Belching smokestacks. Sewer outfalls. Car exhaust. For most people these are the first images that come to mind when the word “pollution” is mentioned. It’s still seen as an external concern. Something floating around in the air or the nearest lake. Out there. Something that can still be avoided.
As our Toxic Nation testing makes clear, however, the reality is quite different. Pollution is now so pervasive that it’s become a marinade in which we all bathe every day. Pollution is actually inside us all. It’s seeped into our bodies. And in many cases, once in, it’s impossible to get out.
Baby bottles. Deodorants. A favorite overstuffed sofa. These items, so familiar and apparently harmless, are now sources of pollution at least as serious as the more industrial-grade varieties described above. The market-leading baby bottles in North America are made of polycarbonate, and they leach bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor, into their contents. Deodorants—and nearly every other common product in the bathroom—can contain phthalates (pronounced “tha-lates”), which have been linked to a number of serious reproductive problems. Phthalates are also a common ingredient of vinyl children’s toys. Sofas and other upholstered products contain brominated flame retardants and are coated with stain-repellent chemicals, both of which increase the risk of cancer and are absorbed by anyone sitting on a sofa or chair to watch Friday night TV.
We found all of these chemicals, and many more, in the bodies of the Canadians we tested.
The truth of the matter is that toxic chemicals are now found at low levels in countless applications, in everything from personal-care products and cooking pots and pans to electronics, furniture, clothing, building materials and children’s toys. They make their way into our bodies through our food, air, and water. From the moment we get up from a good night’s sleep under wrinkle-resistant sheets (which are treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde) to the time we go to bed at night after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag being coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us.
Far from escaping it when we shut our door at night, we’ve unwittingly welcomed these toxins into our homes in countless ways. In a particularly graphic example, it’s been estimated that by the time the average woman grabs her morning coffee, she has applied 126 different chemicals in 12 different products to her face, body and hair.
And the result? Not surprisingly, a large and growing body of scientific research links exposure to toxic chemicals to many ailments that plague people, including several forms of cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects, respiratory illnesses such as asthma and neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
We all have become guinea pigs in a vast and uncontrolled experiment.
Excerpted from Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie (Counterpoint).