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Get the Toxins Out: Q&A With Ed Brown of Unacceptable Levels

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This summer, filmmaker and father Ed Brown, released Unacceptable Levels, a film documenting the hidden and not so hidden toxins that surround us everyday. I took a few minutes to learn more about the film and how we could help safeguard ourselves and our families from the toxic barrage that seems to lurk in every corner of our homes and surrounding environment.

Summer Rayne Oakes: In light of new discoveries of pesticide concoctions turning up in bee pollen, jet fuel in mother's milk, or Bisphenol A from plastics turning up in our world's oceans, there seems to be no frontier that we haven't changed through our toxic chemistry. Talk about what was the most surprising fact you learned in doing your film, Unacceptable Levels.

Ed Brown: There's no question that there are toxins everywhere -- more than 82,000 synthetic chemicals are in commerce today and only a fraction of those have been tested for safety.

I was most shocked to learn how many of the things we eat, drink, breathe and put on our bodies contain waste byproducts from the industry with nowhere else to go. Sewage sludge -- or what they call "Biosolids" -- is a hazard I'd never considered before. It was shocking to learn that 3.5 million tons of biosolids are deposited as fertilizer on to farmland across the United States. Sewage sludge contains pesticides, PCBs, DDT, mercury, lead and over 267 other contaminants, which makes it hard to imagine what our farmland will look like years from now. In addition, fluoridation is a subject I found highly shocking, based on what I learned.

SRO: My introduction to toxins in the environment was in college actually when I started doing work study on organic contaminants in sewage sludge. Sixty percent of sludge actually end up on land and deposit chemicals like triclosan and nonylphenols, so when I first learned this, I was shocked too. Triclosan is a common anti-bacterial we use in toothpaste and nonylphenols are in our soap products. Once we establish this seemingly linear connection for the general population, how best do you think to tackle the issue, given the highly interconnected and complex system we have?

EB: We need to start with one thing that's part of our daily life. For many, that's typically food or personal care products.

For my family and I, switching to an all organic diet made the most sense. The perception is that organic is too expensive. The organic options can cost more, but I'd rather put chemical-free foods on the table in exchange for peace of mind and fewer visits to the doctor's office. The more of us who strive to go organic, the fewer toxic chemicals in our food, our air and our drinking water.

Another way to look at it: If a tomato that has pesticide, fungicide or herbicide residues on it and another tomato without it, which one would I want to feed to my kids? It's a lifestyle choice for me. My biggest investment is not my house, my car, my television or anything else. It is and always will be my family's health. It took years of making small changes to reach this point.

You mention Triclosan, a pesticide that's in many products. Depending on the company that sells the chemical, Triclosan can also appear in products branded Microban, Irgasan (DP 300 or PG 60), or on products labeled "built-in antimicrobial protection." Triclocarban is a "cousin" of Triclosan used in some antibacterial soaps. These can be found in certain brands of dental care, cosmetics... even first aid. It's vitally important to do your research and read the ingredient labels in order to switch to products that don't contain these forms of pesticides.

There are many amazing organizations that are working every single day to help us in this challenge. To name of a few: Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child Healthy World, Moms Clean Air Force, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and The Center for Environmental Health.

SRO: How did you first come to learn about harmful toxins in our products?

EB: I've been eating organic food for over 10 years now, but I had no idea that the problem with toxins in our food was just the tip of the iceberg.

At one point my wife had read the ingredients on one of her skin care products and noticed that it contained five -- not one, but five -- carcinogens. It made me wonder how a product like this could even be allowed on the marketplace. I started researching other products we use daily and discovered the rabbit hole goes pretty deep.

SRO: I think different people respond differently to harmful toxins in their products. Some of us are outraged; some of us shrug our shoulders. What spurred you to do the film? What reactions have you gotten from it?

EB: Having a family, hands down [spurred me to do the film]. We now have two children with our third on the way. All I have to do is look at my two kids and my pregnant wife. How could I even think about exposing them to a product that contains even one toxic chemical? What if they're harmed because of it? It's unfathomable. Like all parents, just the thought of any of my children living with a chronic disease breaks my heart.

The reactions to the film have ranged from deeply emotional to apathetic. But I don't think there's anyone who, after seeing my film, doesn't think twice the next time they put something in their mouth or spray products onto their skin.

SRO: Where can people go to find out about and watch your film? And what are the top three things people can do to take action around the issue you present in the film?

EB: The Nashville Premiere on Sept. 26 marks the launch of our U.S. fall tour and is where we will be announcing the availability of the film in wide release. We have a limited number of tickets available to the general public. We will also be screening in New York and Los Angeles in September in addition to a number of select cities across the country. Visit our website UnacceptableLevels.com to view the most up-to-date information.

The top three things are simple and everyone can do them. Learn. Think. Act.

Learn about the ingredients in the products you purchase. Think about the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe. Look around your house and consider what you might want to change today and how that may affect your health tomorrow. Act by changing those things one at a time, whether it's personal care products, cleaning products, or processed and non-organic foods.

We're all in this together. With the collective voting power of our dollars, we have the potential to enforce change and create a healthier world for our children.

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