“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.”
– Henry David Thoreau
What’s in a body? Skin, bones, blood, fat, muscle? For someone living in the early 1800s perhaps, but more recently, our bodies have acquired a few extras.
Listing some of the elements in a human body circa 2007 reads more like the glossary for a chemistry textbook than the materials for Thoreau’s temple.
Perfluorinated chemicals, organochlorine pesticides, organophosphate insecticide metabolites; heavy metals; air pollutants like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.
In other words, you and I are walking around with detectable amounts of DDT, mercury, lead, herbicides, insecticides, stain repellents and flame retardants in our bodies. They can be found in umbilical cord blood of newborns, breast milk, semen and blood. These chemicals have been found to be carcinogenic, hormonally disruptive, and to cause birth defects.
In real terms, this means uncontrollable tumours, 7-year-olds menstruating, and handicapped babies.
These chemicals are so pervasive that it is unlikely that any human on the planet is completely free of them.
It seems that the human temple is in need of a clean-up.
A group called Environmental Defence has made it their mission to do just that by showing Canadians that our bodies are as polluted as the air, water and soil of our planet.
As part of their campaign to bring light to this problem, Environmental Defence recently tested the blood and urine of four Ministers of Parliament. Including (now former) Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, Health Minister Tony Clement, Liberal environment critic John Godfrey and NDP leader Jack Layton. All were found to have higher than average contaminant levels. Proof positive, that pollution does not discriminate based on one’s station in life.
Where does it all come from?
Everything from couches and mattresses to children’s pajamas, toys and computers contain flame retardants that are released when heated. The aforementioned scotch guard and Teflon both pack a hefty chemical punch, as do lawn pesticides and herbicides and cleaning products. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is also a significant contributor to the problem. Not to mention our equally contaminated food supply.
This means that while we’re keeping the lawn green, while Grandma’s trying to keep the couch scotch guard spotless, and while dad’s preventing the omelette from sticking with a Teflon pan, we are unwittingly being subjected to lethal contaminants.
The fact is, we are ingesting, inhaling and absorbing poison from all sides.
The planet is being bathed in the runoff of years of ill-considered chemical use and we humans are swimming in the toxic soup.
In response to this reality, last month the Conservative government unveiled its toxin-reduction plan which aims to ban or reduce the use of certain harmful chemicals, an important first step.
Whether the plan has any teeth will have to be seen.
The Environmental Defence for its part has said that the plan doesn’t go far enough and has called for a reduction of large industry’s pollution of Canada’s great waterways and ecosystems. This is unlikely to happen any time soon under the current government.
This kind of government inertia leaves the responsibility to regular citizens to clean up their act. As long as we use products and support industries that pollute, we are contributing to not only the ill health of our environment but also our own. We need to stop looking at ecosystems as something separate from ourselves and wake up to the fact that whatever we produce will likely end up inside our bodies and that’s a fact that nobody can afford to ignore.