Our guest review today comes curtesy of Joce (aka JAM), who was kind enough to wade through this book and summarize it! Thanks, so much, Joce. I especially appreciate the list of suggestions on how to avoid introducing even more chemicals into our bodies!
The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being by Nena Baker is a book that talks about the many chemicals that are present in the products we use every day, how they create a body burden within us, and what we can do to limit or remove them. The book is written by an investigative journalist who previously wrote about Nike’s Indonesian factories. Her works on that led to many improvements for workers, so let’s hope that her writing about chemicals in everyday products brings about positive change there as well.
The book begins by talking about the chemical burden that we all have within our bodies. People that have been tested show significant levels of many different chemicals, many of which are stored in fat cells, which means that even if you limit exposure from now on to those chemicals, they will be with you for a very long time. People who have lived very healthy lives are not free from this body burden, while it might be lower than some others, even “clean living” nets you lots of chemicals in your body.
There are then five chapters, each devoted to a different chemical (atrazine, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, bisphenol A, and perfluorinated chemicals). Research is discussed which shows the effects of these chemicals on wildlife and how we are stewing in these chemicals at a level higher than what damages wildlife. There is a lot of explanation of how difficult it is to avoid these chemicals. For example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers are used in flame retardation, so not only are they in obvious places like mattresses, they are a significant part of every day items like TVs, microwaves, and dishwashers. Also, any item with a stain or wrinkle resistant treatment gets that way due to added chemicals.
The book then talks about new policies that are in effect, or will hopefully soon be in effect, to find safer alternatives to these chemicals. One of the most difficult things is that these are not labeled – for instance a consumer would not know whether a TV has an older, dangerous chemical in it or whether it has been reformulated. A lot of cosmetic companies are starting to reformulate and use that as a selling point, but in more traditional every day items it will be very difficult to know what the hazards are. The book ends with a list of what the author herself does personally to avoid excess chemicals, and then has some resources on environmental and public health groups where you can find out more information.
Overall, the book was very interesting, and pretty scary, but worth a read, even if some of the technical stuff can be skimmed over. I tend to go in spurts as to how worried I am about things – for a while I clean out my house and vow to use only safe things, but then convenience and laziness come into play and I go back to my old ways. This book is a good reminder to stick with things for the long haul. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars, for medium to dark green readers.
I’m going to summarize what the author does to avoid chemicals, since I thought it was a great list and while I think the book is worth reading, if you don’t have it in your library system or if reading about chemicals is not something you can concentrate on right now, I suspect we could all move towards adapting some of her guidelines without reading the book. I think most of us know these already (or most of them) but reading that they were the things that the author does in her own life, after her very extensive research on the subject makes me feel like they are definitely worth doing and being reminded about.
Buy and eat organic foods whenever possible.
Don’t eat microwave popcorn (lots of chemicals in the paper packaging).
Ditch all plastic food containers, use glass or ceramic instead.
Cancel contract for monthly bug control inside and outside your home.
Decline all optional stain protection treatments for furniture and rugs.
Use low VOC paint for home improvement projects.
Replace BPA plastic bottle with aluminum bottle.
Vacuum and dust at least once per week (because dust is loaded with chemical pollutants).
Buy hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans when Teflon cookware wears out.
Ask retailers about things you buy. If they don’t know, contact manufacturers.
Read labels. Even if they don’t tell the whole story, they can give you clues.
Talk to family and friends about the changes you’ve made and why you make them.