A Must Read: The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being by Nena Baker

I have been reading this book for months. Literally. The Body Toxic is PACKED with the whole story of the troublesome chemicals I have been so interested in for many years. When I became a parent, this focus on harmful chemicals became even stronger, and manifested into this blog and various levels of activism.

Why it took me so long to complete The Body Toxic is because in every chapter, I underlined, wrote notes, circled and interacted with the text constantly (I’m a teacher, too!). It was just so damn interesting, informative and shocking to hear the history of each chemical: its science, its harm, its PR spin, and its lack of regulation. This book is a stunning work and a resource I will return to again and again.

The book is broken into chapters of high interest to a green parent wanting to learn more. First, Nena delivers an overview of the chemical stew in all of us: our body burden. This chapter outlines how bio monitoring, or calculating the amounts of chemicals in one’s body, is revealing the heavy toxic load in many people, across ages, geographic regions and backgrounds. The author also looks into her own family for clues as how these chemicals might have caused or worsened cancer.

Next, Nena takes on the history of specific chemicals, and how it is that we ended up with 80,000 chemicals, untested for safety, in our everyday products. Nuggets like, “The EPA has not attempted to ban a chemical since 1989,” when there is copious amounts of research that many are currently causing damage to our children, shock and surprise the reader. It almost feels like science fiction: but the scary part is its truth.

In what I found the most interesting, Nena then explores each chemical’s story. There are chapters on: Atrazine (weed killer), phthalates, brominated flame retardants, BPA, and perfluorinated chemicals (ie: teflon and Gore-Tex). These are all chemicals I have written about many times here on Non-Toxic Kids, and I was eager to learn more about them. I enjoyed hearing about the scientists, often meligned by big companies and corporations, who are courageously proving harm from these chemicals in study after study. They’ve faced endless scrutiny and mud-slinging from companies only interested in protecting their bottom lines. Scientists such as Tyrone Hayes, Dr. Fred vom Saal, and Scott Maybury, in my mind, are the true heroes of this book.

A chapter on new policies gives us an overview of what needs to happen to make chemicals safer for all of us, what we can do, and what is happening. Once you read about the REACH program in the European Union, you will see where we need to go. Manufacturers need to be the ones to prove the safety of their chemicals (and have this testing be independent), not the government. This new model would put the onus back on the ones making and selling the product, where it should be.

Nena goes on to tell us what she does to limit toxic chemical exposure in her life. This is a simple but powerful list. And it gave me yet another reason to vacuum more (and to invest in a HEPA vacuum cleaner). The epilogue lists organizations that “get it”, where you can go for more information.

This is a monumental work. Nena has taken super complex chemical histories, science, research and data and boiled it down in a way that even tired parents can understand. I applaud this work: it is important, timely and incredibly thorough. This should be a wake up call to all of us. The time is now to act to protect families from dangerous chemicals in all of us. We can’t shop our way out of this. No matter how much organic produce we eat, safer toys we select, or toxins we limit, these chemicals are getting into us. Nena shines a light on this, and shows us how it happened. Now it is up to us to change it.

You can buy this book on Amazon here, or better yet, visit your local, independent bookstore instead.


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