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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Is Our World Toxic? Ask a Mother

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: : toxins, health, plastics, endocrine disruptors, toxicity research, science, environment, Keith Goetzman,

California pesticide protest 

All this concern about toxins in plastic toys, baby bottles, breast milk, shampoos—is it partly the result of a bunch of worry-prone uber-moms worked up over exaggerated rumors and dubious science?

No way, reports Judith Shulevitz at The New Republic, who investigates “The Toxicity Panic” and ultimately finds that it’s not a panic at all but a rational response to real dangers. In fact, Shulevitz suggests that by and large, the mothers have been right:

When I first began my crash course on this subject, I assumed the reason quasi-eco-moms like me have spent the last half-decade fretting neurotically about the stuff our bodies come into contact with, rather than about the environment writ large—about what’s in our homes rather than in rivers and lakes and soil and air—is that we’re typical self-absorbed bourgeois parents. Now I know the real reason is that we can see inside our bodies better than ever before, and what we find there horrifies us.

Shulevitz reports that new biomonitoring technology has led to startling discoveries about toxins and their effect on humans, especially endocrine disruptors, the substances at the core of bisphenol-A health concerns. No longer is it always true that “the dose makes the poison,” as the longstanding and overly simplistic scientific bromide goes. Her article is a sobering summation of the current state of toxicity research and regulation—or, rather, the lack thereof.

Ultimately, Shulevitz admits a certain sense of vindication:

In the case of consumer products, if not vaccines, anxious, half-informed mothers like me had inklings about their toxicity that turned out to be justified, if not necessarily right in every detail. Meanwhile, as the tools for gauging the effects of toxicity have become more sophisticated, the previous generation of risk-assessment experts—with their narrow study parameters, insistence on dose-sensitivity, and smug theories about irrational lay people—are looking more and more wrong.

Source: The New Republic (full article available only to subscribers) 

Image by Kevin Krejci, licensed under Creative Commons.