By Julia Di Simone
You already know that there are cancer-causing carcinogens in cigarettes and alcohol. However, even if you don’t frequently smoke or drink, you can still be exposed to toxic chemicals when you swipe on deodorant in the morning. In a documentary screening of “The Human Experiment” hosted by the Anthropology department on April 4, students learned about the risks posed by toxic chemicals in everyday products.
The film followed activists who have personal experience with breast cancer, infertility and autism, and have come to believe that the numerous toxic chemicals people in the United States are exposed to on a daily basis have contributed to the rise in cancers, diseases and disabilities since the chemical industry boom of the mid 1960s.
Marika Holmgren was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37, despite doing everything she could to stay healthy. Holmgren was active: teaching snowboarding lessons and biking daily. She didn’t smoke and rarely drank alcohol or ate meat. Yet she, and many other young women who were otherwise healthy, found themselves diagnosed with breast cancer. The film states that breast cancer rates have risen by more than 30 percent since 1975, both in women and men.
In the film, Dr. William Goodson pointed out that breast cancer rates are rising not only for women, but also for men, despite the fact that most men are not undergoing hormone replacement therapy, childbirth, nursing babies or taking birth control pills. These are the factors commonly considered to be the causes of the rise in breast cancer, but since these facts cannot account for the rise in breast cancer among men, Dr. Goodson believes the cause must be something that affects people of all genders.
The increasing use of chemicals in the U.S. certainly affects people across ages, genders, ethnicities, races and incomes. The film claims that since the mid 1960s, the use of chemicals by consumers in the U.S. has increased by 2,000 percent. Chemicals have been added to products we use everyday such as furniture, electronics, household cleaning products and makeup, and these chemicals are not tested for safety before they hit the shelves.
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on how to regulate the chemical industry in the United States. The filmmakers do not feel this law does anywhere near enough to keep consumers safe. The EPA allows the use of Bisphenol A (BPA), cadmium, arsenic, phthalates and aluminum, among others, to be present in commercial products. Activists in “The Human Experiment” film consider these ingredients dangerous because of their ability to mimic human hormones and facilitate the growth of cancer cells. The filmmakers believe that the increasing use of unregulated chemicals could be the missing link that explains the rise in diseases, disabilities and cancers in the U.S.
Customers generally assume that if a product is out on the shelves, it’s safe to use. However, this film warns that loose regulations in the U.S. mean that chemicals are first assumed to be safe by the government and must be proven dangerous in order to be recalled.
Know that anything you place on your skin gets absorbed into the bloodstream, so it matters what’s in your air freshener and your body lotion.
To protect yourself, you can swap out cleaning products with bleaches and other hazardous agents to safer store bought alternatives or make your own at home. You can swap out your plastic water bottle for one made of stainless steel. You can exchange disposable pads and tampons treated with bleach to bleach-free disposable and reusable options. For a list of safer personal care products available online and in stores, visit the film’s website at: thehumanexperimentmovie.com and click the page, “Switch to Safer.”