Yesterday I attended an event at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Arnold where special guest, McKay Jenkins, spoke about his latest book, “What’s Gotten into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World” (2011). He began with a personal story informing his audience about how the finding of a tumor that luckily was benign (an extreme rarity based on the type of tumor found) put him on the map to be interviewed by researchers. The researchers asked him what chemicals he had been exposed to that may have resulted in the development of this tumor. Considering Jenkins is a writer and professor he was confused with the question stating that he does not work with any chemicals since he is not a scientist. The researchers reminded him that we are exposed to chemicals throughout our everyday lives. The pesticides and fertilizers in our yards, the plastic our food is packaged in, the fire retardant in our clothes, mattresses, etc. are all toxic chemicals. We are constantly exposing ourselves to things that are negatively affecting our bodies through products that we would not normally associate as harmful.
An issue that was brought up by Jenkins, which is also found in the article, “Plastic Waste: Should it be Classified Hazardous?”, is that the chemicals in plastic are so harmful that killer whales that wash up on shore have to be “dealt with as hazardous waste” because they are full of toxic chemicals caused by the breakdown of plastics that make it into the ocean.
Furthermore, a newsletter by “Cancer Defeated!” states that “several major clothing brands… [use] nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in the manufacturing process.”, which breaks down into nonylphenol (NP). NP has been found to disrupt hormones over time and can even be hazardous at low levels. Greenpeace tested fourteen clothing brands, including Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Nike, and H&M, for the presence of NPEs and found that two-thirds of 78 articles of clothing (52 items) were positive for amounts higher than the regulated limit. NPE is banned in many countries, but in some, such as many found in Asia, regulations are not as strict. This chemical has a big role in the dying process, but it is highly toxic and does not biodegrade easily.
As we continue to use various products throughout our lives we should understand more about where they come from, what they have exposed us to, and alternatives to the ones that are most dangerous. Jenkins explains that the government does not regulate these chemicals; therefore, it is up to us to do the research and be aware. His talk was very informative and I am confident that his book is worth reading. Just be careful when curling up on your sofa to read his book, you may learn that flame-retardants that may be found in the foam of your sofa is carcinogenic as well.