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Environmental connections to public health >>

Daniel Goleman: Access to info will make all the difference

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Well-known author and psychologist Daniel Goleman suggests that if we consumers have more easily-accessible information about the products we buy, we'll be better prepared to make choices that consider ecological, social and health impacts. Perfect examples: EWG's Skin Deep database and our Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

And while it might not actually sound fun to sort through all that information at the check-out stand (hard enough with paper v. plastic, organic v. conventional, right?), it's better to have the info than to operate with information asymmetry, as Goleman calls it, where even if we want to make the "right" choice (and many of us do), we simply can't.

The good news, as he sees it, is that when we have and use this information, the market does in fact shift. Especially if we tell people what we're doing, which of course amplifies the message. Yup, Facebook & What Toxicology Won't Measure - and What To Do. I've got some bad news. Toxicology seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the stew of chemicals we breathe, drink or otherwise absorb over the course of life.

Currently federal standards for determining toxicity are based on whether single exposures to a specific chemical cause a given medical problem. But growing bodies of medical evidence suggest that the cumulative tiny doses of chemicals we encounter over our lifetime can add up to disease.

  • What We Don't Know About the Chemicals Around Us. Consider a box of microwaveable, butter-flavored popcorn. The label assures buyers it has zero grams of trans-fat and "zero mg cholesterol." But the ingredients list fails to mention that the savory butter taste and mouth-watering aroma comes courtesy of diacetyl, a flavoring long known by pulmonary specialists to cause "bronchiolitis obliterans," a disease that causes the small airways in the lungs become to become swollen, scarred and, eventually, obliterated.
  • Our Bodies' Chemical Burden, Little Doses Matter a Lot. Here's sobering news: any one of us, anywhere on the planet, lugs hundreds of industrial chemicals around in our bodies - and they are up to no good.

    If you want to know what industrial chemical compounds Michael Lerner or his wife Sharyle Patton carry around in their bodies, just go to this Environmental Working Group website. Lerner and Patton are both active in environmental health, the field that studies how the chemical byproducts of industry and commerce impact the human body.

  • What's Really in Your Shampoo, and Why You Should Find Out. A friend who helped start a line of shampoos for a famous hairdresser confides that, truth to tell, every shampoo is built around just four basic types of chemicals. The first is surfactants, cleaning agents that strip dirt off hair. But surfactants are harsh and can leave hair dry and brittle, so formulators add a conditioning agent to rectify the Ph balance. Foaming agents make it bubbly; fragrances give a shampoo its unique identity.
  • Learn more about Daniel Goleman and his latest book, Ecological Intelligence.

     

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