Why are we so Willing to Ingest Poisons?

I no longer eat peaches or strawberries unless they are organic. It’s not until I start wolfing down cherries by the handful that I feel it’s really summer. But I wash them like dirty underwear. Why? Fear of poisoning myself and inducing cancer as a result of pesticide ingestion. Strawberries and peaches are the worst, but all fruits without peel-away skins or rinds scare me.

It’s also why more and more consumers are buying organic produce. But modern society has poisoned so much of our immediate personal environments that we are polluting ourselves voluntarily, without being aware of it. i won’t go into a diatribe on the all the sweetened, fatty, processed crap we diabetes-destined Americans eat. At least we know that we’re inflicting that garbage upon ourselves.

Household Chemicals

According to a University of Washington, Seattle, study published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review (I love their comics section), nearly a quarter of all chemicals emitted by 25 tested scented household products are classified as toxic or hazardous. But wait, there’s more! Over a third of all the tested products emitted at least one chemical identified as a possible carcinogen. So where are these fragrances to be found? Try detergents, fabric softeners, disinfectants, and air fresheners (SC Johnson’s website uses the term “Air Care”). How can filling the air with chemicals “freshen” it?

            In other words, a fart isn’t going to do you in, but fighting the odor enough times might. Why in the world do we need to make things smell at all? Keep your house clean, open some windows and clean with baking soda or unscented products.

Fabric Cleaning

            Now let’s move on to your clothes. Or better yet, you may want to move out of them. Microbiologist Myron W. Wentz is concerned about

Fabric softeners and cleaners are available unscented

one of the most common chemicals used by dry cleaners. Perc – short for perchloroethylene – is used to saturate fabrics in the cleaning process. After the clothes are cleaned, a residue of perc remains in the fabric. Researchers have linked perc exposure to liver and kidney damage and to cancer in laboratory animals (personally, I link lab researchers to cancer in animals). Even short term exposure has been known to cause headaches, dizziness and elevated pulse rate. California is one of several states that is requiring cessation of perc use by 2023. (Hey, why so impulsive?) Dr. Wentz recommends removing dry cleaned clothes from their bag and hanging them in the garage or outside for a couple of days – even longer if they still have a chemical odor – before wearing them. (Apartment dwellers, evidently you’re on your own.) He also recommends using a barrier layer like a T-shirt between your skin and dry cleaned clothes. Better yet, find a “green” dry cleaner that uses non-toxic cleaning agents. www.greencleanerscouncil.com is a good source.

 I’m a big fan of wrinkle-free, or what we used to call “wash and wear,” fabrics. At least I used to be. According to Wentz, beware of clothing and other fabrics that bear labels that say “wrinkle free,” “no iron,” “permanent press,” “stain resistant,” “static resistant,” or anything similar. Such fabrics are made with perfluorochemicals (PFCs). The problem with these chemicals is that they don’t readily wash out of fabrics and they are easily absorbed into the body through the skin. They actually accumulate in body cells. They can also be inhaled (Stephen King, are you paying attention?). Scientists have found a relation between PFCs and reproductive and developmental toxicity and cancers of the bladder and liver.

Wentz recommends natural fibers such as cotton, linen wool and the like. Even nylon and polyester contain harmful chemicals. Feeling scared? Maybe you need a good night’s sleep.

            But before you hit the sack . . .


            Many mattresses are made with highly flammable polyurethane which is treated with flame retardant. The trouble is, such mattresses were treated with a variety of chemicals that are highly toxic. Dr. Wentz recommends replacing your mattress if you bought it before 2005 if it contains any polyurethane. If you buy a mattress that is synthetic, let it air out for a few days outside your house; the garage is OK.  And top it with a natural latex or natural fabric topper. Otherwise consider buying a natural latex – as  in rubber – or wool mattress.

Sleep tight and don’t let your underwear bite.