By Christina Wyle.
I have often wondered whether pollutants in the environment contributed to my family’s deadly health history. My mom died of lung cancer at the age of 56, my father died of a blood disease thought to be caused by benzene at 72, and my youngest sister was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 42. My sister was in remission for nine years, but unfortunately, has been battling lung and bone marrow cancer for the past two years.
I recently attended an event hosted by MOMS Advocating Sustainability (MOMAS) featuring Florence Williams, author of the book, “Breasts.” With the help of her young daughter, Ms. Williams removed as many plastics and other common toxins from their life as they could for just a week. They tested their blood before and after for harmful chemicals. It was surprising to hear that in the case of some chemicals, the reduction was 80%; in other cases there was no change at all. It was also surprising to learn that most of the chemicals used in everyday products in the US have not been tested for safety. I have a 12-year-old daughter, so her story resonated heavily with me.
I have been going through life assuming “someone” is testing the food, home furnishings, cosmetics and everything else my family is exposed to. Ms. Williams talked about how chemicals are stored in our fat cells. With the rise of the industrial age and the load of chemicals our bodies absorb, it may help explain the recent rise in cancer, autism, ADD, asthma, and immune disorders. It was challenging not to go into panic mode, or just dismiss this new information and go on living in ignorant bliss. I left that event feeling like I had to do something. I didn’t know what I could do, so I figured I would start by educating myself.
One of the moms working tirelessly to get chemicals out of our life is Debbie Friedman, co-founder and co-chair of MOMAS. She handed me “Poisoned For Profit, How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill,” by journalists Philip and Alice Shabecoff.
This well-researched book would scare me, make me mad as hell, and moved me to make a few immediate changes in my own life.
Given my family’s deadly health history, I read this book in small doses. Learning how these chemicals disrupt our hormones, change our genetic makeup and cause disease has been a sobering experience. Maybe most people, like myself, assume government agencies such as the FDA and EPA are watching out for us. Unfortunately, I am finding out many of the people who run our government agencies started their careers with “big chemical” companies. And our laws are designed to protect the chemical industry far more than our health.
I grew up in Wisconsin in the 60’s and 70’s. Crop dusters and trucks spraying DDT were the norm. When I was 14 we moved from a wonderful old house filled with my grandparents antiques into a brand new mobile home. My mom wanted everything “shiny and new.” For two years after moving into this new environment, my nose, throat and eyes burned. Now I know my family and I were breathing and absorbing a vast array of toxic chemicals such as flame-retardants in our mattresses and furniture, phthalates, benzene, formaldehyde, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), bisphenol-A (BPA), and PCB. By reading Poisoned for Profit, I found out most typical homes today are laced with a mixture of 35-45 industrial chemicals. More distressing to me was learning that I probably passed many of these damaging chemicals onto my son and daughter. Yikes!
At first I felt paralyzed at the length and breadth of change needed in our regulation and production of chemicals, but learned that even making small changes helped me feel like I have some control over my health. The good news is that when I set out to “purify” our life, I realized how lucky we are to live in progressive California where “green” products and organic foods are more readily available than in many parts of the country.
Here is a list of easy changes I have made:
- Buy organic whenever possible, especially meat and dairy.
- When buying produce, use paper bags rather than plastic.
- Replaced cosmetics with healthier options without parabens, phthalates, and other synthetic chemicals using Skin Deep database.
- Replaced my daughter’s lunch containers with stainless.
- Replaced plastic straws with paper straws (Sur le Table or Tyler Florence).
- Replaced plastic food containers with glass.
- Use ceramic or stainless cookware instead of Teflon.
- Take off our shoes at the door to avoid tracking in pollutants.
- Don’t eat canned food from cans with BPA linings; choose glass, brick cartons, or frozen instead.
- Got rid of all plastic cups, bowls and plates.
- Stopped using pesticides or herbicides in my yard or in my home. Use “Beyond Pesticides” for do-it-yourself ideas, and Bio Pest when I need to call someone.
- Replaced shampoos, conditioners, soaps and lotions with local products such as EO, a line made from essential oils instead of petrochemicals.
My daughter protested when I took away her Maybelline and Claire’s lip glosses. Fortunately, she likes the healthier replacements and so will use them. However, I still can’t get her to give up her perfumes full of synthetic fragrances. She rolls her eyes, laughs and thinks that I am crazy, but I take it in stride because I know I am lightening her “toxic load” and lessening the accumulated poisons in her body. It may mean the difference between health and disease in her future.
All this new information has turned me into a consumer with a more discerning pocketbook. Consumer demand is powerful! Industry follows the money. My hope is that if more consumers demand healthy products, businesses will realize this is where the profit is. The next step on my fact-finding journey is to watch the film “Genetic Roulette” about GMOs. I have opened Pandora’s box and now want to educate myself further, but I realize I can only absorb this kind of information in small doses. So I will save that film for another day. In the meantime, I am extremely grateful to MOMAS for all their hard word and dedicated effort to make our world a healthier place for all of us. Thanks MOMAS!
For more information and resources:
Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/
Healthy Child, Healthy World: http://healthychild.org/
True Food Shoppers’ Guide: http://truefoodnow.org/shoppers-guide/
Beyond Pesticides: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/
Christina Wyle is an enthusiastic new MOMAS volunteer. A legal secretary for 22 years, Christina is a grandmother and mother of two, and newly converted to MOMAS’ mission: creating healthy communities to raise all of our children.