For Parliament Magazine by MEP Satu Hassi 9.11.05
I wake up surrounded by industrial chemicals. When buying sheets for my Brussels home I noticed that the more expensive sheets had a label “tested for harmful chemicals”. The cheaper ones did not have that label. So, possibly my sheets do not contain DDT and methyl parathion used as pesticides in cotton fields in many third world countries, although they are in the UN list of the world’s most dangerous chemicals. Possibly also the dyeing used to give the colours for my sheets do not contain cadmium, which is banned by EU in many products but not in textiles. In the production chain of textiles even 8000 chemicals may be used.
But I am fairly sure that there are flame retardants in my pillow and my mattress, possibly a high level of brominated flame retardants. I know that after 1985 the content of brominated flame retardants in human breast milk has increased rapidly. My mattress may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate eyes, throat and lungs. These substances are regulated for some uses but not for use in mattresses. My mattress can also contain formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic.
My cell phone which gave me the wake up signal, also probably contains brominated flame retardants. There are 50 different types of those chemicals, two of them will are banned in electrical and electronic equipment from the beginning of next year.
I go to bathroom to wash my teeth. My toothpaste may contain triclosan, a biocide designed to kill bacteria, widely used in toothpaste and detergents. Also the mug I use for washing my teeth may contain the same substance, because it is widely used also in plastic kitchen equipment. In the blood test by WWF for a Finnish family the blood of the mother, Ingrid Korpela, a high level of triclosan was found.
I take a shower. My soap and my shampoo may contain parabens, which are suspected to be hormone disruptors.
Maybe the biggest surprise for me concerning chemicals in the last year has been that the so called “non-stick” compounds which are used to produce teflon and Gore-tex and to spray shoes are also used as emulsifiers in shampoos. These compounds are very persistent, and in Baltic Sea the content of these compounds is now more than 50 times higher than in the 1970ies. These chemicals find their way in fish and they are also found in brain tissues. A fiend of mine had a high level of the non-stick compounds in her blood. Possibly I have, too, because I eat a lot of fish caught in the Baltic Sea. My husband is a good fisherman and his family has a summer cottage on a lovely island in the Finnish south coast.
I dry myself with my towel. It may contain formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic, as already mentioned. It is not regulated for use in textiles.
My deodorant my contain BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene, which is used as a preservative in food and cosmetics. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency considers that it should be withdrawn from use, because it is harmful to the environment and poisonous, if eaten.
I go to kitchen to make my breakfast and to cook tea. My tea may contain lead and DDT. DDT was banned long time ago, but is still found in the blood of everyone, even in children, who have born decades after banning of DDT.
I do not know which chemicals there are in the water I drink, and in the fruits and yogurt, which I usually eat for breakfast. But I guess that there are several persistent and bio accumulative chemicals which are not real health elixirs.
I do not have many plastic products in my kitchen, because I do not like the smell of plastic. Maybe this smell comes from phthalates, plastic softeners, which are known to be hormone disruptors. A recent study presented to the European Parliament by WWF told that men with a low level of living sperm cells in their sperm had high content of phthalates in their urine.
I do not yet know how the voting result of the European Parliament on the chemicals regulation, REACH, will be. But I really wish that a strong version will find the majority, because I want to clean up harmful chemicals out of consumer products.
I guess that if people walking in the streets were asked, if there is an European legislation demanding testing of the health and environmental effects of all chemicals used in consumer products, and banning use of harmful chemicals if a safer alternative exists, most people would answer: “Of course we do have such legislation”
The sad fact is that we are just making such legislation. And today I am not sure, if the outcome will effectively protect our health and the health of our children, or not.