Airborne fecal matter in Mexico City, er, ah. . . Tra-awna
Now, one hates to be alarmist but, having read and gasped at the the great investigation into odours wafting from Toronto dump sites by my talented colleague Mary Ormsby, I would be remiss to hoard my own knowledge of what this "stuff" can do to our bodies.
Mary brought along the Toronto Star's delightful wine critic Gord Stimmell, whose excellent nose discerned the merely gag-inducing to brink-of-coma scents at our temporary garbage dumps. The most pungent, he said, was of the fecal variety, ripening under sun, moon, stars and nourished by rain. This scares me because I have a special expertise here, so much learned as a foreign correspondent (and I thought such information would prove useless in life). Mary's article reminded me of my fears and preparations before I was posted to Mexico City for seven years more than a decade ago. I saw a top-notch respiratory specialist in Washington, D.C. before I left because I'd been doing a lot of reading about air quality — or lack thereof — in Mexico City and environs. He assured me my lungs were healthy and that the very young and elderly were most at risk. Still, he warned me that fecal content in the Mexico City air eventually brings misery to everyone.
How right he was. Occasionally, I'd just be uncharacteristically sick for a few days at a time, the result, according to my doctor, of continuously breathing in shit — despite an array of pricey air filters spaced throughout my home and office. There was nothing to be done in the city at large, except live in medical masks which I, perhaps unwisely, declined. I wrote stories about untreated sewage in the heart of the city, a theme I turned to again when I went down to cover swine flu last April/May and saw untreated porcine sewage as a potential cause of at least some health problems.
I've done a little research for this story here and, as you see according to UN and other environmental agency reports, there are certainly health hazards with airborne fecal matter (human and animal). But most experts offer comfort to Torontonians: the dangers exist mainly in the so-called developing world, where sewage isn't enclosed in pipes and rotting excrement-filled diapers are exposed to the air. Of course, that's no consolation to the folk who inhabit such regions of the world. Nor is it much comfort to the Torontonians who live cheek-by-jowl with the worst poop sites, as identified by Mary and Gord "The Nose" Stimmell. Do you wish to take the assurances of city officials spraying napalm (I jest) on baby diapers and assuring us we're safe?
You do? Well, a trusting heart surely leads to a longer, less troubled life. For my part, I'm uncomfortable being able to smell fecal matter like that. It can't be good for our health — no matter what they say.
For my part, I stand firm: airborne fecal matter, bad.
And so we go, full-speed ahead towards the ultimate end of summer, apparently well-behind in our diligent H1N1 planning, with Kurt Vonnegut mounds of garbage to bequeath to our children and grandchildren, with the pronouncement, "Someday, my boy, this all will be yours." Yippee.
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I apologize for a recent two-day disappearance without notice. I got caught up in a long-term assignment and had forgotten to advise Decoder readers. Slap my hand, there's no excuse for such lack of manners.