Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review: The Body Toxic

JessTrev weighs in with a review of Nena Baker's book, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being

I've been meaning to read this book for a bit (it came out in 2008 -- I'm happy to say that tagging books on my Amazon wishlist and then using it to place titles on hold via my library's online catalogue works perfectly, but a bit slowly!) Before I return it, I thought I'd share some of Baker's key points so you can be intrigued enough to check it out.

Like me, you may avoid BPA in canned goods and search EWG's Skin Deep database before you buy mascara.... You may eschew nonstick for cast-iron cookware, and skip the carpet stainblock. If so, you'll be amazed by the extent of the research Baker cites about how affected industries were well aware of potential health concerns and stalled government intervention as long as possible in order to keep selling chemicals to consumers eager for (costly) convenience.

Baker's book traces the path of atrazine (a common pesticide), phthalates, flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), bisphenol-A, Teflon (perfluorinated chemicals) through their impact on humans and the environment, and through any relevant (though mostly absent) government regulation.

It's an eye-opening read.

Baker delves into the history of the Toxic Substances and Control Act of 1976, which grandfathered in thousands of chemicals (ensured they could be used without any safety testing) and basically set the stage for industry self-regulation.

She shares current research on what's called our chemical body burden -- the traces of chemicals that show up in every person on earth these days, regardless of where you live or how much organic produce you eat.

Baker shares the steps she's taken to limit her exposure to hazardous chemicals in her everyday life (like not eating microwave popcorn because of the fluorotelemers in the packaging) and gives tips for our everyday lives, many of which will sound familiar (no Teflon cookware, no stain repellants on carpet, no BPA in her water bottle). I don't want to share the whole thing 'cause the book is so well worth reading.

I loved hearing the backstory on all the familiar toxic chemicals we've learned to avoid, as well as the historical precedent for why our government's not practicing the precautionary principle when it comes to chemicals and our health (unlike the European Union). Really, reading Baker's book just made me want to have an update about any legislation pending that might flip the burden of proving chemical safety onto industry -- financially, of course. This time, I'd like the legislation to have some teeth....

8 comments:

JAM said...

I think I might have read this, but it might have been a different book on the topic, so I just requested this and I'll read it now! Thanks for the review.

JessTrev said...

Sure, JAM - it's well written and worth your time if you haven't read it.

Daisy said...

Wish lists: are you on Paperbackswap.com? I add to my wish list on PBS and then when the books become available, I grab them. It's slow sometimes, but it works for me.

Linda Germana said...

At least you know it's not a scam if PBS is representing it.

Simply Authentic said...

This book was one that I thought was very informative--she's great to listen to in person too! And I actually read pieces of this book to my husband when we were first getting together in order to get him on board with some of my eco choices. ;-) (He especially liked the parts about the male urethra exiting in random places....I'm sure you can imagine...) Another incredible read of this nature that I always refer women too is HAVING FAITH by Sandra Steingraber. If you haven't already read it...then I'd highly suggest it...

JAM said...

Just requested that one too - thanks!

Robbie said...

Read this book last summer. It completely freaked me out. The most discouraging thing (other than of course, the sheer prevalence of it) is where chemicals are hidden - like your microwave popcorn!

JessTrev said...

@Daisy great idea - will check them out

@simplyauthentic -- ooh, I would love to hear her in person! and I looooved Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith (read it when my 1st was tiny + I was still nursing)

@Robbie -- yes, I was freaked out too, but more by stories like the woman in Bolinas who was a super crunchy organic local eater who had her blood tested + had such contamination. truly, we cannot escape this issue with personal action. makes me want to shake my legislators....

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