs to greenhouse gases, the sources of pollution can be traced to the decisions of industry, government and, ultimately, the individual consumer/voter.

With that in mind, one entry deserves special mention. Lifestyle is less an article than an opinion essay. Its inclusion is meant to challenge the reader's social choices, to ask you to consider how your own personal lifestyle affects the environment. Do you use bottled ketchup or individual packets? Do you ride to school in an SUV or take a bus? The fact is that just as every person on the planet is affected by pollution, so each of us directly and indirectly creates pollution. Some of us just create more of it than others.

One caution: if you are looking to these volumes for the answers to all questions about pollution and its effects on human and environmental health, you will be disappointed. There are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of toxic substances, for example, for which we do not have health-based standards, meaning we do not know what is a "safe" level of exposure. And if we know little about these contaminants individually, we know virtually nothing about the cumulative (synergistic) impact of multi-contaminant exposure. Perhaps the most important thing we have learned in the last half-century is how little

A map of London, England, showing locations of pumps and deaths from cholera during the epidemic, 1854. See Health, Human; Snow, John; Water Treatment.

Pump sites

Pump sites

Distance, meters

Distance, meters

we know. There is no shortage of discovery left for the next generation to undertake.

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