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Topic: Pollution: fearing the unseen
Pollution: fearing the unseen
At some point in our lives, perhaps when we have children, we worry about pollutions and the risk its poses to our health and the health of those we love. We read about traces of DDT in milk, radioactive particles on a beach or the growing ozone hole. Modern science has enabled us to detect chemicals and radioactivity at very low levels. We could take comfort from this technical breakthrough, but often it only increases our anxiety. When we are told that a brand of apple sauce contains 14 parts per billion of a pesticide, we wonder how much that really is and how great a risk it is to our child. We have become afraid of the unseen, it is hard for us to assess the significance of the risk to ourselves. In this topic, we will look at three areas of concern – radioactivity, pesticides and chlorofluorocarbons – and examine how improved methods of detecting these pollutants at low levels also changed the public’s perception of them. Why do we find it hard to assess the risk posed by these traces?
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Topic section: Radioactivity
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Even after Hiroshima, there was little public anxiety about radioactivity. Luminous watch faces and instrument dials did not cause any concern, and even scientists took few precautions. The situation changed after the first H-bomb tests in the mid-1950s, and nuclear fallout became a major political issue.  > more

Topic section: Pesticides
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When DDT and other insecticides were first introduced in the mid-1940s, they were considered to be a boon to society, preventing disease and increasing the supply of food. As evidence of their impact on the environment mounted, powerful devices were developed to detect even tiny traces of DDT. But the public was not reassured.  > more

Topic section: CFCs and the ozone layer
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CFCs were the first high-tech gases, used in the 1950s to make domestic fridges and aerosol sprays, the symbols of a new way of life. Considered to be completely harmless chemicals, CFCs were beginning to wreak severe damage to the fragile ozone layer that protects the Earth. And no-one had the faintest inkling that this was happening  > more
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