By Jon Lindenauer
Perhaps there is no blow more devastating to an individual than one caused by a seemingly helpful weapon backfiring. Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, appears to fall under this category. The crop killer was used by U.S. forces as a means of defeating the enemy by starving them out. However, the chemical had additional fatal and unforeseen consequences, producing such side effects as lung disease and leukemia in U.S. troops that were exposed to areas targeted by Agent Orange strikes. Over three decades later (over four for some), the U.S. government is still working on the reparation process, adding to an unfortunate tradition of too-little-too-late compensation measures.
The headline of a recent article in a Massachusetts publication The Milford Daily News boldly announced “Vets now qualify for Agent Orange-related illness benefits”, an article which went on to include the qualifying time-span a veteran must have served during to receive these benefits: 1962 to 1975. For veterans who began their Vietnam tenure in 1962, 48 years have gone without them obtaining the appropriate government aid. The article mentioned among the symptoms developed by veterans exposed to Agent Orange – Parkinson’s disease and leukemia; diseases from which monetary compensation would hardly offer relief. But these individuals are only part of a greater picture of men and women serving our country who have been exposed to deadly chemicals and offered little help from our government.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, firefighters worked tirelessly around the clock to remove debris from the area. However, by doing so, the workers were exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals in the rubble on a daily basis. This forced many New York City firefighters – as well as other workers from the NYPD and other departments that assisted with the clean-up - to retire or change careers as respiratory ailments related to the debris removal. One instance that served to highlight the dangers associated with the clean-up effort was the death of NYPD member Cesar Borja, who died of pulmonary fibrosis as a direct result of inhaling deadly toxins while on duty at Ground Zero. Other deadly afflictions developed by workers at the site include malignant mesothelioma, lung disease and various forms of cancer. But the lack of compensation for individuals who complete important tasks for the masses day-in and day-out runs even deeper than this: for some individuals deadly illness comes with the job territory.
In recent years, more and more light has been shed on the unscrupulous nature of America’s food industry. Run almost entirely by a handful of business conglomerates, the nation’s food manufacturing business is increasingly becoming more like “business” and less like “food”, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the industry’s treatment of animals. Because of the economical, mechanical nature of this enterprise – which prides itself on efficiency – the animals, who reside at the lowest level of this process, live in conditions so vile and disgusting that the only the moniker of “business” could serve to illuminate some understanding of the process’s callousness. Yet, the animals themselves are not the only ones who reap the negative side effects of a food manufacturing process designed only for efficiency and putting sanitation at a distant second: the workers in the processing plants to which these animals are sent also pay the price. The filthy conditions the animals – cattle being the primary example – are subjected to breed a cesspool of dangerous diseases. These diseases include salmonella and E. coli, which workers are in danger of exposure to every day. But due to refusal of U.S. government officials to be firm with major food corporations, the food industry constantly gets away with unspeakable horrors to their animals and workers.
Obviously, the time to protect these men and women exposed to Agent Orange or deadly toxins from debris of fallen buildings or infectious diseases carried by animals living in wretched conditions has come and gone for the individuals already succumbing (or have succumbed) to the poisons their duties have brought upon them. However, it is not too late to educate the next generation of similarly positioned individuals and prevent the same deadly situations from reoccurring.