Letter: Spreading the word about everyday toxins

By Jackson Melius ’13

It can be truly enlightening–even somewhat frightening at times–to discover just how many potentially dangerous chemicals can be found in our everyday products. For example, did you know that many shampoos contain the chemical Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which causes skin irritation and can even result in hair loss by corroding hair follicles (kind of ironic, isn’t it)? Or that the chemical triethanolamine, found in many different types of toothpaste, is toxic to many aquatic animals? If you’re interested in learning more, then make sure to pay attention during Toxins Week, taking place Nov. 15-19, when we will be having several events planned to spread the word about toxins and what we can do to reduce the amount of toxins that are being released into our environment.To help fight this problem, we have two state bills that we are supporting. The first is the Toxic Free Kids Act that moves the regulatory process away from the chemical by chemical approach and sets up framework aimed at developing a list of chemicals, prioritizing the ones that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs), and then recommend those priority chemicals to be phased out of consumer products and replaced with safer alternatives. Similar legislation in Maine has already produced and released a list of dangerous toxic chemicals which topped 1,700 different chemicals. The second is the Green Cleaning Supplies Bill, which asks to change the kind of products used in public buildings from traditional cleaning products and sanitizers to safer alternatives so that we can reduce the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

If you are interested in these issues, there are two major events you can attend during Toxins Week sponsored by MPIRG. First, on Wed., Nov. 17, from 5-6:30 p.m. in Room 350 of Olin-Rice, there will be a documentary playing called “Living Downstream.” This documentary is about how a scholar, Sandra Steingraber, deals with the threat of cancer in her personal life and how she campaigns to bring attention to the issue of cancer prevention. It also shows how toxins that can potentially cause cancer spread throughout the environment and enter the bodies of humans. It has been praised by such sources as the Toronto Star and The Washington Post for being “powerful and haunting” and “being handsomely photographed and powerfully argued,” respectively.

The second event, which is a speaker panel in Room 350 of Olin-Rice, is on Thurs., Nov. 18 and begins at 5 p.m. The speakers will include Meredith Salmi, Kim LaBo and Kathleen Schuler. Salmi is a member of Arc, an organization that works to secure for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families the opportunity to realize their goals of where and how they live, learn and work. LaBo is a member of Clean Water Action, which is a national citizens’ organization working for clean and affordable water along with the prevention of health-threatening pollution. Schuler is a member of the Healthy Legacy Coalition, which supports the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals, along with advocating for consumer education and protective policies to advance safer alternatives in Minnesota. The topic will be about toxins, how they affect the environment and human health, and what we can do to reduce further addition of toxins to the environment.