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Are We Like Ancient Romans?

A historical pattern of chemical contamination may be repeating.

One explanation given by historians for the decline of the Roman empire involves the ruling class having showly poisoned itself by absorbing lead. It was a metal widely used in cooking pots, utensils, wine urns, water pipes and cosmetics.

Rulers such as Caligula and Nero, so this theory goes, went insane from absorbing lead. Infertility and lowered intelligence were among the many symptoms of lead toxicity. Lead use continued among the ruling classes despite their knowledge that it was toxic to the slaves who were forced to mine it.

Today the toxins we are exposed to may be much more varied and their effects much more complex --and thus subject to debate-- but our state of denial about the health threat still resembles the Roman experience.

We absorb thousands of synthetic chemicals during a lifetime and yet we look around us puzzled that so many illnesses and diseases have become epidemics.

We see and read about the increased incidence of behavioral and mood disorders among our children, yet we want to deny that fast food and junk food chemicals can cause mental instability and violence.

We read about the genetic and reproductive mutations in wildlife caused by exposure to synthetic chemical combinations and yet we deny that anything similar can occur or is occurring within our own species.

We deny because we have become addicted to the conveniences of modern life, just as the ancient Romans became complacent about their lifestyle addictions.

We deny because we ignore the lessons of history.

We deny because we choose to believe that we are too wise to be so foolish.

We deny because we are arrogant.

We deny that we are in denial.

And our deaths will be neither quick nor easy nor proud.

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