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Dead Canaries In The Kitchen

 

By James Donahue

 

Remember when Teflon-coated frying pans, kitchen pans and kitchen utensils first went on the market? It seemed amazing that we could fry eggs, meat and even cheese on a hot pan without creating a mess that was going to take a lot of soaking and elbow grease to clean.

 

What we did not understand was that DuPont, the developer of Teflon, was using a poison substance called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to manufacture not only the Teflon products, but also Goretex, a substance used in making shoes and water-resistant boots, and stain-resistant carpets and upholstery.

 

It all seemed too good to be true. And, of course, it was.

 

The Worldwide Fund for Nature later warned that fumes from non-stick frying pans have been found to be the cause of mysterious deaths of hundreds of pet canaries and other household birds every year.

 

Not only are the perfluorinated compounds in the cooking pans giving off deadly fumes that kill birds, but the substance, used to prepare food for our dinner tables, has also been found to be a dangerous carcinogen. In other words, the stuff flakes off in our food, we eat it, and thus we consumed a chemical that could start a cancerous growth somewhere in our bodies.

 

If we have new treated non-stick carpet, or furniture with treated non-stick fabric, or a pair of Goretex boots in our closet, we also are breathing the fumes from these compounds. We are bigger than canaries so it doesn’t kill us. But are we not being poisoned just the same?

 

If we are living in a new home made of pressed boards, two-by-fours made from pressed glued sawdust, with new carpeting and painted walls, we are already breathing fumes from the formaldehyde used in manufacturing the glue, paint and plastics that go into our homes.

 

If we live and work in homes and business places where there are vinyl floors we are probably walking on asbestos. In spite of all the government hype to remove asbestos from the heat pipes and floors in our schools and government buildings, you still can buy asbestos products for insulation and tile floors for the home. Just go into your local building supply store and start reading labels.

 

Are there no government agencies assigned to control this stuff and keep us safe? Actually, the answer is no.

 

Our legislators passed a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976 but gave it no teeth. Thus the Environmental Protection Agency, assigned to watch over industries that make dangerous chemical substances, doesn't have the power to stop the marketing of these products. In fact, under TSCA a chemical company is under no legal obligation to understand or show anybody how its products might harm human health.

 

An EPA study in 1998 showed that chemical companies failed to volunteer even basic information on chemical properties or the toxicity of an estimated 43 percent of 2,800 chemicals produced in the United States.

 

At the time TSCA was passed, more than 63,000 existing chemicals were granted a blanket approval for use in consumer and industrial products in 1976.

 

A shocking report said that the government reviews the safety of chemicals invented since then through an application process that does not require health and safety test information. The process also discourages voluntary testing. The government approves 80 percent of the applications with no restrictions and no requests for testing. Eight of 10 new chemicals win approval in less than three weeks, at an average rate of seven a day.

 

How do we escape this onslaught of poison in the new world around us?

 

Call for a massive reform of our laws. Under President Obama, the new EPA Chief Lisa Jackson is outlining proposed changes in the Toxic Substances Control Act that she believes will give the agency the teeth it needs to provide protection against chemical risks.

In the meantime, avoid living in new homes if possible. Look for older houses that have escaped the "fixer-up" fad of the 1960's and 1970's, when all these toxic products were readily available in wallboards, ceiling tiles and floor tiles. Try to find homes made of real solid woods with real plastered walls. And hope that if there is insulation in the walls and ceilings, it is devoid of asbestos.

 

If you find such a house, be very selective in the products you use in decorating, repairing and updating it. Save products are available, but they will cost more and you may have to drive a ways to get them.

 

Don't expect to build a new house from scratch unless you are quite wealthy. Our forests are depleted so if you do find real lumber and wooden building supplies that are not filled with formaldehyde, they will be very expensive.