Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu -- How we're ALL connected

I believe... scratch that, I KNOW environmental discrimination is real. Even though I'm seething, I'm going to try to keep this entry succinct and short.

Right now the entire world is on edge because of the recent outbreak of a new strain of the swine flu virus. Officials have suggested that a 5-year-old boy from La Gloria, Mexico may be "patient zero" in this latest outbreak. There is a large pig farm near his village, one that is notorious for untreated pig waste that regularly poisons the air. La Gloria is upwind of the pig farm and its mountains basically trap the polluted air emitted by the farm, also contaminating the water supply. Many many people in La Gloria have been sickened recently, and Edgar Hernandez, the 5-year-old "patient zero," had positively tested for the H1N1 strain of the virus, though others in the same village tested for a more common flu strain. The company that owns the pig farm claims no workers or pigs there have been sick, and the Mexican government does not believe the H1N1 strain originated there.

The boy is the first known case of this new strain of swine flu, but the strain has since spread throughout the world and we are now at near pandemic levels. But here's the thing that bothers me: La Gloria residents had long complained of widespread sickness and tainted air and water. Why didn't anyone listen? Let's just assume for a minute the Mexican government is right and the strain did not originate from the neighboring pig farm. But the pollution it generated probably still contributed to widespread disease and made it very difficult for most people in La Gloria to ward off even the most common infections. So transmission of the H1N1 strain would have only been facilitated -- all because of POLLUTION. But hey, La Gloria residents aren't the most affluent in the nation. It's not the most glamorous of places. It's tucked away somewhere in the mountains and only 3,000 even live there. Why should anyone have listened?

Why should anyone have listened to low-income parents in the Bronx when their children were getting asthma and pneumonia at alarming rates -- at the hand of systematic pollution?

Why should anyone have listened when a 1997 study found that working-class minority neighborhoods were most likely targeted for hazardous waste disposal?

Why? Because however remote and contained we may think a problem is, it still has the potential to have far-reaching -- often global -- effects. We are all connected, whether we're in Mexico or Malaysia. The world is once again reminded of what happens when we fail to consider "the least of these." But this time will we listen?

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