Authors Discover Toxins in ‘Off-the-shelf’ Products Increase Quickly
Sarah Schmidt, The Vancouver Sun, May 11, 2009
OTTAWA — After steering clear of food packaging containing
bisphenol A for a couple of days, Rick Smith saw the levels of the
hormone-disrupting chemical linked to breast and prostate cancer in his
body increase 7.5 times after just two days of restricting his diet to
canned foods heated in a microwave using a polycarbonate plastic
The BPA test, showing an "immediate and
dramatic increase" in the "harmful toxin," was one of four involving
pollutants found in consumer products unveiled Sunday, showing an
increase in levels of up to 2,900 times after short-term, regular-use
The results are contained in the new release
of the Canadian book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry
of Everyday Life Affects our Health.
"The results are
staggering. Obviously, we suspected we'd see an increase but nowhere
near that much, especially given that we were only doing this over a
couple of days. I can only imagine what levels of these chemicals look
like in people that use these products as a matter of course because
all the products we were experimenting with are well-known, brand-name,
off-the-shelf products," Smith, co-author of the book and executive
director of Environmental Defence, said in an interview.
with co-author Bruce Lourie, the two detoxed by abstaining from
everyday consumer products known to contain pollutants, then loaded up
on the common, brand-name products in order to measure the effect on
After using everyday scented toiletries
containing phthalates for just two days following a shower-free
weekend, and hanging out in a condominium set up for the experience
with an air freshener that also contained the chemical, the levels in
Smith's body increased by as much as 22 times. Phthalates, also found
in many hard plastic toys, have been linked to abnormal reproductive
And Smith, who had banished triclosan from
his home many years ago after reading studies identifying the
antibacterial agent as a carcinogen and reproductive toxin, saw the
levels rise in his body by a "mind-blowing" 2,900 times after using,
over a two-day period, brand-name deodorant, toothpaste, anti-bacterial
soap and shaving cream containing triclosan.
In the case
of mercury, a known neurotoxin harmful to children's development,
Lourie, who is chairman of the board of directors for Environmental
Defence, reduced his exposure to the element by not eating fish for a
month. Then, over a two-day period, Lourie ate tuna sandwiches for
lunch and tuna sushi or tuna steak for dinner. The levels of mercury in
Lourie's blood increased by 2.5 times after eating those four tuna
meals over two days.
The experiments show that, "our
choices as consumers really do have a profound, and very rapid, effect
on the pollution levels in our bodies," according to the authors.
But there is some good news, they write.
we could crank up our levels of these things in a couple of days,
anybody can reduce their levels and their children's levels of these
and other chemicals in a similarly quick fashion simply by making
different purchasing choices at the supermarket."
organizations representing the chemical industry and manufacturers of
products containing these chemical insist that the levels found
consumers products pose no health risk to their customers.
Smith said these groups "should not be trusted" on this point.
on a weekly basis, there's another new major scientific study drawing
another conclusive link between the chemicals that we tested for and
very significant human health problems."
Besides, said Smith, people are not exposed to these chemicals on a one-off basis.
a fallacy to think that each one of these chemicals should be looked at
in insolation and the only thing that matters is the level of a
particular chemical as one moment in time. The problem is we're being
exposed to all these chemicals every hour of every day, year in, year
out," said Smith.
But the "second conclusion" flowing from
the experiment "is that no matter how hard you try, no matter how
obsessively you're focused, even making the elimination of toxic
chemicals from your body the single purpose of your day, you can't
succeed completely. The toxins are too widespread. The sources of
contamination are so numerous that no precaution taken by an individual
will work completely."
For example, despite banishing
anti-bacterial and personal care products containing triclosan from his
home for a number of years, the levels of triclosan in Smith's urine
stood 2.47 nanograms per millilitre before exposure; they rose to 7,180
ng/mL after exposure over a two-year period using everyday