Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marlin's Other Problem

Before I move away from the whole Texas theme altogether there is one other problem in the Marlin area that should be mentioned. This little problem is much less visible than the effects of the Free Trade-driven economic downturn and easier to deny.

Although now banned, Atrazine is a broad-leaf pesticide that was used extensively throughout the Southern US on sorghum and a variety of other crops. Atrazine is also one of a number of chemicals classified as Xenoestrogens (pronounce the x as z). For reasons not completely understood these compounds mimic the effect of female sex hormones. Fish are extremely sensitive to sex hormone impacts and that is where much of our early knowledge of the effects of xenoestrogens came from. Some fish populations in the Great Lakes were found to be over 70% female but testing showed that these populations started out at the normal 50:50 male:female ratio but up to 30% of the males had been "feminized" to the point where they were functionally female. They had developed ovaries, and no longer produced sperm but eggs instead (I did a Master's degree in this area).

These feminizing effects also occur in human beings although to a lesser extent. Men who grow up in environments where there is chronic exposure to even extremely low dosages of xenoestrogens show feminization, which manifests in adulthood as loss of muscle mass, decreased penis size and low sperm counts, sometimes to the point of infertility. Chronic exposure to xenoestrogens in women produces a number of health problems and long term effects include increased risk of breast and reproductive tract cancers.

Once Atrazine enters the water table as runoff from agriculture it is incredibly persistent. It has been a problem in the water in the Marlin area for many years. While there are constant reassurances that the levels in the drinking water are now safe, many of the women in the Hobby Unit prison have no option but to drink the water. The Unit rules allow the inmates to purchase only one half litre of bottled water per day, if they can afford it. In central Texas where temperatures regularly exceed 35C lots of good quality drinking water is a necessity. This means that many of the women serving long sentences are forced to drink large quantities of this questionable water daily for decades. There are legitimate questions surrounding the long term health effects of this. Currently there are numerous health problems occurring amongst women on the Unit that are blamed on the water.

But nobody seems to care or is ready to do much about it.

No comments: