Okay, if saving the planet is too big a concept to get your arms around, how about simply saving yourself? Let's call it the Personal Environmental Movement: Do what you can to reduce dangerous chemicals, toxins and allergens from your own personal surroundings -- beneath your kitchen sink, in the bathroom, even the boudoir -- and you'll live better, healthier and longer. Sure, in the aggregate the world will become a cleaner, healthier ecosystem, but let's keep this personal.
There is little dispute: The same chemicals, poisons and irritants that pollute the earth also pollute our bodies, compromising the quality of our lives in big, small -- and different ways. It may be the individual nature of the harm that keeps us from taking collective action. Ingesting dangerous chemicals in our food supply may give some of us cancer, catalyze hormonal changes in others. Lead and other heavy metals and preservatives in makeup may cause early dementia in your best friend, but only liver disease in you. Toxic substances in our furniture, bedding, carpeting and shower curtains may ignite allergic reactions in some, and evoke nothing more than headaches and nausea in others.
According to the U.S. government, each of us is exposed to a toxic cocktail of chemicals numbering in the thousands every single day. Even those that have been tested and risk-rated have never been tested in all the differing combinations and permutations when taken together. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screened a broad cross-section of Americans for the presence of 148 toxic chemicals in the blood; the vast majority of subjects harbored almost all the toxins.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetimes. Sure, genetics play a role and some of us are simply predisposed to certain cancers. Yet, when in virtually every tumor are found trace levels of suspicious toxins in a pattern that repeats over and over again, you start to get the idea that environmental factors play a big role and if we improve our personal environment we could have a pretty good shot at reducing our risk of cancer.
The scary part of all this is that we already know this stuff is bad for us, and yet we (Americans, at least) don't do much about it. Public displays of such low self-esteem might be treated as a cry for help in any other psychological context. People who care so little about their own well being as to do knowing harm to themselves usually get kept overnight in dark places for further evaluation.
Core to the Personal Environmental Movement is self-respect. It is time to love ourselves enough to eliminate the obvious poisons from of our own lives. The Europeans and Japanese (apparently possessing higher self-esteem than we Americans) have already taken major steps to protect themselves from bodily harm -- we can do better here in the U.S.
Let's launch this movement together -- and the best part is, we can start it with very little effort just by making smarter choices as consumers. Market forces will get manufacturers to smarten up, and growing public awareness will help the U.S. government and the FDA to act courageously on behalf of the people they represent.
Launch your own Personal Environmental Movement in your home and workplace today with the following steps:
Eliminate: Learn to read labels and eliminate known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and allergens from your daily routine. Avoid parabens, sulfates, coal tar, formaldehyde and fragrance/perfume. Believe it or not, these are everyday ingredients found in thousands of personal care products. The Breast Cancer Fund has a comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid.
Minimize: Maybe you highlight your hair, use non-stick cookware or indulge in non-organic wine. Some vices are stronger than others. Once you have eliminated the worst offenders from your life, make peace with the toxins you can't live without and keep an eye out for cleaner versions.
- Reduce your annual hair highlights in half and embrace the ombre hair trend,
- Ask your local wine expert for organic or sulfate-free blends
- Don't overheat your coated cookware to avoid releasing dangerous chemicals
Wondering what those chemicals may be doing to your body? The Environmental Working Group spells it out for you in their Chemical Index.
Improvise: Substitute your toxic cleaning products with a staple of white vinegar, baking soda, mild dish soap like Dr. Bronners, water and lemons. Mix only what you need to clean and disinfect most surfaces, windows and floors.
Politicize: The pocketbook is mightier than the sword. Use your buying power smartly and don't be fooled by "clean washing." It's the next wave in marketing from the big makers of everything from shampoo to sunscreen: Manufacturers remove a few offending ingredients, and hope you don't notice the rest. Make cleaner substitutions where you can and market forces will kick in. Thanks to Big Data, marketers are watching your every move and they will notice the shift and change their products accordingly. Write your representatives and let them know the FDA can and should do better simply by adopting guidelines already established in the European Union. Sign a petition here and let your voice be heard.
Visit Pink Moon Daily for a pocket guide to chemicals you can easily avoid in your personal care products.
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