I’m an optimist, but…maybe we are screwed. Chemicals in their unregulated glory are everywhere: in our air, water, and food, and on our bodies. I read labels and avoid unnecessary and harmful chemicals. The worst part is not knowing what is really safe and the extent of harmful stuff out there…like, what’s in my local water supply really?
Meanwhile, trying to avoid chemicals is like swimming against a riptide.
My optimism faltered not long ago when I went to the grocery store. I needed trash compactor bags for my appliance. It’s an uncommon appliance, and not every store has the bags. But, I’ve reliably found them at my grocery store.
There has never been anything special about a box of trash compactor bags. But, this time? The only boxes contained bags embellished with “Odor Control” and “Fresh Scent.” Reluctantly, I bought a box.
When I opened it, a smell wafted out and filled my kitchen. It was an odor, not a scent. I sneezed, and sneezed again. That was my allergic reaction to the chemically treated bags. “Fresh Scent” stunk.
I removed the box of remaining bags from the kitchen and put them on my porch to air out. (Even after two weeks, they didn’t.) It never occurred to me that I needed to look for “unscented” trash bags.
My number one question: Why would you need “Odor Control” and “Fresh Scent” for a trash compactor bag? The beauty of trash compactors is that you only need to change bags once every two or three weeks. They are not meant to store garbage. Garbage and trash are two different things. Garbage will spoil and rot. But, if garbage ends up in a trash compactor, the remedy is to empty the damn bag! You can’t mask odor with a scented bag.
What makes a product smell “fresh,” anyway? Chemicals, including pthalates, are used to create “scents.” These chemicals may be endocrine disruptors and are usually labeled “parfum” or “fragrance,” the composition of which is not regulated by the FDA. In fact, the manufacturer might be the only one to know what’s in its product’s “fragrance.” Because I was diagnosed with a hormonal cancer, I avoid cosmetics, soaps, and household cleaners containing perfume or fragrance.
Speaking of “unscented” items, check out your grocery store’s toilet paper selection. I saw plenty of “unscented” toilet paper. I also found scented toilet paper and scented wipes. The last thing I want rubbing up against orifices — particularly those south of my belly button — are chemicals. Is the scented wipe supposed to deodorize your bum, or neutralize odor in the air? Another risk of the scented wipe is getting a rash. Imagine that.
Another ridiculous scented item is paper towels. I made this unfortunate discovery after buying and opening a bulk supply of Bounty brand paper towels. I made sure the paper towels were 2-ply, and neglected to see that they are “Water Activated” and coated (or infused?) with Dawn dishwashing liquid. The sickening scent gave it away. I use cleaning cloths or rags for housecleaning, and use paper towels to dry my hands, or produce I’ve washed. I do not want my produce to end up with a coat of chemicals because of the paper towels.
(Note to Bounty brand: This was not an improvement. I will not be buying two kinds of paper towels: one for housecleaning and the other to simply absorb moisture.)
Now on to the miserable failure of room deodorizing sprays. A certain observation about bathroom odor goes like this: “It smells like something crawled up inside and died.” Things get really out of hand when a spray adds another layer of odor. If this is a regular occurrence, the only real remedies are a powerful ventilation system and a new diet.
In the same grocery store run, I needed some dental floss. The varieties of floss are ridiculous. You can buy it waxed or unwaxed; super-fine or capable of glide; and you can buy it flavored mint or cinnamon, too. Floss began as simple nylon string and then got dressed up as a dessert course. How’d that happen? Chemicals.
I went from being irked and annoyed at the sundry useless applications of chemicals to having more unsettling thoughts. Even if we avoid chemically-coated products, what about the widespread use of chemicals in our water supply? What about chemical runoff from the disposal of industrial waste?
On that ominous note, I read a fascinating Huffington Post piece, “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia – Home to one of the most brazen, deadly corporate gambits in U.S. history.” This article traces the history of a company as a war-time manufacturer of chemicals to its makeover as a producer of everyday miracles. The author connects the dots that more chemicals applied to more products equals more corporate revenue…and more health consequences.
Here are four points from this article:
- Of the approximately 80,000 chemicals on the market, only “a handful” have been tested for safety;
- Regulatory enforcement is weak and there is little voluntary corporate self-governance;
- Even if a company yields to pressure and phases out one chemical, it replaces it with another that may be just as bad; and
- Absorbed or ingested chemicals may load up in our bodies for decades.
I’m optimistic for activism and spreading awareness. But, unnecessary, hazardous, and unregulated chemicals are pervasive and I don’t know if we can stem the tide. Are we screwed? In our lifetime — probably.