Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Body Burden Mirrors Planetary Toxic Challenge 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  April 17 / 11

Zack Gross

Planet Earth has been well-documented as being treated by its inhabitants as a dump for all manner of garbage:  pollution of air, water and soil. 

With an ever-growing global population and the continuous production and expanded distribution of consumer goods and their packaging, with more and more cars on our roads and so many processes and possessions to foul our nest, environmental issues and their related health effects have become a top-of-mind issue in our world.  Finding solutions is the next necessary step!

The burden of pollution that our planet carries, especially in chemicals that come from decorating (ourselves and our homes and workplaces), clothing and household and garden “care
,” is mirrored by what is called “body burden,” the chemical load that we carry inside us, even from before birth.  Some of these chemicals are naturally occurring and others are human-made.  

We inhale them, swallow them or absorb them through our skin.  Even a fetus will have chemicals passed down to it through its mother’s placenta.

Recent scientific studies estimate that we carry at least 700 contaminants in our bodies.  This is true whether we live in the city or in a rural location, and can affect us even if we don’t work directly in a polluted industrial area.  

Chemicals can travel on dust motes or water droplets and connect with people and animals far from their origins. 

The cosmetics we use, the clothes we wear, the paints and varnishes we work with, the pesticides and cleaning solution we apply, and the residues that remain on the fruits and vegetables we consume are just more examples of our poisoned lives.

In the two generations since the Second World War, scientists and, to some extent, the public have become aware of the affect of many chemicals on humans and animals. 

In the 1940s, researchers found DDT residues in human fat and also saw the relationship of that chemical to declining bird populations. 

DDT was detected in Antarctic penguins, many thousands of miles from where it was being used. 

It is accepted now that there is a direct correlation between many farm and industrial chemicals and cancers, birth defects, developmental and reproductive disorders and an array of other health problems.  We are born with this burden and we accumulate more of it throughout our lives.

Children suffer the most as developing or immature tissues are most susceptible to chemical exposure.  The early months in the womb and the “raging hormone” years of teenage life are two periods in young lives when toxins can do the most damage.  To avoid it is difficult because it is pervasive. 

As well, the idea that small amounts of exposure are acceptable has been proven false.  There is no safe level.

Consumer and environmental organizations have been working to ban or curb chemical use, while also suggesting alternative products.  In the living room, it is suggested that homeowners avoid carpets, upholstery and curtains that contain stain repellents and flame retardants. 

Chemical air fresheners are also a no-no.  In the kitchen, avoid tin cans, tumblers and plastic food wrap which may contain bisphenol A, and use glass, tin foil and wax paper instead.  Don’t microwave food items in containers that are not marked as microwave safe and avoid non-stick cookware.  Purchasing organic foods is a safe alternative.

In the bedroom and in choosing clothes, avoid wrinkle-resistant and stain-repellent sheets and outfits. 

In the bathroom, cosmetics and toiletries should have their contents checked thoroughly. 

Anti-bacterial and synthetic products should be avoided.  Vinyl is always a good commodity to avoid, from flooring to shower curtains. 

In the den or recreation room, see if your computer is one of the brands that have eliminated PBDEs.  Furniture treated with stain repellents and flame retardants add to your body burden.

Finally, in your yard and garden, furnish or build with product that doesn’t have that green tinge to the pressure treated wood.  Otherwise, you are leaching arsenic into your soil and water.   

Look for “green products” to keep your garden and lawn green and growing.  Most hardware and greenhouse operations stock both harmful and more environmental selections. 

Enough consumers support safer products so that stores are obliged to offer them, and bans on “cosmetic” pesticides now exist in most provinces.  Organic and heritage varieties of seeds are also widely available.

Are we too far gone to survive our body burden?  Can we reduce the risk to toxins in our world and in our homes? 

People need to understand how credible and dire the current risks are, and then choose to promote and adopt policies, practices and lifestyles that support safer product use and the security of our social and personal health.


Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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