Brian Philips
In Toronto
Between pharmaceutical drugs in our drinking water, frying our brains with cell phones and the irradiation of nutrients out of our food, add another health risk to the list: toxic chemicals hidden in our personal care products.
Canada has a new Consumer Product Safety Act, passed in December, but it does not cover cosmetics. Many of the skin, hair and hygiene products that we slather on our bodies daily contain chemicals that are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and reproductive toxicants. Since 2005, the Toxic Nation project has tested Canadians across the country and found that all of us have varying levels of harmful chemicals in our bodies. “Pollution is now so pervasive that it’s become a marinade in which we all bathe every day.” says Dr Rick Smith, one of the project’s organizers. “Pollution is actually inside us all. It’s seeped into our bodies. And in many cases, once in, it’s impossible to get out.”
Enter Toronto-based Environ-mental Defence’s new “Just Beautiful” campaign. Developed by the same folks who got all those nasty plastic baby bottles with bisphenol A off the shelves two years ago and BPA listed as a toxic chemical in Canada — the first country in the world to do this — the new campaign targets heavy metals, parabens, sulphates and phthalates in personal care products.
Lead, mercury and arsenic, which play havoc with our bodies, are used in cosmetics like lipstick, nail polish and mascara. Methyl, butyl and propyl paraben are widely used as cheap preservatives and studies show they affect normal hormone activity and have been linked to cancer. Sulphates are surfactants that allow oil and water to mix; they are also skin and eye irritants. Phthalates, commonly used in plastics and fragrances, cause reproductive abnormalities in males that scientists now call “testicular dysgenesis syndrome” or TDS. Testicular cancer and impaired sperm are just two of the results of heavy phthalate concentration. In many parts of the world, the European Union and Japan for instance, some of these chemicals have been banned in mass-market products. The “Just Beautiful” campaign hopes to engage Canadians to push for better protections as well as legislation for full disclosure on all product packaging.
In their bestselling book from 2009, Slow Death by Rubber Duck, Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, and fellow activist Bruce Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation, detail their mad toxic experiment, purposely exposing themselves to typical household stuff most of us use all the time. Locked up in Lourie’s condo, they slathered on the drug store products, ate lots of tuna from cans, plugged in air freshners and microwaved meals. Their follow-up blood tests showed that the levels of toxins in their blood had shot up, in some cases more than 2,000 times. After a detox period, the BPA and phthalate levels reduced, but were still evident in their blood, proof that these chemicals are everywhere in our environment. Smith and Lourie’s conclusion: “Making different choices the next time you go to the grocery store can alleviate some of your family’s pollution in the short term. But for a long-term fix, only improved government regulation and oversight of toxic chemicals is the answer.”
The David Suzuki Foundation’s recent report, “What’s Inside that Counts,” follows our daily exposure to a “dirty dozen” of toxic ingredients, highlighting the dangerous substances in our shampoos, deodorants and cosmetics.
In one of their surveys, three out of five people check the ingredients on labels, which means more people are paying attention, but with so many hidden chemicals, as consumers we are really still in the dark.
Depressed yet? Here’s the good news. The “Just Beautiful” campaign cabinet is comprised of a group of smart, passionate and very focused individuals from different disciplines who will be working hard over the next three years to bring more awareness to these issues, press government to adopt needed change and offer healthier alternatives to Torontonians and Canadians in general.
Smith’s two young boys Owain and Zachary don’t play with the rubber duckies anymore, and since phthalates have been banned in children’s toys, they already are living in a safer world. When asked what the future holds, Smith remains hopeful. “I’m optimistic about the significant change we’ve inspired,” he says, “and will continue to inspire in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier life for Canadians.”
Join the “Just Beautiful” campaign at environmentaldefence.ca.