Monday, March 21, 2016

shifting our gaze

This may be a familiar story. Downstream people are drowning and we frantically rescue them. But as soon as we pull some out, there are more and more people drowning. We then strive to improve our rescue efforts. Perhaps a better way to save people is to shift our gaze upstream to understand why people are falling into the river.

This analogy applies to toxic chemicals in our homes. Focusing just on where and how to safely store chemicals keeps us downstream because it maintains the assumption that people fall in without questioning what’s causing them to do so. No doubt rescuing is necessary; but let’s strive to keep people out of the river by keeping toxics out of our lives.

The average American is exposed to thousands of toxics daily yet only a small percentage of these have been safety tested for human exposure and none for synergistic impact. In fact, home and health product makers aren’t required to list all ingredients in their products nor do they have to prove they’re safe. Moreover, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hasn’t been updated since 1976 while new chemical compounds are approved daily for use. Even while legislation is slow to keep up, it can also omit dangerous, even known carcinogens like asbestos. Found around the country in older drywall and insulation, asbestos is still legal for use in the US and Canada even though exposure causes the devastating cancer, mesothelioma.

Why are there toxics in our lives in the first place?

Clearly people will continue to fall into the river if this reality goes unchecked. It’s vital to advocate for more legislative measures to eradicate untested chemicals from being used in everyday products and mandate labeling to accurately detail contents. This is putting up protective railings upstream.

While seeking consumer protection and governmental measures, what else can we do?

Start by examining the products already in your home. For instance, anything scented contains phthalates, known endocrine disruptors. But because of proprietary laws, they’re listed on labels only as ‘fragrance.’ Is scented deodorant or laundry detergent something you really need? If so, consider alternatives to achieve the same end. Pleasing scents are possible without exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.

Are there products you think you can’t live without? Understand many household products serve a fabricated rather than a real need. Research them at Environmental Working Group to learn what goes in labeling, what’s left out as well as healthier replacements-if that product is indeed necessary. Fabric dryer sheets are an example of a fabricated demand for an unnecessary product full of toxics.

Oftentimes you can make your own replacements for health and home produces out of simple ingredients like baking soda and vinegar. It’s surprisingly easy and saves you money. Vinegar by the way is a terrific fabric softener that is a safe alternative to dryer sheets. Don’t worry, your clothes won’t smell like you’ve been dyeing Easter eggs.

Most importantly educate yourself. There are many documentaries, books and articles that detail the chemical soup in which we live and explain how toxic chemicals insinuate their way into our lives. Included below is a list of useful links.

It is not a given we have to live with toxic chemicals in our everyday products. It’s not a given people will just fall into the river and rescuing is the best we can do. This keeps us downstream.

Let’s investigate what’s happening upstream.

Websites detailing toxic products and alternatives: