The cost of purchases, when factoring in workers health

We have puddles!!  You know they are having fun when the hair flies crazy.

Burr!! Today is day 3 of rain and thunderstorms, the temps have cooled way down but we’ve had a few burst of sunshine in between the storms. the kids have been so spoiled from being able to be outside every day, all day if they wanted that we had to take advantage of the breaks to let them get their energy out. What is it about a puddle that is so special, I haven’t figured it out, it’s just water, but I still enjoy playing in the puddles too.

But time to be serious.  I’ve mentioned before that I have become close friends with a neighbor who is 20 years older than I am.  We have so much in common in spite of the age difference it’s like she could be my older sister, not someone I met a year ago.

She has been having some health problems as of late.  First she needed a test where they put dye in her veins which she is allergic to.  She was told she could take this particular medication for a couple of days prior to the test and she wouldn’t have any reaction. That night after the test she had a stroke.  Thankfully, she came out of that okay with no residual effects.

But now she finds she has lung cancer.

We talked about the various jobs she has held over the years and how that may have contributed to her health.  She worked in the plastics industry, which has some nasty chemicals used in the process of making the plastic.  She worked in a factory where she used lead with no protection for her lungs.  She worked with acid, which she had to wear protective clothing and gloves but again nothing for her face to stop the fumes from being breathed in.  Finally she told me about working in a shop that made boats.  Again there was very little ventilation and no breathing masks for her to wear.  She breathed in the varnishes and other chemicals used in the making of the boats and left each day coughing for hours.

It got me to thinking.  When we hear about consumerism, do we ever think about the costs to the workers who are making these products we just  have to have?  I live in Pennsylvania, so I grew up around factory workers, people who have lung issues from working in coal mines, and horrible air due to the steel factories.

We all think about the costs to the environment, especially when we live in an area which reports the daily smog levels and have to stay indoors if it gets too bad.   We hear about the deforestation of the rainforest, to allow us to buy furnishing made from these trees, or the cutting down of the rainforest to allow more farmland.  But what about the actual workers?

So when we decide we want to buy some thing let’s not just look at the mileage a product has to travel, or how inexpensive it is, or what producing that product did to the environment, but also what the cost was to the worker in producing this product.

What do we need? Do we really need to have:

  • Plastics: It may be hard to remember, but plastics weren’t used much years ago.  We had toys made from wood, kitchen appliances made from steel and glass
  • Electronic Gadgets:  I have found that I can live without most of these.  I can read a book rather than buy an Ereader.  I do have a smart phone which has my alarm clock, calendar, notepad, radio, and more on it.  Why buy all these items separately?
  • Cars: Okay so most of us need a car, but why buy  new when you can find a good and reliable used car for the fraction of the money, keeping the older cars out of the junk yards where they can leak fluids to contaminate the soils.
  • Granite counter tops: Okay I know this seems strange, but granite gives off radon.  Why would you fill your kitchen where you eat, do homework and so on with an item that gives off radon.  There are radon detectors for homes for a reason, why add another health hazard for your family to live with.
  • Flat screen TV: What did you do with the older TV?  How will you recycle this and are you sure your televisions are being properly recycled when you are through with them?
We crave beauty, but without health can we appreciate it?

I could go on but I think you get the picture. Yes we want clean air, yes we want good healthy soil free from run off to grow our food.  But what good is food and water if we are poisoning ourselves to make a living?

Do you have someone you love who is suffering health problems from the work they did for years, or are still doing?  Maybe we should list all the industries that cause health issues and see if we can eliminate many of those from our lives while we are greening up our way of life.



  1. I’m sorry to hear that your friend has been diagnosed with lung cancer.
    Your post raises some very important issues regarding the production of goods and the effect on health of the worker in the factories.

    It has also got me thinking locally as I have heard about some coal trains that pass by our area that at present are passing through on the way to a port. At present these coal trains are passing through uncovered, and therefore there is an issue with coal dust. There is a petition to legislate to have these covered.


    • I hadn’t heard about the coal trains, although recently there was a truck that overturned and had been carrying chemicals. The mixture of the various chemicals was toxic and the area residents had to be evacuated. I hope you get your legislation passed to have these trucks covered.


  2. My father in law has end stage COPD developed from a lifetime of far dust and fumes (and smoking – another bad farmers habit). Even a lifetime spent in “clean” air can lead to issues.

    I often think about whether the future might someday start to look more like the past, if we start getting rid of plastics and chemicals again. It would be better all around if we started living a less complicated, plastic life.


    • I am so sorry about your father in law. I agree even living where the air is cleaner isn’t a guarantee that we will be healthy. I have heard that children living in large cities with the constant exhaust from vehicles have lungs as black as a smoker’s lungs.

      I have wondered about the future if we returned to producing products with less chemicals and eliminated plastics and pesticides. I don’t know if we will ever see that happen in our lifetimes, but hopefully enough will change so our children and grandchildren have a better life than what I see coming if we don’t change to a simpler life.


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