Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#51: What's Gotten Into Us?: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World by McKay Jenkins

New York, Random House, 2011. 303 pages

This book scares the living shit out of me. I have long been of the idea that Joe Jackson back in the 1980s was right (Everything gives you cancer, there's no cure, there's no answer) and that my long term health is generally dependent upon the Genetic Roulette Wheel that is my family. But that is no cure for the endless line of knee-buckling, cringe-inducing, staring-at-my-rubbermaid-hamper-which-has-developed-murderous-intent paranoia as this text. GOOD GOD!!!!!!! WE ARE ALL DOOMED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My Top Five "Holy Shit!" Moments in this book:
1. Americans burn close to 800 million gallons of their lawnmowers each year. (171)
2. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a staff of 400 people, roughly 1/2 of its staff in 1985. The people that monitor imported goods....well, as Jenkins writes "monitoring the conveyor belt of goods coming into this country every year (in 2007 it was worth $614 billion) is a staff of --wait for it-- 15 people. (115)
3. Researchers from the Harvard School of Health went  to Maine in 2007 and "went looking for 71 toxic chemicals in 13 people, none of whom lived in major cities or worked in heavy industry. They found 46; "on average each person in the study harbored 36 chemicals in their body...all had traces of chemicals used to make Teflon cookware and Scotchguard treatments for stain resistant fabrics." (29-32)
4. While lead is illegal to use in paint on kids toys, it is still legal to use lead as a stabilizer in certain plastics. Most of these are used in, you guessed it, children's toys. (116-117)
5. Teflon is found in the following products: grease-proof pizza boxes, linings of microwave popcorn bags. The bags "are a it is present in hundreds of times the concentrations as in cookware, and the intense heat of the microwave can cause it to leach into the corn." (47)
6. OK, here is one extra. There are more towns and cities in the United States that mandate the use of chemical lawn treatments than allow citizens to hang their laundry out to dry. (188) Christ. If my neighbor bitched about my underpants being up an a laundry line while that jack ass spread fertilizer on his lawn, I would beat him with his weed whacker, then run him over slow-like with his John Deere. Prick.

The book is broken into chapters called The Body, The Home, The Lawn, The Tap and The Big Box Store. This is not your usual bitch fest about how Wal-Mart is ruining the known universe; it is more a question of how exactly the ubiquitous chemicals we are in contact with everyday effect us. Jenkins is a journalism professor from the University of Delaware who got interested after his doctor found a tumor in his hip. Luckily for Jenkins (and for his wife) the tumor was benign; Jenkins has never smoked, drinks moderately and is an accomplished cyclist. He segues into his investigation by talking about the Titanic.

He mentions the Titanic because of a comment by a French minister in charge of returning relics from the wreck to the families of the victims and survivors. He said "What struck me most is that in such a long list of day-to-day objects, there was nothing made of plastic. This was only 95 years ago." On the same page, he points out that consumption of synthesized chemicals in the US alone has increased by 8200 percent since 1980. (12)

The book includes tips to make your home more friendly for your health (get rid of deodorizers and air fresheners is a BIG step) and lists of websites that rate household products for chemical levels and testing. Read this book and prepare to be frightened. Jenkins gives you places to go to find out how to fight back.

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