Posted by: oysterculture | March 21, 2009

10 pre-polluted Americans

10 Americans talk in Marin (ft. Baker)

10 Americans talk in Marin (Ft. Baker)

This post is out of context for this blog, but sustainability, health and food safety are required to participate in what makes us who we are through our food and culture.  As such I felt compelled to share what I learned in the “10 Americans” discussion held in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.  Mary Vincent from Gratitude Gourmet asked me to be a guest blogger and write about what I learned. Mary has done a fantastic job with the site and is active in San Francisco on sustainable issues.  However, I only touched on what I learned in that post, and felt compelled to share more of what I learned. 

The talk that Ken Cook From the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives focuses on the results of blood tests of ten Americans.  In 2004, in a first of its kind study, blood samples of 10 Americans were tested for over 287 chemicals.  The results were staggering, each person had over 200 of these chemicals present in their blood.  

  • 28 were waste byproducts
  • 47 were consumer products such as Teflon
  • 212 were industrial chemicals

Some were pesticides that were banned 30 years before the tests were taken.

 How did the chemicals make their way into the blood?

  • Drinking water?  no
  • Work environment?  no
  • Home environment?  no
  • Products used?  no

The answer was more disturbing – their mothers passed along the chemicals.  You see, the blood was taken from the umbilical cords while the infants were still in their mother’s wombs.  They were “pre-polluted”, and that took my breath away.

I admit I came to the talk as a bit of sceptic, but walked away a believer.  I thought if some of those chemicals are a few parts part per billion, how much of an impact can it really have?  Unfortunately, Ken answered that question in a manner which was not at all comforting.  He sited as an example Cialis (the relationship enhancer) it is only 30 ppb (parts per billion) and as we’ve seen in the advertisements its affects can last for 36 hours.  A birth control, I forgot the name, has a concentration of less than one part per billion, and yet it is very effective at its job.

What can we do?

Ken pointed out, that if you tried to tackle everything, you would go insane, he suggested focusing first on cleaning products, and determining if you really need all of that strong stuff .  I’ve found the book  Haley’s Hints a good source of information in making less harmful, homemade cleaners – not only do you get rid of a lot of chemicals, you save money in the process.

He made a big point of saying if you have to choose between scented and unscented – choose unscented.  The chemicals that make up the fragrances have still to be studied, and the companies are not required to identify what is in their composition.  Isn’t curious that what makes up the scent is never identified?  I looked at several bottles from hand lotion to dish washing fluid – fragrance (parfum) is all that is listed.  What’s up with that? 

He was also a big proponent, as you might imagine, of buying organic.  On his site he has a list of fruits and vegetables that should be purchased organic, given the number of chemicals found in the conventional products, he also shows fruits and vegetables that conventionally grown have far lower levels of the pesticides. 

He said a number of these chemicals are known by the government to leech from the packaging into the foods.  Chemicals such as Badge-40# (if my notes are correct) at 97.5 parts per million, can be found in anything from the cans our tomatoes come in, to the plastic that holds our meat.  The concentrations are known and allowed by the government.  Teflon does not break down, it has an amazing ability to stick around.  Ken also mentioned the connection between burning teflon and dying birds.  I thought he was talking about an urban legend, but again a quick google search proved me wrong.  Type in “teflon” and “dead birds” and over 20,000 hits pop up.

Ken wrapped up the presentation on an upbeat note – he pointed out that since changes were made such as removing lead from gasoline, dramatic improvements were seen.  He anticipates the same sort of results can be achieved. 

EWG is throwing its support behind reintroducing a bill in the senate called the Kids Safe Chemical Act – the link here has more information on the act as well as a copy of the same presentation I saw in its entirety – the video is about 25 minutes.  See if you agree with me, that its powerful stuff.

The bill asks for requirements that you might assume exists, such as:

  • requires that industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable groups;
  • requires that new chemicals be safety tested before they are sold;
  • requires chemical manufacturers to test and prove that the 62,000 chemicals already on the market that were never tested are safe in order for them to remain in commerce;
  • requires EPA to review chemicals  found in people, on an expedited schedule;
  • requires regular updates of health and safety data and provides EPA with clear authority to request additional information and tests;
  • requires EPA to promote safer alternatives
  • requires that this information be publicly available.

    kicking back at Cavallo Point

    kicking back at Cavallo Point

    Now, I promise, its back to regularly scheduled programming.  I want to kick up my feet and relax, knowing that efforts are being made to improve the environment, and I am grateful for groups like the Environmental Working Group for bringing these issues to our attention.  I also want to point out that this may be the only post in a food blog that mentions Cialis. =)



    1. That’s crazy. It really only underscores the amount of time it can take from us removing harmful aspects of our culture to actually ridding their traces from society. It certainly parallels discussions of sustainability. I recently read a similar article about how they’re still finding traces of oil at the site of the Valdez spill in Alaska.

      Great article.

    2. Teflon and dead birds??? I couldn’t see any relations between these two until I typed them in google. I’m shocked now! I knew that teflon is dangerous and I always feel guilty whenever I use it, but didn’t know that it also kills pets at home. And when we compare the number of young deaths or death from diseases like cancer today and the number of them in the past, it’s inevitable to find out that we have a lot of dangerous chemicals around us. As an example, Mom didn’t use teflon when she was a young girl. We should definitely avoid using them. But I don’t know how, we are so used to.

      Thank you for this well written and so informative article.

    3. The speaker suggested we all switch to cast iron.

      I agree its crazy – I did not believe the teflon bird link until I did the google search, apparently the fumes are powerful and deadly to birds. When people raise this with the vets, they also reported feeling unwell too with headaches and nausia.

    4. […] I made this before reading the article, 10 pre-polluted Americans by OysterCulture, which is about food safety including the harms of teflon. And now, I’m […]

    5. Frightening stuff. And thought-provoking information to know. It shows how even the most diligent of us who read labels regularly still probably don’t know everything we’re ingesting.

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