Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Toxic Chemical Marinade or Why Lady Susan has Tossed Her Teflon

This post has been on my mind for a while now, but I knew it was going to be a long one, so I put it off.  But here ends the procrastination.

Mr. F. recenlty checked out the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” from the library.  We were then hit with “Snowmageddon 2010” which kept up snug in our houses for an extended weekend.  I was faced with the choice of A) using the time to straighten up the house and prepare for baby or B) spending the time frivolously watching television and reading books.  I chose option B.  As Mr. F. was reading another book at the time and I didn’t have anything else on hand, I chose to read about “the secret danger of everyday things.”

People.  I need to stop reading books that encourage me to live responsibly.  (I am looking at you, “In Defense of Food”!)  Invariably it means significant changes in how I do things not to mention higher price tags (although there are ways to be both frugal and environmentally responsible).  This book is no exception.  Basically, this book outlines how we are surrounded by dangerous pollutants in both our houses and workplaces.  These pollutants are hiding in innocuous objects such as shampoos, toothpastes, carpets, electronics, children’s toys, etc. and are creating a huge chemical load in our bodies.  What are the effects of this load?  Well, it is hard to say but there is growing body of research out there linking exposure to these chemicals to several forms of cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, respiratory illnesses, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD.

We are used to thinking of pollution as something visible: black smoke stacks, brown/green/turbid waters, dark vehicle exhaust, etc.  These can be avoided.  However, what this book points out is that “pollution is now so pervasive that it’s become a marinade in which we all bathe every day.”  Lovely.  Also, they mention that we are working with a different pollutant time scale.  Instead of seeing immediate effects on health (making it really easy to state that Chemical X caused Side Effect Y), we are instead looking at cumulative effects over decades.  This makes it really hard to regulate chemicals especially as “the burden of proof“is on the regulatory agencies.  (Meaning the regulatory agencies have to prove that the chemical is dangerous versus having the chemical companies prove the chemicals are safe.) 

Here are some incredible numbers:

Chemicals in use in the US: 82,000
New chemicals added each year: 700
Chemicals that are monitored: 650
Those tested for toxicity: 200
Banned Chemicals: 5

So, you would think that this book would be dry and boring to read (not to mention DEPRESSING!), but it turns out that it was instead fascinating and at times quite humorous.  The authors took 7 common chemicals and “experimented on themselves.”  The only iron clad rule?  Their efforts had to mimic real life.  I.e. they couldn’t douse themselves in Teflon or chug a bottle of mercury.  They took their blood and urine sample before and after the experiment to see if there was a noticeable difference.  The chemicals they looked at:

Phthalates: hormone disrupter.  Used to plasticize vinyl, used as lubricants in lotions, helps fragrances last longer, etc.

Perfluorochemicals (i.e. Teflon): Carcinogen.  Used for non-stick coatings and as stain repellant. 

Side note: This was possibly the most frightening chapter in the whole book.  Things did not improve when I realized that the pan in which I had been using to cook eggs during my entire pregnancy was chipping Teflon. 

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) aka flame retardants: hormone disruptor, linked to neurodevelopmental cognitive-motor deficits.  Found in children’s clothing, furniture, etc.


Triclosan (found in anything labeled “antibacterial”: possible interference with thyroid activity and causing bacterial resistance.


Bisphenol A (BPA) found in plastics (i.e. everything): Hormone disruptor, carcinogen. 

The results of their experiments were astounding (but I will let you read them for yourselves.)  However, at the end of the book, I couldn’t help feeling WAY overwhelmed.  I remember thinking, “they are everywhere!  What can I possibly do?”  The best part of the book was the “action items” where they listed small steps you can do (i.e. toss the Teflon, replace your vinyl shower curtain, be careful about the types of plastics you use, etc.).  These were manageable steps that I could take and feel good about.  I think the greatest lesson I learned in reading this book was this: I can’t be an ostrich hiding one’s head in the sand.  Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there and effecting my health.

Here is an interview with the two authors and a good review of the book:


Chiada said...

I just found your blog from Heidikins and this is a great post. I haven't read this book but I've been hearing about these things for a number of years now. Almost 10 years ago my husband's chiropractor told him about the danger of hydrogenated oils in foods, or trans fats, and we started avoiding them. My brother always teased us, until their existence became more mainstream. I imagine it might be the same with other chemicals, like phthalates and Teflon. Maybe over time, as more people hear about the dangers, more and more companies will offer alternate products. My husband and I shop a lot at health food stores and they have a lot of products that don't contain ingredients like phthalates, parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, etc.), high fructose corn syrup, Teflon, and on and on. Also having house plants helps clean your air, especially spider plants and golden pathos plants. It seems overwhelming at first, like you said. But small steps taken over time will add up. :-)

Melanie said...

So what should I use instead of a vinyl shower curtain? I'd like to read the list of little changes and skip all of the scary stuff.

Weird story that may or may not be related to chemicals: I am allergic to gel toothpaste. I thought it was a fluke when, a couple of years ago, my tongue felt like it had been rubbed over a cheese grater after using gel toothpaste. A few days ago I started a tube of gel toothpaste that someone gave me, and by yesterday I could barely eat or talk my tongue hurt so bad. I stopped using the gel yesterday and my tongue has already started healing. Strange, no?


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