Monday, November 06, 2006

What does Iraq have to do with mercury?

Town Musician

So, why do I bring up things that have happened so long ago? I'll answer that with another question. Would I bring them up, if they had no relevance today? Certain events certainly have affected my life. Events from long ago really do affect other people's lives, too. Again Iraq comes to mind. In the early '70s there was a drought in Iraq. This meant that the farmers couldn't plant seeds because they had been so hungry that they had eaten even their seed grain. Very early that year they asked other countries for help. A few countries responded with generous supplies of grain. But before I talk more about that, I have to mention that several western countries had noticed that their soils had become polluted with methyl-mercury from fungicide-treated grains. So these countries made it illegal to treat grain with mercury. Since these countries now had an excess of pink mercury-preserved grain, they gladly responded to Iraq's cry for help by sending it overseas. But instead of shipping the grains early in the spring when the seeds could have been planted for a harvest in the fall of the same year, the seeds arrived in sacks, properly labeled as poisonous with scull and cross-bones, in Iraq in October of 1970. Iraq received about 100,000 tons. It was distributed equally all over the country. Farmers now had all that grain, but they couldn't plant it. Winter was coming and they were still hungry. They then asked themselves if that grain was really all that poisonous. They fed their chickens with it to see what would happen. Nothing happened after a week, nor two weeks, nor six weeks. So the farmers thought that the grain was really not poisonous at all. They butchered the chickens, and they baked pink bread. The food was given first to the pregnant women, the children, and the old folks because they needed it most. The children loved the pink color of the bread. Months later, many of the old folks died. The children became sick with neurological symptoms including blindness and mental retardation. The babies were born either dead or severely poisoned. The mistake the people had made was that they didn't know that it takes sometimes months before organic mercury poisoning shows itself in the form of symptoms. The countries that had sent mercury-laced seed grain were Sweden, Mexico, and the United States. Do those poisonings affect Iraqis today? You bet they do.

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