'We are now into the fourth generation of people exposed to toxic chemicals from before conception through to adulthood," writes noted health
analyst Theo Colborn in the foreword to Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects our Health.
Its authors, Canadian environmental activists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, describe our bodies as sponges soaking in harmful, petrochemical derivatives that leach out of common household objects - everything from the upholstered sofa and TV set to the popcorn bag and garden hose.
In one example, the authors estimate that by the time the average woman grabs her morning coffee, she has applied 126 chemicals in 12 products to her face, body and hair.
They write: "Pollution is now so pervasive that it's become a marinade in which we all bathe every day."
So in the tradition of Super Size Me, they holed up in Mr. Lourie's Toronto condominium for an "adult science experiment." In 12-hour shifts over three days, they exposed themselves to seven toxic chemicals that have been linked to long-term health risks.
To do so, they had to do remarkably little: Mr. Smith showers, shaves, washes dishes, drinks coffee in a polycarbonate cup and eats lunch heated in a plastic microwavable container. Mr. Lourie, meanwhile, eats seven meals of tuna.
The authors tracked their blood and urine before and after exposure, and spoke with The Globe and Mail about the surprising results.
What you do in that condo sounds like a banal version of anyone's life.
Mr. Smith: We were conducting very run-of-the-mill activities, so it felt weird to be planning so methodically your tooth brushing or sandwich making.
The one rule we set for ourselves is that the tests had to mimic people's everyday lives. It was very complicated to organize and we consulted experts all over the world to help us design the tests.
What did you find?
Mr. Smith: Just through the use of a few well-known, brand-name shampoos, aftershaves and shaving gels, I was able to raise my phthalate levels by 22 times. Just eating out of plastic warmed up in the microwave, I raised my bisphenol A [BPA] by almost eight times. Probably most mind-blowing was what happened with triclosan when I used anti-bacterial products for a couple of days: The levels of that chemical went up by 2,900 times. But with bisphenol A and phthalates, if you can limit your exposure, they can be flushed from the body within a day.
Mr. Lourie: I've done research on mercury for years and have been telling people about tuna, but to actually just consume seven meals of tuna over a three-day period and watch my mercury levels triple was still astounding to me.
You cite a growing body of scientific research that has linked the toxic chemicals to several types of cancer, birth defects, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, neuro-developmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reproductive problems, testicular deformities and impaired sperm quality. But what about the argument that the chemicals are often present in levels too low to harm anyone?
Mr. Lourie: That's a spurious kind of argument. For many of these synthetic chemicals, the effect on children or a developing fetus can occur with parts per billion or parts per trillion. Quantity isn't really the issue. It's the particular kinds of chemicals and the way they can affect our genetic development.
Are people loath to take these links seriously because we are the guinea pigs, in effect?