Posted by: Francis Koster Published: November 2, 2014

Creating the Bottom 10 Percent

Creating the Bottom 10 Percent

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.


The phrase "Mad as a Hatter" is falling into disuse - I suspect many of the kids wandering around with ear buds dangling think it refers to a character in Alice in Wonderland. They are wrong.

Back in the 18th century, top hats were made out of felt, which was rinsed, pressed and shaped using a rinse containing mercury. The mercury entered the hat makers body little by little as they worked, causing what we would today call an occupation related illness - they went mad.

While "Mad as a Hatter" and the underlying cause has faded, it has been replaced in modern society by other ways people get damaged while working. Back in the late 1960's, modern medicine told us so many people are in harms way due to things they work with that a law was passed in 1970 to protect workers. It is called The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).[1] Since creation of OSHA, worker deaths have been reduced 65% during a time when the workforce doubled.[2] OSHA costs each citizen around a penny and a half a month.[3]

For all this progress, the full story is not being told. Uncounted are many health impacts caused today by chemicals not even known in 1970. These can damage the worker's family more than they damage the employee.

First, we hurt innocent (often as yet unborn) people.   Secondly, because the jobs where these chemicals are used tend to employ workers who are paid a low wage seasonally, we literally create a damaged permanent underclass who find it hard to find or hold a job again.  Start with this:  Out of all children born in the United States, 1 in 33 will have an observable birth defect at birth.  And far more have neurological defects not observable until years later.

Good examples of this are in the fields of agriculture and lawn care.

Think about your recent wave "hello" to the familiar face of the neighbors lawn care guy.  

Chances are his kids have a higher rate of birth defects than other families.

In Denmark, a study collected information on 24,000 live births. They mixed 17,000 normal children, and over 7,000 children with birth defects. More than 6,000 of the birth defects cases had cryptorchidism (at birth, if a boy, some the "man parts" are not descended where they can be seen, but are stuck up inside the body), and over 1,000 cases of hydrospadius (the male baby plumbing leaks in the wrong place). The researchers then studied the parents' occupations.  

The researchers found much higher rates of birth defects among children of users of agriculture chemicals .[4]

Here in the United States, evidence has been accumulating for decades. Here is just one summary, drawn from a National Resources Defense Council report summarizing peer reviewed science[5]: "Mothers living in counties of high agricultural productivity or with high pesticide use were found to be at greater risk of giving birth to children with limb reduction defects than mothers living in areas of low agricultural productivity and low pesticide use[6]. A study of pregnant women in Iowa and Michigan found an association between maternal exposure to multiple pesticides and an increased risk for cleft palate in offspring.[7] A new study in Minnesota found a significantly increased rate of birth defects in the offspring of private pesticide applicators."[8]

Not all the birth defects are visible.  An October 2014 study by researchers at UC Davis found that children of women who lived in one-mile proximity to pesticide spraying during their second trimester had a 50 to 640% greater frequency of autism than children of women who did not, and that children of women who lived in one-mile proximity to pesticide spraying during their third trimester had a 10 to 260% greater frequency of autism than children of women who did not. The study also stated that "The majority of pesticides sold in the United States are neurotoxic". 

As a result of our public policy, we create a new class of people that require extraordinary social support because of the damage done to them in the womb. Over time, these victims may not have the mental capacity to work at modern jobs, or are damaged in ways that require extensive social support, and some percentage do things that result in expensive prison time.

If I gaze through a lens of a world where morality guides the way we construct society, we will remember the commandments that say we will not kill, or steal - even if it is cheaper. But that is what poorly tested and regulated agriculture and lawn chemicals do.

You can take care of yourself and your families by increasing the amount of foods you eat that are labeled "organic" - not because they have more vitamins, but because they have less pesticides.[9] You can stop using chemicals on your lawn, particularly around pregnant women.

Cities like Toledo, Ohio distribute tips for their citizens on how to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals.[10]   You can make sure your local political jurisdictions don't use chemicals around playgrounds, and you can help our local politicians imitate successful programs elsewhere.



[3] The budget of OSHA is $535 million in 2013 according to the footnote above . There are 306 million Americans. Divide 535 by 306, and again by 12 = .015



[6] Schwartz, D.A., and J.P. LoGerfo, "Congenital Limb Reduction Defects in the Agricultural Setting," Am. J. Pub. Health, vol. 78, no. 6, June 1988, pp. 654-658.

[7] Gordon, J.E. and C.M. Shy, "Agricultural Chemical Use and Congenital Cleft Lip and/or Palate," Archives of Environmental Health, vol. 36, no. 5, 1981, pp. 213-220

[8] Garry, V. et al., "Pesticide Appliers, Biocides, and Birth Defects in Rural Minnesota," Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 104, number 4, April 1996, pp. 394-399




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Francis P. Koster Ed.D.

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