What could be causing this fresh allergic reaction? I was already using the most basic products, with the fewest components. My skin seemed to flare up over almost anything, and there didn’t seem to be any safe alternatives to my current products.
So I went to my dermatologist to get some patch tests. I had no idea what these strange chemical were. But after some research, I understood that the formaldehyde resin was an ingredient in plastic. This supported the suspicion I had my toothbrush was causing my allergic reaction. Fortunately, switching to a wooden toothbrush quickly relieved me of my ruddy splotches.
With that issue addressed, I wanted to know more about the other allergen: the mercapto mix. When I discovered it and the formaldehyde resin were parts in the manufacture of rubber and glue, I picked up the phone to call my father.
My father was a chemist. Early in his career, he developed an adhesive, which he manufactured and marketed through his own firm. My dad’s interest in chemistry started during the middle of the last century, when people believed in”better living through chemistry.” The phrase, a variant of a DuPont slogan, promoted the notion that chemistry could improve nearly all facets of our lives. This self-serving catchphrase was instrumental in getting consumers to turn away from a nature-based way of life and toward purchasing newfangled products made with artificial ingredients.
“Sure! I used it in creating my paste,” he cheerily responded, happy to have a ready response.
I ventured, stumbling over the name.
Why do you ask?” my father wondered.
As I told him about my new allergies, I was struck by the connection between Dad’s usage of particular chemicals and my following allergy to them several decades afterwards. I suspected this wasn’t a mere coincidence.
I was hesitant to explore this speculation with Dad since I did not think he’d share my perspective. So I kept my nascent theory to myself to save it from being drowned out by his naturally critical and scientific mind.
About a year following this conversation, my father started to experience breathing issues and a persistent cough. A trip to the doctor revealed he had lung cancer. This was puzzling to me since he lived on the banks Puget Sound, a clean, rain-washed environment in Washington state. He had been a smoker earlier in his life, but gave up the habit forty years prior.
My mind started to flash back to all of the compounds my father was exposed to when he manufactured his glue. Could his everyday exposure to those noxious chemicals, together with the smoking, have set the stage for his lung cancer? And could my allergies to the formaldehyde resin and the mercapto mix have been initiated from contact with his laden clothes when he came home from work?
Along with being horribly grief stricken about my father’s impending death (he had stage 4 cancer), I was outraged by our culture’s shrugging acceptance of substances as well as the implicit trust we put in their safety. Unlike my dad, thoughI was never under the delusion that synthetic chemicals were our friends. Maybe this was because I grew up in the’70s, a time of burgeoning interest in returning to a healthier way of life. Early on, I began exercising regularly, eating natural foods, and consuming an array of beneficial supplements.
Yet, despite my healthy practices, I began to suffer from myriad allergies and sensitivities to environmental elements, such as plants, smoke, mold, chemicals, and foods. Apparently my health-promoting activities weren’t sufficient to stave off these problems. I knew something was interfering with my body’s natural mechanisms and derailing my efforts. I believed that one big factor might be my early exposure to the chemicals my dad used, which was further exacerbated by the overabundance of toxic chemicals in our air, water, soil, and foods.
While I believe that both my father and I have been harmed by dangerous chemicals, I don’t think we are the only ones damaged in this way. I believe that the overload of toxic chemicals in our world has a negative effect on all of us. We pay the purchase price of exposure in our own unique ways: one person eventually gets cancer, another becomes asthmatic, and somebody suffers from chronic rashes.
Recent studies have provided validation for my conviction that chemical toxins adversely affect our health. Asbestos was found to play a role in respiratory illnesses; arsenic is known to lead to a variety of ailments, including diabetes and heart disease; mercury has a deleterious effect on the brain and nervous system; and bisphenol A (BPA) disrupts the endocrine system.
Because chemicals are loosely regulated and only banned after recorded proof of serious harm, we are subject to untold dangers from our daily encounters with these substances. Many people might not think they’re being diminished by this exposure. Yet repercussions can occur many years after, when it is nearly impossible to determine if routine chemical exposure was the cause.
Despite not having much control over the chemical component of our world, I refuse to be a helpless victim of harmful substances. I have found ways to substantially reduce my exposure to noxious substances. This has diminished the harm I experience from living in our less-than-healthy world.
One way I have found to mitigate the toxins in my life is to shop carefully and select safer choices for my household and personal care needs. I look at labels and do a little research before I buy. Environmental Working Group’s website has a comprehensive database of personal and household care products, rated for their safety.
When remodeling or purchasing new household furnishings, I have discovered healthier options. Eco-friendly materials are generally safer, but we need to pierce below the surface of the marketing claims. By way of instance,”green” does not necessarily mean a product is natural or nontoxic. The product may contain recycled materials, which might be off-gassing substances like plastic.
Because I respond horribly to fragrances (with symptoms that include nausea, cognitive impairment, and headaches), I avoid buying any botanical products. After learning that the words”fragrance,” or”parfum,” on a product label usually conceals the existence of numerous hidden toxic compounds, I finally realized why I have such adverse reactions to these substances.
Driving less, refraining from burning wood or light up barbeques, and using biodegradable unscented laundry products are all ways help to reduce unhealthy particulate matter in our shared air. This makes the air safer to breathe for everyone, especially asthmatics and people with chemical sensitivities.
Another way I get some measure of control over our shared environment is by way of making my voice heard. I write to my legislators and sign petitions, such as those that prohibit particularly harmful chemicals or ask more stringent regulations for the chemical sector. I also support organizations which are doing vital work. Nonprofits like Environmental Working Group; Green America; and Safer Chemicals, Safer Families are working on our behalf to insure greater public health and safer products.
Employing the above measures has made it possible for me to lead a fairly normal life. I still must stay alert to potential chemical hazards in each new environment I enter. I also need to refrain from lingering in any place that’s starting to make my head my stomach feel queasy, despite wanting to shop in a specific shop or desiring to attend an event in a public hall.
Clearly, much work remains to be done to clean up our world. My hope is that through action and education, fewer individuals will become harmed by the chemicals they encounter in our shared environment.