Those Against 'Living better Chemically'

The good, the bad and the ugly of chemicals in our lives.

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The Big Stink: Toxins in Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Skin is our natural barrier

Skin is our natural barrier

Before I discuss some of the scaries and nasties in our deodorants/antiperspirants, I would like you to take a good look at your old friend Mr. or Ms. Epidermis. This may seem lame, but take a second or two to appreciate your skin’s smooth surface, its pores, sweat glands, and veins. Your skin is more than a protective surface for your body to the outside world – it is actually a permeable membrane that allows the inside of your body to interact with our external environment.

All of us, from beauty bombshells and gym rats to book worms and soccer moms have developed some sort of personal hygiene routine in the hopes of somehow taming or controlling our outer barrier; in fact, on average men and women spend anywhere from 200 to 400 hours a year applying lotions, potions, makeup, and hair products during their morning routines.

The Environmental Working Group (an environmental research and advocacy group in the US http://www.ewg.org) cites women as particularly heavy users of toxic chemicals from personal products, applying on average 515 chemicals on their faces and bodies daily; however, we must not forget that both men and women use an average of 9 personal care products daily, and while men might use fewer products, theirs tend to have heavy scents and extra harsh chemicals and can therefore be just as or more so toxic than the combined chemical stews women concoct and slather on themselves.

I have used the quite unappetising term ‘chemical stew’ for a reason: for one, maybe the nasty mental image alone will deter you from using items with high toxicities, but I use toxic ‘stew’ or ‘soup’ because I want to remind you that your skin is a massive organ and we ‘ingest’ ingredients at a more effective rate through our skin than we do through our mouths and digestive systems. When we swallow products, they go through a complex process that includes the digestive system, which allows some toxins to be eliminated from your body. Though we all learn in grade school that our skin is the body’s largest organ and a permeable membrane, we seem to be in denial as adults that it is indeed a living, breathing organ which likes to absorb what is applied to it, most of which is welcomed directly into the bloodstream.

Keep in mind that only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics have been tested for safety, and many of the most popular products we use daily (from toothpaste and deodorants to shampoo and lip gloss) have chemicals that have tested positive for carcinogens. To many of us, the thought of pouring a warm, steaming bowl of these chemicals to eat with a spoon for lunch sounds beyond crazy and dangerous, but we fail to recognise that it is almost equally dangerous for us to apply these chemicals to our skin.

 

You should give your skin the same thoughtful care you give your diet, because much of what goes ON you ends up going IN you. 

 

Your skin is much more than a wrap to keep you from sliding down into a puddle of formless bio-goo. It is your body’s largest organ. (The following list is adapted from mercola.com).

You might not be aware of the many protective functions your skin serves. Consider that your skin:

  1. Protects your internal organs from injury and infection and is your primary and most important defence against infections.
  2. Helps eliminate waste through perspiration.
  3. Assists your immune system by providing a protective barrier to viruses and bad bacteria, thus preventing infections.
  4. Provides a friendly habitat for good bacteria.
  5. Helps maintain body temperature by controlling heat flow between you and your environment.
  6. Seals in moisture, maintaining your body’s delicate fluid balance.
  7. Produces vitamin D, which is crucial for your health.
  8. Sends sensory feedback to your brain because it is rich in receptors, such as hard/soft and hot/cold, so that you can react to dangerous conditions around you.

Antiperspirants and Deodorants: are the rumours skin deep?

With the above reminder about the amazingness that is our skin, let’s consider the effect just one step in your daily hygiene routine might have to your health: applying deodorants and antiperspirants. Now, this is a tough topic for many of us. Even some granola munching hipsters won’t compromise when it comes to avoiding sweaty, smelly armpits, and these products deal with natural processes about which the cosmetic industry has made us feel very self-conscious. The thought of suddenly dropping your trusty speed stick is akin to a woman deciding to stop shaving her underarms…

Yeah, to some of us, that thought is still cringe-worthy, but it’s an example of how Western culture has developed a skewed outlook on beauty, to a point where our natural body functions have more often than not been made to be embarrassing rather than, well, natural. It’s often difficult for Westerners to find deodorant products in certain parts of the world because other cultures haven’t vilified body odour as much as ours.

Now… I’m not advocating that we should all revert to Medieval times and refuse to wash, shave, or smell nice! If you ask most Westerners what their biggest pet peeve is, I’m sure many would say “poor body odour,” because it’s just not fun to be packed in a crammed subway in sweltering summer conditions with a bunch of smelly armpits! However, we must consider the amazing balances and functions Mr. or Ms. Epidermis provide for us, including the lymph nodes and glands around our arm pits, and why it is important to know the ingredients in deodorants to avoid suffocating and poisoning the unique habitat under our arms! Also, more and more people are becoming wary about deodorants and antiperspirants and their potential links to breast cancer.

“Research studies of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer have been completed and provide conflicting results”

A number of stories have floated around in the press and on the internet about studies linking the use of odour and sweat-blocking underarm products to breast cancer. Also, some studies suggest an increase in tumour development when the products are combined with shaving of the underarm area. Some of the news seems to definitively link the products (and chemicals like parabens and aluminium) to the disease, while some major sources – ones we would hope to be very reliable – like the FDA and the National Cancer Institute insist that “there is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer” (cancer.gov 2008). However, even the Cancer Institute states that additional research is needed to truly understand the link between the products and tumour development, as some studies clearly link the two and some seem to provide concrete proof that the two are unrelated.

Here are the results of just two conflicting studies from cancer.gov:

In 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants were reported. This study did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade (nonelectric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within 1 hour of shaving with a blade razor. These conclusions were based on interviews with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast cancer.

Findings from a different study examining the frequency of underarm shaving and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors were released in 2003. This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a conclusive link between these underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer.

Being the well-informed buyers that we are, and keeping in mind that governments of the past, in attempt to appease certain major companies, manipulated studies to try to prove that cigarettes weren’t bad for us, I think it is up to all of us to use common sense, trust our guts, and opt for alternatives. The fewer chemicals on our bodies, the better!

Since beginning my own personal journey into the land of natural deodorant products, I have definitely had mixed results! It seems that some smell like beautiful, natural, delicate flowers until actually being applied, at which point it it turns into the most potent natural people repellent ever imagined! So, I have a few words of advice.

1) Try the products first in the safety of your home …  and preferably surrounded by people who have to love you regardless of how smelly you are.

2) Keep in mind that many natural websites have comments from people who love certain products and recommend them, but everyone’s Mr. or Ms. Epidermis is unique and responds better (or worse) to different products – so don’t be discouraged if certain brands don’t work for you.

3) Try not to compare the natural products to your tried and true – natural products aren’t meant to mimic directly what mainstream products do. Considering aluminium in mainstream products form a plug within your sweat ducts that stops the flow of sweat, it’s tough to find a product with the exact consistency and results but is magically natural.

4) Check the ingredients carefully, some companies claim their product is natural but still have parabens or petroleum products. Determine how natural you want to get and what chemicals you’ll concede.

5) I don’t really have anymore advice, but thought this video was amusing for anyone who has started out on this journey: (don’t be disheartened though – you’ll find something!)

I have tried a few different types of natural deodorant products, and since this can’t be a proper blog post about natural products without a product review, I will do a quick review of my personal favs and tragedies (though read with the above #2 in mind).

Some natural products I've tried.

Some natural products I’ve tried.

  • Natural mineral salt deodorants (the little guy in the above picture) are the devil. Don’t be charmed by their wee size and convincing claims. One is to dampen the top with water and apply. Yeah… doesn’t work for anyone.
  • Green Beaver Lavender 50g (above in blue) I’m pretty sure made me smell worse than before I applied. However, I do love their other products, especially their toothpaste.
  • Nature’s Gate (white bottle) 70g has worked really well for me. Of course, it doesn’t keep sweat at bay completely, but the ‘Spring Fresh’ scented one smells really lovely and has witch hazel, oak galls, myrrh, eucalyptus, and sage to kill odour causing bacteria (no staining).
  • If you are just stepping into the natural deodorant door and are unsure, a good ‘first step’ product is The Body Shop’s Maca Root Deodorant for men (75g). I think it smells great, even if  it’s for the guys, and it works well to reduce odour and sweat, but the ingredients could be a bit more natural (no staining).
  • LUSH Aramaco deodorant bar. Let’s just say it smells fantastic but it ended up being used as a closet freshener.
  • Finally, and what I go for the most these days (you’ll probably hear me rave about other amazing uses for this product in later blogs) is 100% natural cold pressed virgin COCONUT OIL, which can be found in most grocery stores (around $7 for 500ml, I use Grace brand). Apply a thin layer to dry armpits and you’re good to go! Though it doesn’t block sweat really, I’ve never had a smelly day (no staining)!

So there, my friends, is the skinny on the natural deodorant scene. I hope this has been a helpful introduction for you, and please post your deodorant journey experiences!

Great Tool: Safe Cosmetics Database

Calling all chemical conscious friends! I have recently been made aware of a brilliant new database called Safe Cosmetics Act (run by the California Dept. of Public Health), which has a database of cosmetics including shampoos, sunscreens, nail polishes, and deodorants (among other products) that will tell you if the product you are using has been reported as containing harmful chemicals.

Thanks to a 2005 law in California, manufacturers are required to report any cosmetic product that contains chemical ingredients known to cause cancer, reproductive harm, or birth defects.

All you have to do is plug a company name or cosmetic type into the search bar and hundreds will pop up. The best aspect of the site is that you can click on any of the malicious ingredients listed for a product, and information about how it may affect you will pop up.

Another great tool to help us make informed choices! (And keep cosmetic companies honest…) Click the title for a link.

Also, check out this website for some hard to find cosmetics: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/


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Endangering the Brains of the Future

I don’t like to borrow articles from other sources, but this short and sweet one from my local newspaper, the Toronto Star, summarises the findings of a recent neurological review, and is a definite must-read for parents and would be parents alike. It is yet another example of toxic chemicals to which we are unwittingly exposing ourselves and our young minds. Sources of these chemicals range from tap water and children’s wooden toys to canned food, fish, and household cleaners. (A list of of some of these chemicals and their sources can be found at the end of the post).

“We are endangering the brains of the future”

The review by Dr. Philippe Grandjean and Philip J. Landrigan looks closely at industrial chemicals which have been found to be developmental neurotoxicants and cause neurodevelopmental disibilites including ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia, and autism, and could cause a host of other cognitive impairments. The chemical perpetrators  in the study include the big five  (lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene) which were revealed already in a 2006 study, but six more have been documented since, including manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. It is believed that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered.

The goals of Grandjean and Landrigan’s review is as follows:

“To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.”

Here is a link to the above study: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(13)70278-3/abstract

The following is an article by Andrea Gordon of the Toronto Star, published 02/14/14

Two prominent medical researchers are calling for global restrictions on industrial chemicals so as to protect children from “a global, silent pandemic” of brain disorders, among them ADHD and autism.

“Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements and damaging societies,” the scientists warn in a review published Friday in the Lancet Neurology. 

Developing brains in the womb and throughout childhood are much more susceptible to harmful toxins than are those of adults, said co-author Dr. Philippe Grandjean in an interview from Copenhagen. (He is a professor at the University of Southern Denmark.)

Current regulations are “woefully inadequate” to protect children from daily exposure to contaminants in clothes, toys and furniture and in the air they breathe, said Grandjean, who also teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health.

He and co-author Dr. Philip Landrigan call for the creation of an international clearing house that would co-ordinate testing of all existing and new compounds.

It’s time, they say, to put the onus on manufacturers to prove chemicals are low-risk before they are used rather than rely on the “dangerous presumption” that new chemicals are safe until proven otherwise.

Their paper coincides with steady increases in worldwide rates of neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). One in 88 children is currently diagnosed with autism, up 600 per cent in the past 20 years. In the U.S., the diagnosis rate for ADHD has skyrocketed by more than 50 per cent in the past decade.

While new diagnostic criteria and greater awareness play a role in the alarming increases, scientists are also exploring other explanations.

Autism researchers, who once focused on the disorder’s genetic roots, are now exploring how the complex interaction of genes and environment may trigger the disorder in some children.

There is currently little scientific evidence linking industrial chemicals to specific disorders like autism, says Evdokia Anagnostou, clinician scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto.

However, to safeguard developing brains, more stringent rules and testing are long overdue, she said.

“This is not about avoiding a specific disorder. This is about promoting brain health,” said Anagnostou, who is also a principal investigator with the Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders Network.

Both Grandjean and Landrigan have spent more than 30 years studying the impact of chemicals on children’s health. Landrigan is a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and director of the hospital’s Children’s Environmental Health Center.

In a 2006 review, Grandjean and Landrigan documented five chemicals harmful to brain development, including lead and methyl mercury. Since then, the number of known “neurotoxicants” has doubled and the two scientists believe many more — still unrecognized — are doing damage.

If action is not taken now, “we are endangering the brains of the future,” said Grandjean.

Environmentalist Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute and co-author of two books on the subject, called this latest paper important, saying it reflects the “indisputable” science and the mounting worry about the impact of chemicals we absorb daily.

The study will likely draw attention from patients as well as those in the field, said Dr. Rosanna Weksberg, a specialist in epigenetics at the Hospital for Sick Children’s research institute in Toronto.

Despite the lack of research on the role of chemical exposure in developmental disorders like autism, Weksberg said that “there is enough scientific evidence that there may be a link and that it deserves appropriate in-depth investigation.”

http://www.thestar.com/life/2014/02/14/doctors_fear_kids_brain_disorders_tied_to_industrial_chemicals.html

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,” says Dr Grandjean. “They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

Here are 11 chemicals to watch out for and where you might find them:

Lead is one of the most extensively researched compounds in terms of its toxic effects on the central nervous system. It is a heavy metal that has been consistently linked to serious deficits, including low IQ. Lead accumulates in the body and its effects seem to be permanent, leading to the conclusion that there is no safe level of exposure.

Methylmercury is the most toxic form of mercury, and the one that most easily bioaccumulates in living organisms. It can affect the neurological development of the fetus, exposure often comes from maternal intake of fish containing high levels of mercury.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids, for example in transformers, capacitors, and electric motors. They were banned throughout most of the world in the late 1970s/early 1980s but are so persistent that they can still be found in the environment and in our bodies. PCBs have routinely been associated with reduced cognitive function in infancy and childhood. It is often present in foods, particularly fish, and can be passed along in breast milk.

Arsenic has been used as a pesticide, a wood preserver (for instance in children’s wooden playground equipment and picnic tables) and was for many years routinely fed to livestock such as poultry to increase weight gain. It is a common water pollutant that has been linked to reduced cognitive function in schoolchildren and neurological disease in adults. Also, studies have revealed that rice grown in the southern US has levels of arsenic in it due to its past use as a pest treatment on cotton fields.

Toluene is used as a solvent, and as such it can be found as a contaminant in everyday products such as household cleaners and cosmetics. It is also an additive for cars and jets. Maternal exposure has been linked to brain development problems and attention deficit in the child.

Manganese is a common drinking water contaminant. Although we need trace levels of this in our diets, too much can be linked to lower scores in math, diminished intellectual function, and ADHD.

Fluoride is routinely added to toothpaste and to water supplies. It is also present naturally in some foods. Higher levels of exposure to this chemical has been connected with a 7-point decrease in IQ in children.

Chlorpyrifos and DDT are pesticides. Chlorpyrifos belongs to the organophosphate family  and DDT to the organochlorines; both have been linked to structural abnormalities of the brain and neurodevelopmental problems that persist up to age 7. These pesticides are banned in many parts of the world, but still used in many lower-income countries. DDT has recently been linked to Alzheimer’s disease as well. 

Tetrachloroethylene (AKA perchlorethylene, or PERC) is a solvent widely used in dry cleaning. It has been linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour, and increased risk of psychiatric diagnosis. This is another reason to switch to an organic dry cleaning service!

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs) are flame retardants that were incorporated into a wide variety of products including building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, polyurethane foams and textiles. They are banned now, but like most of the chemicals on this list they are persistent. Exposure during pregnancy has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in the child. PDBEs and a related compound hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) are routinely found in food.

The researchers also found two more “compounds of concern”: BPA (bisphenol A), which is a common plastic additive in canned goods, thermal register receipts and hard plastics (now banned in France); and phthalates, which are commonly found in personal care products including deodorants and nail polish.


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Chemicals in our furniture: a bit too close for comfort…

Seeing as this is my very first post on Those Against ‘Living Better Chemically’ (TALBC),  I figured I needed a topic we could all relate to or benefit from. I also wanted to offer my readers an insider experience. With those perimeters in mind, I decided to write about just some of the toxic chemicals used on an object we snuggle into daily, take impromptu naps on, make forts with, sometimes eat errant grapes or chips from … an item we cling to in sickness and in health—our sofas. Also, below is an exclusive interview I conducted with a high level government worker who suffers from exposure to these chemicals.

I was being inundated with these chemicals 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – breathing them in, sitting on them, being in constant contact”

Toxic chemicals in our furniture is a topic that has been in the news a lot lately and was covered in a recent segment on the Dr. Oz show (aired 12/18/13), however, my interviewee has been keenly aware about the trails resulting from exposure to chemicals on furniture for over a decade. The information is a bit shocking and if you experience a feeling of mild to acute paranoia in response to it, let’s just say you’re human!

Keeping things in perspective, your new $2,000 leather love seat is not as easy to toss to the curb (or recycle!) as a chemical laden bottle of shampoo, so the videos offer some helpful tips to reduce the effects of the chemicals to you and your loved ones you can implement right away. Again, the duty of this humble blogger is to inform, your duty is to take a stance!

If you’re a visual learner, take a look at the following videos:

(“Toxic flame-retardant chemicals can be found in your chairs, sofas – even your baby furniture. Investigative reporter Elisabeth Leamy joins Dr. Oz to sound the alarm on their dangers. Plus, the safe furniture to buy.”)

Dr. Oz Episode: Toxic Flame Retardants

At the beginning of her career with the government 35 years ago, Anne [name changed for anonymity], now a high level manager in the government, noticed she would have mild itching upon entering her workplace—an average office with average cloth office furniture, cubicles, and carpet. Her reaction gradually got worse with her daily and unavoidable exposure to a common chemical still found in furniture across North America. The following is an exclusive interview detailing her experience.

Interview

Welcome Anne, thank you so much for sharing with us your story, I know it’s not always easy to talk about your health.

(Anne is in her late 50s with clear, luminescent skin, bright green eyes, and dark hair that only betrays her age with a few hints of grey. Her demeanor is open and energetic but also reflective of years of experience and challenges faced. Her hands and posture betray an ongoing battle with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease.)  

When did you first notice a reaction to your office and what were some of your early symptoms?

“In 1987 they brought all new furniture into the office, and before that they had the really old furniture – the wooden kind that tore up all your panty hose. We had things like wooden dividers but obviously none had any fire retardants. The office replaced the old wooden stuff with pieces from Global Furniture and everyone in the office started sneezing and itching and we all thought it was from moving things around – that stuff had been sitting there for years. We had new furniture with sound proofing for interviews with clients and padded, innovative 1980s ergonomic chairs, so for anyone who had unknown allergies to glues and fire retardant foams or sprays it was a nightmare. My colleagues settled down somewhat but I didn’t – it just got worse and worse. But with me my reactions would happen when I got home; hives and rashes. I didn’t connect the rashes with the office because I wasn’t reacting at work. We got the furniture in April and by mid summer I couldn’t stand it and had to consult a doctor.”

Which leads me to my next questions: what action did you take? What was your experience at the doctor’s? What did they advise?

“Again, I had no idea it was the office, my reactions didn’t directly connect. I was referred by my family doctor to an allergist, but it took a long time to get an appointment. The allergist made a big production out of it and did a full scratch test across my back. Prior to this, I only had allergies to food like strawberries and watermelon; I avoided certain detergents but never had any actual reactions. He confirmed my food allergies but I’m not sure if they didn’t test for chemicals back then, but his office wasn’t equipped for it. I got the pat on the head and he told me “It’s all in your mind” and wanted to send me on my merry way. I refused to accept that as an answer. We hadn’t changed anything in the house, it had to be something else.

I eventually tracked down the Gage Institute in Toronto – which is linked with John’s Hopkins in the US – which was the only place around that actually tested for chemical allergies. They put me in a sort of glass tank and sprayed in certain chemicals and sometimes placebos and after each would check to see if I was reacting. Turns out I was reacting to chemicals used as fungicides and fire retardants, especially one called Tributyltin, which is a fungicide used in many foams, glues, woods, paints, carpets, etc. Basically, I was being inundated with these chemicals 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – breathing them in, sitting on them, being in constant contact. I took 6-8 Benadryl a day to keep things manageable.

That must have been very frightening and frustrating for you. What action did you take? Was your employer supportive? Were they required to be?

“Yes, I was lucky I was in the government – they are required to meet the health needs of their employees in my field if the requirements are noted by a doctor. But my colleagues weren’t very understanding at all. The Benadryl would keep my reactions at bay for about 6 hours and then wouldn’t be enough to hold back a full out explosion of head to toe hives, so I was able to get off work early at 3 and go home to continue my work.

Since my colleagues didn’t see my reactions they didn’t really believe I was suffering and would talk behind my back about my request to work partially at home. I felt truly alone. It wasn’t like having cancer where everyone is so sympathetic with the ‘c’ word, and cancer can sometimes take a surgery or treatments to help; my problem wasn’t en vogue, wasn’t widely understood, wasn’t quantifiable enough for them. It was only on certain occasions when I pushed it and started visibly showing hives down my neck that my colleagues would stop and say “Ooo, maybe she is telling the truth.” I was thankful to be moved to an individual office that had good ventilation, could only be cleaned with vinegar, and had non-padded plastic office furniture with tile flooring.

I felt badly for my colleagues who were inundated with cleaning chemicals and the office furniture with the only fresh air coming from two speaking holes at the front desk. Many of them developed on-going issues with migraines, fatigue, coughing – one colleague’s health got so bad they went to a doctor and was diagnosed with type of terminal cancer. They tried to link the cancer to the office but didn’t get anywhere. I guess we’ll never know, they died 4 months later. That got the office scared, but still no big changes have been made. I now work at home, after 25 years of exposure to toxic chemicals.”

If your workplace wasn’t required to conform to your health requirements would you have left your job to be healthy?

“Yes. Absolutely. Without a second thought. I was really suffering. Keep in mind, I had two young children and my husband was earning a decent income, but mine was slightly higher. Where else could I go? All new office furniture had these chemicals, I would even react sitting on the waiting room chairs in doctors’ offices. It would have made a huge impact in my family’s quality of life if I lost my income. I’m sure many people are forced to just deal with their reactions and don’t have much support from their employers or health plans.” 

Do you feel your exposure to those chemicals over the years have caused you long term harm?

“Well, again, it’s not a quantifiable thing, but I was diagnosed with RA about a decade ago, and it is an auto-immune disorder. I have no family history of RA, and even my 90 year-old mother only has minimal, age-related arthritis. Her mother didn’t have problems with arthritis. I also have signs of Vitiligo, another auto-immune disorder. Who knows, maybe it’s related to taking so much Benadryl, which suppresses the immune system, or just the constant underlying reactions the drugs were covering up. I’d be in a wheelchair right now if it wasn’t for the RA drugs like Embrel I was put on, and I’m lucky to be in Canada with a good health care system and coverage from my work for the drugs that would cost me nearly $2,000/month but I don’t have to pay. RA is a daily struggle with pain and inflammation, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

What are your thoughts to the recent hype in the news about fire retardant chemicals in our living and working spaces?

“I think it’s great, we need more awareness and soon. It’s only a matter of time before the chemicals and toxins in our bodies built up to a point of no return and leave us ill in the huge spectrum of ways we can manifest disease, from cancer to autoimmune disorders. It’s just degrading our quality of life.”

What is your opinion of this (TALBC) blog? Could awareness of chemicals have helped you 25 years ago? 

“I think this blog and ones like it offer such a wealth of support to thousands and probably at this point millions of people suffering and don’t know where to turn or don’t know what to do. It provides an avenue for people to share their stories like I am today and for others to feel empowered. You have to be your own medical detective, because people from doctors and colleagues to even family and friends aren’t always supportive or truly understanding of what you’re going through. I really could have used a forum like this 25 years ago, it’s scary contacting big companies and demanding information about ingredients – they didn’t even label the chemicals used on furniture in the 80s and they weren’t very cooperative. It’s time to make a stand and make health our priority.”

Thank you for your candidness in this interview, Anne. I agree, our society needs to take action and fight for our right to be healthy and be knowledgeable about the chemicals in our products. One last question – is there a product with questionable chemicals in your house you just couldn’t live without?

(Anne lets out a good natured laugh) “You know, there really isn’t. I don’t use any makeup, I’m happy cleaning with vinegar, I don’t use perfume or deodorants – I’ve naturally and gradually created a chemically reduced environment in my home. You now have me worried about the foams in my furniture after seeing the Dr. Oz special – even me with all of my experience with reactions to Tributyltin I guess I was in denial that I could be sitting on these chemicals at home. I checked the labels on my European made, leather sofas (which I thought would be better than sprayed fabric furniture) and it turns out my furniture has that scary TB 117 label. We have a battle to be fought in our society – make our products SAFE.”