In the film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character was told that the future was in plastics. DuPont gave us the slogan “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.” Today those chickens have come home to roost, well at least the ones that haven’t been poisoned or become infertile thanks to the chemical industry.
Slow Death By Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie is an eye-opening expose about the effects of chemicals in our environment. They focus on seven chemicals that are pretty much everywhere. From baby bottles to the air we breath to yes, even little rubber duckies.
What blew me away is the level of these chemicals that show up in our blood and urine. Even if you try to live an organic lifestyle you are being affected. The authors tested their own body fluids and found traces of chemicals that were banned over 30 years ago. This stuff really sticks around for a long time.
Speaking of sticking, a chapter is devoted to the plight of Parkersburg, West Virginia, also known as Teflon Town. This is where DuPont manufactures the miracle product that is found not only in pots and pans but pizza boxes, cosmetics and clothing. It’s even been detected in the flesh of seals in the Arctic. I don’t know of too many seals that cook so that is really disturbing. Unfortunately, it has also been showing up in Parkersburg’s water supply leading to increased rates of prostate and other cancers and birth defects. Oh, and if you’re reading this it’s also likely in your body since it appears in the bloodstream of 98% of the US population. Bon Appetit!
To those parents out there who dream of being grandparents someday, you may want to hold off on applying the Scott’s Weed and Feed to the lawn that little Joey and Susy play on. The chemical in most herbicides, 2,4-D, works by disrupting the hormone process in plants. Guess what? It does the same thing in humans too. 2,4-D is linked with rising rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, infertility and birth defects. Is it really worth all that just to kill a few dandelions? Many cities in Canada don’t think so and have banned the cosmetic use of herbicides.
What is particularly disturbing about this book is that the chemical companies seem to have the regulators tied around their fingers. Many of the chemicals are unregulated so it is left to industry to determine what the “safe levels” are. It turns out that the safe level is whatever level is profitable and public health be damned.
It’s a shame that we live in an era when people who care about the environment are sometimes called “enviro-Nazis”. This is ironic considering it is the chemical companies, along with their lobbyist friends in Washington, that are the ones harming the health of millions. Much like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson several generations ago, Slow Death By Rubber Duck shines a bright light on our toxic environment.
A reader pointed out that I had incorrectly attributed the “better living through chemistry” slogan to Dow Chemical instead of DuPont. The correction has been made. Dow Chemical is better known as one of the producers of Agent Orange, the defoliant used in Vietnam that has caused significant health problems among American troops and Vietnamese civilians.
Another update May 6, 2010
Nicholas Kristof writes that the President’s Cancer Panel is about to release its findings that chemicals in our food supply and released into the environment are harming us and leading to an increase in cancer cases. It will promote greater regulation of chemicals. It’s about time.