In the disturbing 1995 horror/drama movie, Safe, an upper middle class suburban housewife played by Julianne Moore is diagnosed with “environmental illness.” The premise is that air pollution, pesticides on our food, and toxins in our water, together, are overwhelming her defenses — she’s effectively become allergic to modern living.
Now, in Jamie Lincoln Kitman’s eye-opening Special Investigation report (“Worse Than Lead?”) in The Nation on the ongoing horrors foisted upon humans by the chemical industry, he suggests that toxic “chemicals have been placed in many of the objects of daily life—in our homes, automobiles, and workplaces, even in our beds.”
And, it’s been going on for decades. So, no wonder that actress Moore’s fictional housewife becomes sensitive to the all-pervasive toxins in today’s world, forcing her to retreat into a secluded refuge for people who’ve become “environmentally ill.”
In his in-depth report, Kitman suggests that fire retardants chemicals in our everyday consumables have replaced “lead” as the toxic product du jour, and they’re now associated with an increasing spectrum of “learning difficulties, IQ deficits, and behavioral disorders.”
Except, Kitman reports, these retardants “don’t retard flame very much” even though chemical company campaigns have dishonestly called them “essential fire-safety tools” and are increasingly used in our bedding.
But consider sleep, and the fact we spend a third of our lives in our beds. Paul Hirschberger has been in the eco products business for over 25 years, and with his LA-based, Good Night Naturals, which only offers chemical-free and 100% natural and organic ingredient mattresses, he’s intimately concerned with the proliferation of toxins used in conventional bedding, calling them “poison mattresses.”
He warns that the majority of commercial bedding makers’ rely on synthetic materials, and that a king size conventional mattress can contain up to 13 pounds of harmful chemical fire retardants. Truth is, your family and children’s health is at risk. I know, right?
Hirschberger, who actually grew up in Pompton Lakes in New Jersey where Dupont was responsible for contaminated groundwater underneath residents’ homes, supports the movie Safe’s premise, asserting, “We’re constantly being bombarded with unhealthy forces, even in our homes and beds. And, as our immune system weakens, then everything can affect us, and we become like a canary in a coal mine — how much can we take?”
With regard to offering a healthy alternative to bedding with toxic fire retardants, Hirschberger suggests a simple analogy: “It’s just like us looking for healthy and organic food products that are less tainted with chemicals — people do it because it’s like insurance. Likewise, we feel what we’re doing with our bedding products is similar. Why, when you know it’s filled with synthetics, fibers, and chemical fire retardants, why would you not buy a mattress which didn’t have those nasty things in it?”
As for fighting the ongoing David versus Goliath battles that we individuals face against corporate profiteers, Kitman, who’s also New York bureau chief of Automobile Magazine, says, “Consider making a contribution to one of the NGOs who are fighting these battles. The federal government has completely sloughed off its responsibility to protect us from harmful chemicals. We consumers need to ask for products without added chemical flame retardants. Manufacturers care more about what consumers want than what the chemical companies or regulators want. So they need to hear it from shoppers, loud and clear. Ask online and in brick and mortar retailers whether the product has flame retardants. Ask for their websites to be more transparent and have clear labels on the products.”
Kitman also adds that there’s a network of public health experts and NGOs that are on the frontline of the battle with the wealthy chemical companies, and that they’re getting state laws passed, filing lawsuits, testing products for toxic chemicals, and pressuring companies to make their products safer.
People like Kitman and Hirschberger are convinced these are not quixotic battles but challenges we must face or end up like Julianne Moore’s sad character in Safe.