Katy Farber: The Toxic Chemicals in Me

Special to Enviroblog by Katy Farber of Non-Toxic Kids (that's her hair being sampled to the right) When the nurse came to take my blood, I winced, I moaned, and was generally a big fat baby. It was 10 vials, after all. Then they cut out a chunk of my hair, and I peed in a cup. Honestly, it was the least I could do. Having written about toxins in toys, vitamins, children's products, and food for two years on my blog, Non-Toxic Kids, well, I needed to put up or shut up, to say it simply. Because this is personal. The River Network and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont launched a Body Burden Study: A Study of Toxic Chemicals in Residents of the Green Mountain State. Six volunteers (myself included) were tested for several known environmental toxins:

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). These flame-retardants and are associated with affects on thyroid hormones and neurological problems. They are in electronics, mattresses, and furniture. Read EWG's tips to reduce your exposure here.
  • Bisphenol-a (BPA): You must have heard of this one. BPA is a chemical found in water bottles, canned food, packaged food linings, canned beverages, food containers and other plastics. In low doses, it has been linked to multiple cancers, obesity, heart disease, disruption of reproductive systems and the process of chemotherapy. Read EWG's tips to reduce your exposure here.
  • Organichlorine pesticides: These are insecticides and pesticides. They break down slowly and can remain in the environment and in people for years. DDT is the most well know organichlorine insecticide, which caused damage to wildlife and has been banned worldwide. But there are others still in use and accumulating in our bodies. Learn more on Enviroblog.
  • Mercury: The greatest exposure to mercury is caused by ingestion of fish, and mercury is a neurotoxin and may affect the development of the fetus and newborns.

I knew enough about the pollution in people not to be surprised - I grew up in the 80s, when we microwaved everything in plastic, ate conventional produce, and massive amounts of Velveeta and other food-like items. I still had hopes because I spent the last 15 years eating organic (mostly), using safer products, and eating a vegetarian diet. I wanted this to matter. Badly. And it did, and it didn't.


You see, the folks at EWG are right on when they say we can't shop our way out of this problem. Because despite my commitment to healthy living I had the highest amount of flame retardant chemicals in my blood out of anyone else in the study - 3 to 4 times higher. The chemicals are linked to cancers, brain abnormalities, and other troubling health conditions.

The most troubling? My two daughters, 3 and 5, live with the same exposures I do, and this level of contamination is unacceptable. We saw it in EWG's umbilical cord studies. No high level of organic and healthy living can leave our children without a heavy chemical load. That is why we must support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. There is no logical reason why manufacturers should be able to dump whatever chemicals they want into products without any safety testing, like they've been doing for years. We've got to pass legislation that shifts the responsibility of safety testing back to the manufacturers and demands safety testing for the 80,000 chemicals that were never tested. You can read more from Katy on her blog, Non-Toxic Kids. Her first book, Why Great Teachers Quit, was just published in July. Images by Kurt Budliger Photography.

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