Chronic Monday and Blog Action Day: I Am the Canary; Our Polluted Environment is the Coal Mine

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

I'm writing about the environment today, for Blog Action Day.

Years ago, coal miners took canaries down into the coal mines with them, because canaries are more sensitive to the poisonous coal gases than human beings are. When a bird started acting sick, the miners beat a hasty retreat. The canary usually died.

The following is an excerpt from "Canaries In A Coal Mine", by Kevin Gregg, DC, from the Chronic Syndrome Support Association site:

"Have you ever considered that those of you experiencing FMS, CFS, MCS and GWS symptoms might simply be canaries down the collective mine shaft? What if, like those canaries, you were simply the early warning system for this culture. What if your experiences were exposing mounting health risks for everyone? You are, I suspect, at the far end of a continuum that all of us are on to varying degrees. Placement on this continuum depends only on the degree a person is stressed, starved and poisoned by their life and environment."

My life was pretty normal until the middle of my 6th grade school year. When I was in the 6th grade my family moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico to New Jersey. I went from having majestic mountain views all around me to not being able to see anything much further than I could throw a baseball. I could throw pretty good for a girl.

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I had space. SO much space.
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If anyone puts a billboard up on the highway in NM, the Indians will cut it down. Then they started using metal posts instead of wood for the bill boards. The Indians got a bigger saw. I love those Native Americans.

In NM we lived outside of the city so I didn't see a lot of pollution. In any case, no city in NM has pollution anywhere near on the scale that NJ does. There just aren't that many people in NM. The whole state is in the same telephone area code, for goodness sake. Our neighborhood in NJ was nice (if you think the Mafia is nice, I guess) but whenever we drove anywhere we went through places like Trenton and Newark. Big time ugly.

These are the images of NJ I remember.

Cities ands smog.
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Traffic and smog.
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A sign in Meadowlands, NJ. They've built a park on top of a landfill.

What's in these? Who knows...

As soon as we moved to New Jersey the whole family came down with the Hong Kong Flu. I never seemed to get over mine. I took round after round of antibiotics, to no avail. By the time I was in the 7th grade my parents started taking me to doctors to try to find out what was wrong with me. I didn't have mono. I didn't have allergies strong enough to be causing the kind of congestion I was living with. The last doctor I went to was "vacuuming" out my sinuses. He stuck a thin straw-like metal rod WAY up (down?) my nostrils, one at a time. It sucked the mucus into a bag that was hooked to the side of the machine. My mom told me later she would sit there and watch that thing fill the bag up and feel sick to her stomach. After the vacuuming I would be blessedly clear for a couple of days. Then the congestion would be right back. That last doctor apparently ended up saying I was allergic to the bacteria in my own nose. In Dad's words, I was allergic to myself. After that we didn't go to any more doctors.

My teeth started rotting at an early age: I had my first root canal at age 13. I've had four altogether now, including one that didn't take that I had to have done twice, then I ended up losing the tooth anyway.

We moved to Texas the summer before my junior year in high school. I felt like I was back home again. But there are still a lot of images of pollution in my mind from there. People who swam in Lake Dallas got hepatitis.

Pretty but DO NOT swim in it.

The beaches of the Gulf Coast were not always pretty. We stopped in Mississippi on the way to Florida from Texas once. I had reserved a room with a view of the coast. You couldn't see the ocean from the window. The haze was that bad. I went to walk along the coast and the shore line was littered with trash. There was a big pipe running from the populated area of the coast right up to the ocean. It was dumping scum into the ocean. I don't know where it was coming from or what it was. I went back to the room to read and watch TV.

Driving to Galveston by way of Beaumont I suddenly come upon a landscape filled with oil refineries. They are by the water, the bay. They are pouring out smoke fumes into the air. Day or night, smoke and more smoke. Who knows what they were actually putting in the water.

These are the images of the gulf coast I remember.

Beach scum.
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Oil refineries

I had low back pain from the time my periods started at the age of 13; this is now thought to be a classic symptom of endometriosis. I was diagnosed with endo by laparoscopy when I was 32. (See my 7/28/07 post titled "How This Blog Relates to Live Earth Day" for more on endo and pollution.) I had been telling my doctors I was having a lot of menstrual pain for almost 20 years by then. They finally deigned to diagnose the cause of my pain, when I was not able to get pregnant. For those non-believers among you (yes, you still know who you are), I rarely missed work or school, ever. I only stayed home if I was vomiting, having extremely severe diarrhea, or was running a high fever.

I was diagnosed with multiple food sensitivities and fibromyalgia when I was 32. I learned to practice a rotation diet and for the most part I've been in control of my sinus problems ever since. Unfortunately, the FM has been another story entirely. I had never heard of it when I was diagnosed. There was a grand total of ONE book about it at my local library.

Did you know that since the beginning of the Iraq invasion the US marines have had a brand new piece of kit: pigeons?
"They act like canaries in a 19th-century coal mine. The birds are so sensitive to nerve agents such as sarin and VX that they fall ill at a whiff of danger.

What the soldiers have not been told is that about one in 10 of them are almost as sensitive to nerve agents as the pigeons. There is now mounting evidence that exposure to minuscule amounts of these chemicals can cause permanent brain damage in susceptible people, and that is exactly what happened 12 years ago when thousands of troops returning from Kuwait started to complain of debilitating symptoms."
This above information is from NewScientist.

For the record, my brother is retired Army. He was a CWO 5 who flew and maintained Apache helicopters. He served in both Gulf Wars. I asked him if he had ever heard of the pigeons being used to detect nerve agents. This is what he said:
No, I have never heard of this. Some enterprising young marine may have brought along his pets since they are probably more sensitive to nerve agents than we are. But I think the detecting equipment the military is equipped with is much more sensitive than a bird when used correctly.

In closing I'll just say that I don't understand how anyone who has been where I have been and seen what I have seen and experienced what I have experienced could possibly think that there is nothing wrong with the environment. I've tried, but I just don't understand.

Additional Resources

Canary's Eye View
: Organizations Raising Awareness About Chemicals and Canary Support Organizations.

The Environmental Illness Resource

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Support Pages

This painting is based on pollution. On the right you can see a colorfull landscape, on the left you see dirty smoke, all kinds of garbage floating in the water. The black tree looks like a ghost who is stretching its dirty fingers to the clean landscape on the right. I made this painting in oil paint.
~ by Reny Juta
the Netherlands
courtesy of


  1. I'm sorry about all the stuff you had to go through as a kid. I have asthma. Did since I was little. The funny thing is back in my grandparents' day you hardly ever heard of such things, now it's commonplace. I think it has to be from the poor air quality. Big business is poisoning us all, little by little.

  2. Thanks, AntiB. Yes, there's definitely way more asthma than there used to be. Those statistics are better documented than a lot of what's going on is, so far.

    I saw the movie Michael Clayton yesterday. Excellent film about a big fertilizer company doing just that, poisoning loads of people. Plus it has George Clooney in it. He's not getting older, he's getting better!

  3. Great post! I grew up in the Bronx, NY in a basement apartment. I was sick all the time and my sister died at 33 of Leukemia. Who knows what living there has done to us?

    I remember NJ well, driving through it and having to hold your nose from the smell.

  4. Thank you. I'm so sorry about your sister.


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