Kevin Ma
St. Albert Gazette
DUCK OF DOOM? – Author and advocate Bruce Lourie speaks at the University of Alberta on the risks posed by toxic chemicals found in everyday objects such as rubber ducks and plastic bottles, such as the one in his hand. Lourie spoke at the U of A this week as the final speaker in the Toxic Bodies lecture series. Rubber ducks and certain hard, clear plastic bottles contain endocrine disrupting compounds believed to harm human health.
Frank Florian says he used to use Colgate Total toothpaste.
But when he learned Wednesday that it contained a chemical recently declared toxic to the environment in Canada, he told his wife to throw the stuff out.
“It really makes you wonder what you’re putting in your body.”
Florian, the science director at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science, was one of about 15 people at the University of Alberta Wednesday night for a free talk by Bruce Lourie, a board member with Environmental Defence and co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck. The talk was part of the Toxic Bodies lecture series on how everyday chemicals affect human health.
There are about 80,000 chemicals in commercial use, Lourie said, and only about five per cent of them have been tested for safety in humans. Most aren’t a problem, but some have been found to harm human or environmental health.
“We’re conducting this large uncontrolled experiment on humans, and we’re starting to get indications that it is probably not a very good experiment.”
Lourie found that regular use of products like canned foods or scented shampoos caused pollutant levels in his blood to shoot up thousands of times.
“We need to have better systems to ensure these toxic chemicals don’t get into products in the first place,” he said.
Deadly ducks
Environmental Defence is an Ontario-based advocacy group that recently led a successful campaign to ban bisphenol A in plastic baby bottles in Canada. As part of their Toxic Nation campaign, they tested the blood of Canadian celebrities such as the late Jack Layton to see what contaminants were in them.
Everyone they tested had about 125 known toxic substances in their blood at various levels, Lourie said.
“The politicians all had more toxic chemicals than the average person,” he added, “particularly the Teflon chemicals.”
Lourie said those chemicals fall into about seven categories: phthalates (found in soft rubber toys and scented products), PFCs (in non-stick coatings), PBDEs (a flame retardant), mercury, triclosan (in anti-bacterial soaps), pesticides, and bisphenol A (in some hard plastics and canned food liners). Animal and human research suggests many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors linked to various birth defects and cancers.
With the help of some of the world’s top scientists, Lourie and Smith designed experiments to intentionally expose themselves to one of these toxins at a time.
“Everyone thought we were a little bit crazy,” he said, but all they did was use ordinary products known to contain specific toxins as directed over a two-day period.
Regular use of scented deodorants and shampoos caused levels of phthalates in their blood to rise by a factor of 22 in two days, Lourie said. These substances, often listed as “fragrance” on ingredient lists, have been linked to birth defects in people. Canada restricted their use in children’s toys last year.
Triclosan is found in Colgate Total, Lourie said, and was originally used as a pesticide. Regular use of products with triclosan caused Smith’s triclosan levels to jump by a factor of 2,900 in 24 hours, Lourie said.
Triclosan has been criticized for contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, Lourie noted, and was ruled toxic to the environment in Canada last month.
These chemicals readily move from commercial products into people, Lourie said, and have been linked to serious health problems. “Not only that, they are everywhere.”
You can’t avoid all these substances, Florian said, but you can limit your exposure. “My mom said it best: everything in moderation is okay.”
The ultimate solution is to test these substances and ban the ones shown to be harmful, Lourie said.
“It’s not like we’re banning things that are necessary to the economy,” he said. “You don’t need antibacterial toothpaste. You don’t need phthalates in your shampoo.”