Families inhabiting the western edge of the Treasure State may be dismayed to learn that Big Sky Country is not immune to a disturbing environmental trend: the release of developmental and neurological toxins into the environment in alarming volumes.
According to a report released last week by The National Environmental Trust, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Learning Disabilities Association of America, about 24 billion pounds of such toxic substances are belched, leached, spilled or slopped into the nation’s air and waterways each year. For readers enamored of the classic railroad story problem, that’s enough sludge, soot and smoke to fill a line of railcars from New York to Albuquerque.
The report, titled “Polluting Our Future,” is the first ever to examine the source and scope of such releases. According to the report, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, Plum Creek Manufacturing, and Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., are all identified in industry data as being among Montana’s major emitters.
The report focuses specifically on chemicals that may cause developmental or neurological problems in developing brains. “While it’s usually impossible to say that a particular child’s disability is caused by a toxic chemical, it is clear that we need to gain a better understanding of possible links between chemical exposures and children’s health,” says Dr. Patricia Butterfield of the Montana State University College of Nursing in Bozeman and spokeswoman for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Teresa Henry, also of the MSU College of Nursing, echoes Dr. Butterfield’s comments. “This report is yet another in a series of wake-up calls to parents and policymakers that our children may be at risk for health problems due to the current chemical environment,” she says. “I think many parents will want assurance that their children will not face permanent neurological problems just from growing up in a particular neighborhood.”
While the report is not conclusive, it concurs with two National Academy of Science reports on the same topic in the past three months. A growing consensus in the scientific community suggests that toxins such as those pumped out by some of Montana’s largest corporate citizens contribute to a range of physical and mental defects in children nationwide. The report cites increased incidents of autism, attention deficit disorder, and birth defects in communities affected by toxic releases.