Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 22, 2013

VASICEK: Tempering exposure to dangerous chemicals

By Ed Vasicek
Guest columnist

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I advocate balanced meals, but a health food aficionado I am not. I teasingly argue that consuming food with preservatives will preserve you – keep you young. Of course, I am only joking.

Chemicals can be dangerous. As a youth, I remember what DDT did to our bird population. It seemed that only sparrows and pigeons escaped unscathed. When authorities put the ban on asbestos, many folks thought it was much ado about nothing. The problem is this: we do not recognize danger in substances with which we are familiar — even if danger exists. Not many people eat from lead-formulated pewter products anymore; when the dangers of lead were first broadcast, I'm sure the message was mocked. “If we used a product or our parents used a product it cannot be dangerous,” we reason. Sometimes we are mistaken.

Another problem, however, is distinguishing between significant threats and lesser ones. Many substances can contribute to cancer, but how substantially? Even the new energy saving light bulbs are hazardous if broken.

Some cleansing and cosmetic products contain “parabens,” chemicals mocking estrogen. Some suggest these products contribute to the feminizing of men, while cosmetic companies explain that the effect is minimal. Carrageenan is a thickener found in ice creams and many food products. While not cancer causing, some tests suggest it speeds up tumor growth according to wikipedia. If we eliminate everything that might be harmful, we may find little left. We may not know where to draw the line, but we must try.

USA Today documented a move by Wal-Mart to protect consumers:

“Prodded by health and environmental advocates, Wal-Mart Stores announced Thursday that it will require suppliers to disclose and eventually phase out nearly 10 hazardous chemicals from the fragrances, cosmetics, household cleaners and personal care products at its stores.

"The nation's largest retailer said that, beginning in January, it would begin to monitor progress on reducing these chemicals and apply to its own brand of cleaning products the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment label, which identifies eco-friendly goods. It declined to name the targeted chemicals, saying it will take time to familiarize suppliers with the new policy.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction. But cleaning products are just the beginning. Have you ever considered the potential hazard to children of something as innocent as AstroTurf? Rick Docksai comments:

“More cities and towns than ever have been stocking up on the synthetic variety in the last few years for sports fields, stadiums, and even front lawns. To communities short on funds and increasingly short on water, the prospect of fields that you don’t have to hydrate, mow, or spray with pesticides can sound too good to pass up. But not everyone is sold. Growing numbers of critics protest that those fields’ artificial chemicals don’t belong in their communities, much less in the bodies of the young people who play atop them.

“'We are exposing our children to a concentrated soup of all kinds of toxins,' warns Dr. Katherine Michels, a NIH neurobiologist. 'These materials were not made for this purpose. They were not made to be used by children.'

“...Synthetic turf’s rubber underside, or infill, is made from used tires. And used tires contain many unsavory chemicals, such as SBR Tire Crumb, within which is a petroleum-based compound called carbon black that has been on the California Office of Environmental Health’s official list of cancer-causing substances since 2003. Lead, arsenic, and cadmium show up in some tire crumb, too.”

Docksai presents the other side of the argument: water conservation, elimination of toxic lawn chemicals, and removing old tires from landfills.

And therein lies the dilemma. If we eliminate one product but replace it with something just as or more dangerous than the original product, are we gaining ground?

Some people will always be in a frenzy whenever they hear news about a toxic possibility, no matter how remote. Others will be skeptical, accusing the rest of being afraid of their own shadows. Somewhere in the middle is a position known as a reasonable, moderate, measured approach. That is the approach we must target.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@comcast.net.