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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 10 May 2007
The safety of human lives should come before profit

LAST August 6 I was asked to speak at the Hiroshima Day memorial ceremony in Tavistock Square, where Millie Miller, Mayor of Camden 40 years ago, planted a cherry tree. 
Each year the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commemorates the devastation caused by the US nuclear bombing of Japan in 1945 and expresses its peace aspirations by placing flowers around that tree, singing songs, and making speeches – unfortunately just to each other. 
Last year I, the oldest member of CND and a little girl of 11, the youngest, each made a five-minute speech. The mainstream media almost ignored Hiroshima.
Bernard, Millie Miller’s son, pushed my wheelchair. Many people believed I was too frail to speak but speak I did.  
The Camden New Journal gave me a splendid write-up resulting in my being asked to write this regular column. 
I’m on my way out! I can neither read nor write efficiently any more.  Bernard does both and masters modern technologies. Because he was once an aide to that wonderful old-Labour politician Barbara Castle, a woman whose dedication and skills I admired greatly, I was only too grateful to follow her example and exploit Bernard’s modern talents to record just some of my ancient memories and current thoughts.
Had we followed Barbara’s “In Place of Strife” proposals to curb trade union power the whole history of our country might have been very different. She might even have become Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.
So, at the age of 101 I have become a dictator!  All I do is talk, something people always found hard to stop me doing, except when I was counselling – then I learned to listen. Now Bernard listens, records, writes on a laptop computer, checks facts, re-orders, makes minor suggestions and reads me a draft which I edit. Then he emails the final column to the paper.
Some people seek fame. Some have fame thrust upon them. But some, far too many, do great deeds but never achieve fame. Bernard is someone who could have excelled in many different fields. Somehow fate has allowed his light to shine under many different bushels of kind deeds  for others.  
Despite all his qualifications, Bernard has been unable to work full-time for some years. He became ill after exposure to toxic chemicals in a United Nations building where many of his colleagues also fell ill. Several died.
Commercial pressures largely contrive to prevent our paying sufficient attention to mysterious illnesses caused by modern technologies, including electromagnetic fields and chemicals. 
Many people react adversely to substances inside buildings they inhabit. Long-recognised offenders include lead, chlorine and asbestos.  Others are less well known. Bernard’s illness was caused by solvents.  Many more synthetic substances are released into our environment daily without safety checks. 
I have friends made seriously ill by electrical fields from televisions, mobile phones and masts, microwaves and computers. Health risks of school wireless computer networks are currently in the news.
Other friends and relatives have seen their lives ruined by agricultural and domestic pesticide sprays, chemical cleaning products, flame retardants, synthetic fragrances and flavourings, fumes from plastics, paints, glues, chromium salts in leather and concrete and chemicals in building products. 
A new concern is nano-particles, novel sub-microscopic, synthetic materials. No health impact studies have yet been published.
It is so difficult when people find their homes poisoning them. I know several whose houses are unsafe for them to live in without expensive alterations. Safe materials cost much more than commercial ones.
Another frequent cause of sickness is air conditioning. Sometimes it merely recirculates used air, as in modern aeroplanes, a practice illegal in some Scandinavian countries. The problem has become so serious that the World Health Organisation’s Copenhagen Office recently produced a charter, The Right to Healthy Indoor Air, based on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As our society rushes all too greedily ahead with new inventions, the conflict between two ideologies becomes evident.  One, the precautionary principle, supported (in words at least) by the European Union puts an onus on manufacturers and sellers to prove products and materials safe for humans and environment before they can be released for sale.
Under the other, the system preferred by the US, any product can be marketed but if it subsequently proves to have harmed people, manufacturers and/or sellers can be sued. I know which approach I prefer.
Human lives and safety should come first and certainly before profits.
The demands of a fortnightly newspaper column provide an ongoing challenge, a reason for me to stay alive and keep interested and interfering. Positive new technologies make it possible but without Bernard’s help and computer literacy I would be unable to meet that challenge.

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