The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added 12 substances to their list of known human carcinogens, including formaldehyde and styrene, this month. Styrene is a precurser to the plastic polystyrene, or PS (#6), which is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. Several billion kilograms of the stuff is produced every year. You may come into contact with this plastic most commonly in those ubiquitus red plastic cups (beer anyone?). According to the article, the general population’s greatest exposure to styrene is through cigarette smoking.
Formaldehyde is most commonly found in adhesives used in home construction materials (particle board, fiberboard, plywood, laminant flooring), although it’s also used as a preservative in cosmetics like hair straighteners and even in clothing (that nice wrinkle-free collared shirt your husband wears may very well contain it). While you may not be that concerned about the formaldehyde in your kitchen cabinets or furniture, you should know that it off-gases and is one of the contributors to poor indoor air quality. An amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act by President Obama last year would set limits on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that will go into effect in 2013. Until then, you can improve your home’s indoor air quality by ventilating it as much as possible or by cleaning the air with certain indoor plants.
I live in a community filled with wonderful parks and open spaces. However, since having children, I have enjoyed these spaces with some hesitation, knowing that they may be sprayed with herbicides and insecticides. I have even seen the Parks and Recreation department of my city spray the natural grasses areas of the parks, not just the manicured lawns. Worst of all, I almost never see pesticide flags placed after these sprayings.
My master community association says they use glyphosphate, a Monsanto product better known as Roundup, and 2,4-D. The latter is a selective herbicide that kills broad-leafed weeds, while Roundup is non-selective. My MCA claims that once these products are dry (which occurs 30 min after application), they are not harmful. Statements like these make me cringe, because they give people a false sense of security. Common sense tells us that chemicals designed to kill life could also harm human life. And when the manufacturers are the one claiming their product is safe, especially a product that Monsanto makes millions off of (combined with their GM seeds that resist Roundup, allowing even more of it to be sprayed on crops), then I think consumers should be extra cautious. Continue reading »
It has long been known that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is outdated and ineffective. Most notably, the TSCA does little to protect our most vulnerable–pregnant women and children–from dangerous chemicals in the environment. A company that wants to use a chemical in a product can do so without first testing for, much less demonstrating, its safety. Not until the chemical has been widely used and irrefutabely proved to cause harm can it be banned or its use controlled. The TSCA is so weak that since 1976, only 5 chemicals out of 80,000 in circulation have been restricted. Essentially, our current chemical management policy is that we will test new chemicals on the general public, on our developing children, at no cost to the companies manufacturing these chemicals. We have placed a higher priority on a company’s rights than on an individual’s rights. For this reason, I’m pleased to see that the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of last month, is calling for revision of American chemical policy. Perhaps we can adopt legislation like the EU did (REACH) in 2007. Better late than never, right?
It is clear that in America, we do not take a preventative approach to our health. Rather than use precaution and limit the use of materials that may pose a risk to our health, we mass produce products and insist they are safe until proven otherwise. Essentially, we are using ourselves and our children as experimental animals. If enough of us get sick and the research can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a certain chemical, additive, heavy metal, or otherwise profitiable product is to blame, then steps will be taken to limit its production and use. But only after years of research and unnecessary suffering and/or death have occurred first. This was the case with tobacco, asbestos, benzene, and vinyl chloride, just to name a few, and will it possibly be the case with things like BPA, phthalates, brominated fire retardants, PFOA (non-stick chemicals used in cookware, clothing, and carpets), pesticides, and cell phones?
I am currently reading The Secret History of the War on Cancer, written by Devra Davis, Ph.D. She has a great page that summarizes what is wrong with our current approach in America that I’d like to quote here:
“If we insist that we cannot act to prevent future harm until we have proof of past harms, we are treating people like lab rats in uncontrolled experiments. If we say, let’s let the experts decide, where do we get experts without baggage? The costs of experimental laboratory research are growing and debates about the value of various research methods are becoming ever more complex. These debates are sometimes fueled by those who have a knack for turning molehills of scientific minutiae into mountains of uncertainty. In a world where information on the health and safety of workers remains locked up in company files, wrapped in the protections of confidentiality, independent experts to make sense of it are an endangered species. Continue reading »
The book Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t sound like a pleasurable read, but it is! Well, at least as much as could be given the subject matter of toxins that are slowly poisoning us and our environment.
The two Canadian authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, decide to experiment with phthalates, BPA, mercury, and PFC’s (non-stick chemicals) to see what their personal levels were and whether they could increase them via normal, daily activities (like using personal care products, eating canned foods, or eating lots of sushi). In addition to describing these mini-experiments (n=1), they elaborate on the history of these toxins, the science behind them, and why they are dangerous. Particularly interesting to me was the research showing that even infinitesimally small amounts of certain chemicals, like BPA, have measurable effects. Slow death indeed!
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CNN just aired a couple episodes of a show they called Toxic America. I found the Toxic Towns episode depressing, but enjoyed the Toxic Childhood one. There really wasn’t any additional information shared by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about toxic chemicals that can’t be found on this blog, but I was really pleased to see this issue getting such mainstream attention. If you missed the shows and want to learn more, see CNN’s website. Of particular interest is the U.S. map with information about air quality for each state (my state was low in benzene, dioxins, and mercury, but high in lead) and pesticides on produce.
Cancer is a subject near and dear to my heart. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago and one of my dearest friends with brain cancer last year. The fear of my children developing cancer or some other disease because of chemicals in their environment that I could have protected them from is the primary reason I research, read, write this blog, and make all the difficult life-style changes I have.
The President’s Cancer Panel just released the 2008-2009 annual report called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk. It summarizes the Panel’s findings from Sept 2008 to Jan 2009, during which the Panel received testimony from 45 experts. Here are some of the highlights from the overview. Also see below for the Panel’s recommendations on how to reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents in our environment. If the 147-page report is a tad long for you, you can read the EWG’s short article summarizing this report.
Highlights from the report:
- 41% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. 21% of Americans will die from cancer.
- The incidence of some cancers, including the most common ones among children, are increasing for unexplained reasons. Continue reading »
Our master bathroom shower is all white tile. It was a cost-effective choice when building our home, but man is it a pain to keep clean! The minerals in our water supply leave a pink residue in the shower and black mildew is very obvious on the white tile and light grout. I’m ashamed to admit that after many different attempts to really clean the shower, I broke down and bought a bottle of something with bleach. It was my first purchase of a non-green, toxic household cleaner in years. My husband used it once and for days, I could smell the chlorine bleach in our bathroom. I was determined to find a better solution.
We now use Seventh Generation’s Shower Cleaner, made with hydrogen peroxide. I spray it all over the shower, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then scrub with a heavy duty brush. It really takes care of the mildew and I’m not overwhelmed by the fumes. The key to keeping our shower clean has been to do this religiously. I can’t let a month go by without cleaning it. So far, by staying on top of cleaning (I do it every week or sometimes every other), we have been able to keep it sparkly white with minimal effort. Lucky for my husband, I can still clean the shower while pregnant now!
We have been in need of a new crib mattress. While we are expecting our third baby (and you’d think we already had a crib mattress), we have decided to keep our 2 year old on it in his crib for now. We bought a second hand crib from a neighbor but didn’t want to use the mattress. Conventional crib mattresses are filled with petroleum based polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable. This usually leads to the mattress being covered with flame retardant chemicals (PBDEs) that we are trying to avoid in our home when possible. Traditional mattresses can also have other chemicals in them, and many of these chemicals off-gas (see What’s the Problem with Conventional Mattresses below). This is really not something I want my newborn spending 2/3 of his life on. The crib mattress we used with my older two children is more than a decade old and I figured it had off-gassed most everything already. We wrapped it in an organic wool mattress pad and organic cotton sheets and felt good enough about it. But with this baby, I know more and am less comfortable using a traditional mattress. So I was on the market for a healthier alternative.
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The Environmental Working Group wants to collect 75,000 signatures to show that Americans support the Kid Safe Chemical Act. We don’t think that current chemical legislation is adequate (see my letter) and believe that all chemicals should demonstrate safety before they can be sold. The EWG has already gotten 40,000 signatures in one week. Consider signing their petiton!
You can see more about what happened on February 4th’s Environment and Public Works hearing “Current Science on Public Exposures to Toxic Chemicals” here. You can even read the testimony of the president of the EWG, Ken Cook.