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McKay Jenkins talks about "Staying Healthy in a Toxic World"

Book advises paying more attention to the toxic chemicals pervading every inch of our lives

Photo: Laura Prichett, License: N/A, Created: 2010:06:06 23:40:54

Laura Prichett

Anyway, you grow up like that, where companies are coming up with all this newfangled stuff, like, "Wow, cool, nylon stockings." And they stretch synthetic things over their body, they get synthetic cosmetics, they get synthetics for their lawn, they get synthetics for their housing materials, and suddenly technology makes everything really convenient. And so you have 20 or 30 years of just booming product design using these chemicals, and everybody loves it. And why wouldn't 
they love it?

One of the other big things I got by the end of this book is how everything you do comes out somewhere else. In the epilogue you link a tuna fish can to a light bulb, and it starts to really scare you that you can minimize your exposure, but you can't eliminate it.

One problem with this issue is that it's kind of like global warming … you can drive a Prius and limit your contribution, but it's not going to solve the problem, because the problem is enormous. You can't shop your way out. You need to start thinking about regulating 
these chemicals.

Why are we so resistant to regulation in this country? How come we're the ones behind instead of leading on this?

In Europe, the standard line is that chemicals are guilty until proven innocent. Especially Scandinavia has this real tradition of concern for public health trumping concern for business. So what they will say is, if there's some credible reason to think that a chemical is bad for public health, then we're not just going to allow it on the market. And in this country what we say is, we're going to allow it on the market, and we're going to leave it up to you to prove that it's bad.

There's a pretty well-known study in Europe where they started to see evidence that flame retardants were ending up in breast milk, so they banned it, and the amount of flame retardants in breast milk dropped 30 percent in three years, just like that, boom. Now that would seem to be a logical model, but that's not the way things are talked about here. And I think the answer, without simplifying it too much, is that industry has a much stronger influence on things in this country than it does in Europe.

I'm still trying to get over this. I didn't realize how much worse we were than the rest of the world.

And it's not something to be particularly proud of as an American. Is your pride in your country only in the amount of stuff it can make? If that's all you think about, that's what you're going to get. If, on the other hand, you want to be proud of the general health of your population, that would be an entirely different thing to proud of. You would have a really high standard of health and therefore these chemicals would be unwelcome. That would be a really different way to view the world.

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