"The things that get us into trouble are the things we know that just ain't so."
--attributed to Josh Billings
In 1890 and 1891, a certain Eugene Shieffelin released one hundred European starlings in Central Park. He did not have bad motives, but neither did he have a clue what a mess he had just created.
The Law of Unintended Consequences is the harshest one in the world. Its pervasiveness is one reason why predictions about the future usually miss the biggest things coming around the corner which we are not only unprepared to deal with, but can't even admit are happening when they do. Lead looked to the Romans to be a real improvement over wooden water pipes. Prohibition, to many serious people, seemed like the answer to the monstrous social problems of alcohol abuse. Tetraethyl added to gasoline made car engines run much better. We agreed we'd have "better living through chemistry." Who knew?
In a 2005 study, 287 toxins were detected in newborns. Eating conventional food exposes us to 70 toxic chemicals a day. We'd be completely, rather than mostly, in the dark if labeling were not required. Most assume food available in clean, bright modern stores is safe, but what, really, are all those multisyllabic substances listed on the packaged item you're holding? Even plain words such as "caramel color" (in cola drinks) are misleading euphemisms; there's no caramel, it's only brown dye. Like in shoe polish.
Trying to figure out why some odd changes were occuring in frogs (good early indicators of something environmentally wrong, like the canary dying the the coal mine when deadly gases emerge) and unexpected estrogen levels in children, researchers found that more residues of medicines were present in the water supply than you'd think. Eighty-seven percent of medicines are left in water after treatment for our home use, and many affect the nervous system.
A local man, Ed Brown (not a scientist, just concerned) has just released a film, "Unacceptable Levels", which he began when he considered an ordinary glass of water as a way that about 200 industrial chemicals found their way inside him. That's only one avenue among many: pesticides, clothing, furniture, plastic containers, cosmetics are others. Because the current outdated law does not require companies to prove chemicals are safe before they are used in products, hard to predict dangers like flame retardants in children's pajamas causing developmental problems and even cancer are not caught. I got away from using particleboard in building projects once I found out how much formaldehyde was released by sawing and handling it, and was exposed to far too much lead in old paint and asbestos in all sorts of things before their dangers were widely known.
Like the starlings now abounding everywhere in North America which seem a normal part of the environment, we humans accept what are really very messed-up situations as always having been that way. Now in schools, public places, stores and restaurants, hyperactive children are ubiquitous, moving constantly, jerkily and pointlessly, while being loudly insistent about nothing. No one takes notice of what would have been considered brain-damaged behavior a half-century ago. The incidence of autism has risen from one child in 10,000 to one in 157, and that is just the confirmed diagnoses, not those in the whole range of neurological/developmental disorders. Can you imagine trying to be an effective teacher today with several, or many, of these uncontrollable and unreachable kids in class consuming all your time and energy? This is a huge nation-wide problem, and instead of looking for its real sources, ideologues attack unions and push religious schools.
We now know what DDT and dioxin in Agent Orange did, but there are thousands of other neurotoxins in, well, everything, and they do seem to be wreaking havoc.