Notes from India: 1984 – Bhopal

Bhopal is a major city in central India. Photo: © Bastos -

Posts in Blue Planet Green Living’s “Notes from…” category provide readers with a personal viewpoint, often an essay, from a writer whose views are intrinsically linked to their own nation or locale. In this case, we present reflections on a needless and gruesome tragedy that occurred 26 years ago in Bhopal. Those responsible for operations at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal were convicted of “causing death by negligence,” according to Wikipedia. In this post, writer Dipak Kumar offers us a look back at the tragedy in his nation and shares his thoughts about preventing future ones. He calls his post an effort to derive at a ‘wisdom‘ “ regarding the tragedy. We share his hope that wisdom will one day prevail. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

On the night of December 2nd 1984, I was traveling from Jorhat to Guwahati, in Assam, more than 2,000 miles away from Bhopal. I, a medical representative, was in an overnight bus for the 250-mile journey.

I had to take this bus ride every month for my cycle meeting. I liked this journey immensely, as the bus passed through the Kajiranga forests, and I stayed awake in anticipation of spotting a rhinoceros. I had no luck on this night, and I recall telling this to my co-passenger, Jinoo, who sold baby food and prickly heat powder.

In the cold morning of December, bleary eyed, I knocked at Subrato’s door. I stayed with him to save on the hotel bill, which we spent on booze. The radio news was all over. We all understood something terrible had just happened.

On the night of 2nd December, while I was trying hard to get a glimpse of a rhinoceros, 42,000 kg of lethal gas had leaked out of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL)’s pesticide plant in Bhopal. By the time I pressed my friend’s doorbell, about 4,000 people were already dead.

Our cycle meeting started sharp at nine a.m. Mr. Ghatak from Calcutta had come to conduct the meeting. After the sales review, we had a tea break. He told us about methyl isocyanate (MIC). He also told us that our colleagues in Bhopal were in great danger.

Today, 2010, we know that more than 500,000 people have been affected by the Bhopal gas leak, and this is still not all the aftermath. Now, as you read this, 400 tons of chemicals that lie in the UCIL plant still trickle down into the groundwater resources of Bhopal.

“Business Decisions”

We know about the “business decision” at UCIL to use methyl isocyanate (MIC) instead of less hazardous (but more expensive) material to make Carbaryl, the product UCIL made. We also know of a “business decision” at UCIL that shut down the MIC tank cooling system, with the sole intent to save money — for the shareholders, of course — and, one could argue, to improve the performance of the management.

The most important “business decision,” of course, was to completely ignore the 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which had identified 30 major problem areas that could cause a hazard. Choosing not to correct these problems would not have saved a lot of money for the company. These problems, however, were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the U.S.

Was the Bhopal gas leak a disaster? It was going to happen eventually. UCIL’s management team knew about the safety violations. But possibly they wouldn’t have imagined the effects would be this enormous.

“D” People

Why do intelligent people at responsible positions tend to make such “business decisions”? These kind (they are of a kind, I have no doubt; let us call them the “D” people) have a priority of immense self interest, and they take huge risks on other people to save their own face. You will find this kind of people at the centre of all disasters. For example, we know of such people having an important role in the 2008 economic meltdown.

We should all be concerned that many such “D” people would be manning important positions in our society right now. “D” people cause disasters, given sufficient time. “D” people can also develop into dictators if the ground they walk on is fertile enough. Don’t we have such “D” people near the BP oil leak? Think of them, the ones who chose the cheaper designs.

Can we have a sieving system to identify and prevent such people from reaching responsible positions in our society? Maybe at the school, the university, and definitely at management institutes. Or, is it that human beings cease to be so when they are saddled with a certain kind of responsibility? Or, for some people, is looking good all that matters in life?

There are another set of people who are “oh, so true to their profession” but not to their evolution as humans. Great lawyers from India argued in the courts of the USA that the compensation case of the native Indians be conducted in India. The laws in the US were far too in favor of the victims “and the company might go bankrupt.”

In addition to UCIL management and the lawyers, there have been hundreds of people — the police, the judiciary, and politicians of all inclinations — who worked hard 24×7 to ensure that the court case of UCIL would take only 26 years.

That is time enough for genetic defects to show up. Perhaps it is time for another court case — on behalf of the children born of survivors.

Of Standards — Poor and Double

Every day when I travel in crowded buses and local trains, I go through the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. On the platform I am Dr. Jekyll, just eager to enter the train. The moment I am in, I turn into Mr. Hyde and do my best to prevent others from entering the train. I hate crowds, you see, though I am seldom alone.

The Mr. Hydes at Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) reportedly never shared any research reports of over a dozen studies on methyl isocyanate (MIC) with the medical fraternity. Either the reports were/are very damaging, in which case MIC should never have been used — or, the reports were not so damaging, in which case, antidotes to MIC would have been ready in 1984.

Today we know that injections of sodium thiosulphide would have saved thousands of lives on the night of 2nd December 1984 at Bhopal. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was then doing a double-blind trial on effectiveness of this drug as a de-toxifier, but the report came 22 years too late.

The gas cloud on that night was denser than air and stayed close to the ground, affecting children and shorter people and those who never woke up. In the area declared as “gas affected,” there were 200,000 children of age less than 15 yrs and 3,000 pregnant women.

On the morning of 3rd December 1984, almost all the trees in the “gas-affected” area had shed all their leaves and developed burn patches. The Xerophytes suffered more because these plants keep their stomata (nose) open at night. Chromosomal abnormalities have since been found in eggplant, tomato, radish, and other shrubs.

Time magazine called Bhopal "India's Disaster." Photo: Courtesy Dipak Kumar

The bank of the Narmada River was a horrific site of innumerable mass cremations of men, women, children, and cattle. Those who ran that night inhaled more poison than the few who had a ride. Of the 154 people studied between 1986 and 1988, more than 20 percent had at least two chromosomal abnormalities, the more common type being translocation in chromosomes 13 and 21. MIC was found to have changed ovarian epithelial cell production, leading to permanent damage and carcinogenesis.

Dow Chemicals USA purchased UCIL in 2001. Although it denies any responsibility for damages caused by UCIL in Bhopal, Dow fights more than 75,000 asbestos-related lawsuits for Union Carbide in the USA. Twenty-six years later, contamination at the site has still not been cleaned up.

On its cover following the Bhopal gas leak, TIME magazine wrote, “INDIA’S DISASTER.” To me, the Bhopal gas leak is as much India’s disaster as was slave trade Africa’s disaster or Hiroshima Japan’s disaster. It is a human disaster.

I guess we are waiting for some sensible evolution to occur in ourselves, so that no more disasters happen. Will we ever see the day that Mr. Hydes no longer run the world?

Dipak Kumar

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

For More Information

Bhopal Medical Appeal

Wikipedia: Bhopal Disaster

MSNBC: Worst Industrial Disaster Still Haunts India

NY Times: Decades Later Toxic Sludge Torments Bhopal

NY Times Slideshow: Toxic Waste Plagues Bhopal

Slow Death by Rubber Duck

When friends and family ask, “What are you reading?” they can pretty much expect my answer isn’t going to be a mystery or a romance or even an engaging novel (though I do miss great novels), at least these days. So, when my sister-in-law, Judy, and I discussed books the other day, she probably had a pretty good idea of what she was in for.

When I said I’m reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, at first she laughed — it sounds like a lighthearted title or maybe a bizarre mystery where the victim dies from having a rubber duck stuffed down his throat.

“No,” I said, responding to her quizzical look. “It’s not a mystery. It’s about the toxic chemicals found in all sorts of items we come into contact with each day — including toy rubber ducks.” That got her attention; Judy has grandchildren, one of whom is just six months old. The full title of the book is Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. (Titled Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health in Canada.) Not exactly a bodice ripper, legal thriller, or gumshoe tale.

Taking Risks in the Name of Science

The information in Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t make for relaxing reading, even though the authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, do a masterful job of translating statistics and technical data (sometimes very technical) into highly readable prose. The problem is, the book is about a very unsettling topic.

When I first received my review copy and read the introduction, I was struck by the experiment that forms the basis for the book: The authors voluntarily and quite deliberately exposed themselves to toxic chemicals — lots of them.

Now, why would these men risk their health by loading their bodies with toxins? Isn’t that irresponsible? I wondered. It sounded so dangerous. And, from the way they tell it, their families were none too thrilled by their participation, either.

How They Did It

The scary thing is, the test the authors ran on themselves, the one in which levels of toxins in their blood and urine shot up (“from 64 to 1,410 nanograms per millilitre” of urine for monoethyl phthalate [MEP], for example), involved ordinary exposure to regular household items. They didn’t do anything extraordinary, other than to purposely select products they knew contained high levels of toxins.

Just try avoiding plastics — they're everywhere. Photo: © Maurizio Targhetta -

The authors tried to stay away from products containing the chemicals and metals in question before immersing themselves in products heavily laden with toxins.

Bruce avoided eating fish for one month before the tests, and Rick tried to steer clear of phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan for 2 days [48 hours] prior to the tests. We measured any increases or decreases by methodically taking blood and urine samples before and after performing our planned activities.

It wasn’t easy to eliminate phthalates and Bisphenol A, as Rick recounts: “This is a lot harder than it sounds. Try it. I dare you.” Because he couldn’t be sure which plastics contain these chemicals, he decided to avoid plastics completely. “I sort of knew it already, but once you start carefully keeping track, it really hits you: plastic has taken over our lives…. I started to realize that virtually everything … with a few notable exceptions … are [sic] covered in plastic.”

To control their exposure to the chemicals they were testing, the men spent two 12-hour days together in Bruce’s condo in their “test room”:

About 10 by 12 1/2 feet, the room was much like any bedroom, TV room or home office in any apartment across North America.

Mimicking Real Life

Looking at their test schedule, I’m struck by how ordinary their testing days were. The only thing that seems at all unusual (to me, a recently converted vegetarian) is that they ate a large amount of fish during the two days. (Fish is a staple in many people’s diets, of course, so I’m the odd one out here.)

Otherwise, the two Canadian environmentalists do mundane activities like drink Earl Grey tea, “drink coffee brewed in a polycarbonate French press,” have a carpet company come “to protect/STAIN-MASTER the test-room carpet & couch,” use antibacterial soap, microwave chicken noodle soup & canned spaghetti “in Rubbermaid microwavable containers,” wash dishes, use lotion, brush their teeth and wash their hands, and so on. Nothing really out of the ordinary at all. In fact, they write, “We set only one ironclad rule: Our efforts had to mimic real life….”

As we started consulting experts and poring over scientific studies, it frequently felt as if we were assembling a giant puzzle. the critical pieces that needed fitting together were a list of chemicals for which there was mounting human health concern, a good sense of daily activities that might expose the average person to these chemicals and the outline of an experiment that would reveal whether these daily activities measurably affect the levels of the chemical in question in our bodies.

Finger-Lickin’ Bad

The authors alternate writing the chapters, each one chronicling his own chemical exposure and test results.

Children ingest phthalates by putting everything into their mouths. Photo: © ping

In Chapter 2, “Rubber Duck Wars,” I found it touching to read Rick’s worries about the phthalates his own small sons are consuming as he writes about the ubiquitous chemical and how impossible it seems to avoid it.

He has very real concerns, as Dr. Ted Schettler, the Science Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, tells him —

“The child is going to encounter the same environment as an adult but in a different way. They’re going to be playing and moving around in it in a different way and putting their fingers in their mouths much more frequently than you are. They’re going to be more intimately in contact with their physical environment than adults are, and this will be reflected in their level of exposure.”

In other words, by virtue of being closer to the dust bunnies, licking their fingers relentlessly and chewing on phthalate-containing items that they shouldn’t be putting in their mouths, my kids are sucking in more of this stuff than I am.

And so are everyone else’s kids.

It’s Everywhere

In Chapter 3, “The World’s Slipperiest Substance,” Bruce writes about perflurorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a major chemical ingredient in Teflon, Silverstone, and Capstone, non-stick coatings for cookware. PFOA “is considered by many scientists to be toxic and to cause birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption and high cholesterol. The EPA has labelled it a ‘likely carcinogen,’ and it’s now found in every corner of the globe,” he writes.

Pans coated with nonstick surfaces contain triclosan. Photo: © ZTS -

To no one’s great surprise, PFOA is also found in drinking water in the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Teflon is manufactured. Bruce writes of the class action lawsuit filed by some of the town’s residents against DuPont, the sole manufacturer of PFOA. It’s an intriguing story, and about as close to a legal thriller as the book gets.

Parkersburg is at the center of the PFOA story. We can all likely think of more than enough examples of people being polluted by the chemical factory or toxic waste dump ‘next door’. And this is one of the dimensions of the Parkersburg experience. But the tale of Parkersburg may be the first environmental-disaster story in which a small town is also responsible for contaminating the entire world and almost every living thing in it.

“It turns out that DuPont knew of health risks associated with PFOA as far back as 1961,” Bruce writes, though the company wouldn’t admit to it when sued in 2001. This chapter alone makes the corporation seem to be out for profit at any cost, and damn the consumer. ” ‘They knew [PFOA] was in the water, they knew it caused deformities, they knew of the problem and they knew how to solve it,’ ” said Joe Kiger, the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against DuPont.

But there was one surprising result. The authors tried to raise their own levels of PFOA during their experiment, but two days of exposure to what they believed to be Teflon Advanced stain protectant on the test room’s furniture didn’t do the trick. Why not? They later learned that the buildup of PFOA in the blood takes time. Still, they, like just about every other living thing on this planet, already had some levels of PFOA in their bloodstream.

Recommended Reading

I don’t want to spoil the read by giving you a blow-by-blow account of every chapter. And, I really couldn’t, because there’s just so much information woven into each one. But here’s a taste of what you’ll find if you give it a read (and I recommend that you do, whether or not you have kids or grandkids).

Children's pajamas treated with flame retardant chemicals may contain PFOA. Photo: © Lisa Eastman -

In Chapter 4, “The New PCBs,” Rick learns about flame-retardant clothing and “brominated flame retardants, a family of compounds that seems to be repeating the nasty history of PCBs.” Again, Rick uses his own small children’s clothing as an example of the dangerous toxins we unthinkingly expose our little ones to.

Chapter 5, “Quicksilver, Slow Death,” explains how all that fish Bruce ate quickly elevated his blood mercury level. “After seven meals/snacks in three days, I had managed to more than double the mercury levels in my blood! Almost two and a half times, in fact…. After reading these results, I got a firsthand understanding of how communities that depend on fish in their diets can quietly poison themselves.”

Chapter 6, “Germophobia,” Rick explains that the chemical triclosan, which was originally used only in hospitals, is now ubiquitous. You can’t get away from “antibacterial” products. And even if you want to, you’ll find that many people around you are trying to use more and more of them.

The Environmental Working Group has found the chemical in household items as disparate as liquid hand soap, toothpaste, underwear, towels, mattresses, sponges, shower curtains, phones, flooring, cutting boards, fabric and children’s toys. One hundred and forty kinds of consumer products in all.

He goes on to say that, by 2007, the Canadian government had “registered 1,200 brands of cosmetics containing triclosan.”

Who cares?

We all should. According to Stuart Levy, Director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University, “wide-scale antimicrobial misuse and related drug resistance is challenging infectious disease treatment and health care budgets worldwide.”

The (Im)Perfect Lawn

And then there’s Chapter 7: “Risky Business: 2,4-D and the Sound of Science.” Here we meet up with pesticides and herbicides. We learn about the health effects of DDT, long-since banned, but still present in our environment, it contributes to both testicular and breast cancers.

And let’s not forget the herbicide named in the chapter title. 2,4-D is used to “beautify” lawns (a matter of opinion), but it’s been banned in some parts of Canada:

Like many pesticides 2,4-D is associated with a number of potentially serious health hazards for humans. In fact, the list of known or suspected health effects reads like an inventory of the worst possible things that could happen to a human…. non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a form of blood cancer), neurological impairment, asthma, immune system suppression, reproductive problems and birth defects….

[I]n a subsample of the U.S. population between the ages of 6 and 59… one-quarter of Americans who had their blood tested in 2001 or 2001 has detectable levels of 2.4-D in their bodies.

So why isn’t 2,4-D banned everywhere?

Danger Lurking in Sippy Cups

In Chapter 8: “Mothers Know Best,” Rick talks about the power of moms to persuade the Canadian government to ban bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that’s frequently found in children’s toys, baby bottles, and sippy cups. It’s also found in the lining of food cans, in microwaveable containers, and in plastic thermal mugs, among a whole lot of other things.

Even your baby's sippy cup isn't safe if it has BPA in the plastic. Photo: © Roberto Anguita -

Rick describes his diet and the containers he used for cooking and eating. It’s not much different from most people who haven’t gone organic and natural — the majority of North Americans, I’d wager: lots of canned food and a couple of Cokes (there’s BPA lining the cans). He made coffee in a polycarbonate French press he purchased at Starbucks, drank it from a child’s plastic bottle, and microwaved his food in a Rubbermaid microwaveable container.

And the result? His BPA levels shot up “more than sevenfold from before exposure to after exposure.”

But there was also BPA in his blood even after trying to detox before the test. I was amazed to learn some of the sources, as was Rick.

So-called “carbonless” paper—the very white, glossy, coated paper that most cash register receipts are printed on these days—has very high levels of BPA. High enough levels that absorption of BPA through the skin on the fingers is likely an increasing source in daily life. printers ink used in newspapers also contains BPA. Because these high-BPA-content papers end up in the recycling bin in many places, levels of BPA in recycled paper are generally extremely high.

Maybe you’d like to know why BPA is such a bad thing to have in your blood. It’s a hormone disruptor that has potentially disastrous effects. In 2005 —

the U.S. National Toxicology Program … raised concerns regarding BPA’s links to early puberty, breast cancer, prostate effects and behavioural problems and highlighted that pregnancy and early life are especially sensitive periods, given higher exposure to the chemical and limited ability to metabolize it.

Remember, BPA is in baby bottles and sippy cups! As I checked on line to find out if the U.S. has followed Canada and the E.U. in banning BPA, I’ve found mention of two bills being “introduced” in the House of Representatives in March 2009. Their intent was to ban BPA in food and beverage containers in the U.S. But I haven’t seen anything that says either bill has been passed. What are we waiting for?

Still, There’s Hope

There’s so much that’s worth reading in Slow Death by Rubber Duck. And it’s not all depressing, despite what I’ve written above. I’ll leave you with a short excerpt from Chapter 9: “Detox.”

It would be easy, given the daunting nature of the toxic dilemma we’ve laid out, to be either paralyzed into inaction or driven to distraction with anxiety or both. But there’s no need for this. We’re trying to instill some concern, not worry. As we outline in this chapter, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family. And many that will start to take effect almost immediately.

So buy the book. Learn about the perils of the chemicals discussed in it, then find out what you can do to make your home — and your family’s — a safer, healthier place to live. The book cover lists the price at U.S. $25, and, in my opinion, it’s worth every dime.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living

Fine Print

Blue  Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. Other than the review copy, we received no compensation or incentive for reviewing the book. No one influences the content of any of our reviews other than the writer. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Blue Planet Green Living is an Amazon associate. If you choose to purchase this book or anything else by clicking on our Amazon link, we receive a very small percentage of your sale, which goes toward the operating expenses of this website.

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My 5: Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group

Comments Off on My 5: Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Ken Cook, president and founder of the Environmental Working Group, two questions we like to ask all our interviewees. Following are our questions and his responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

5 Ways to Save the Planet

BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet? (You can answer as the head of Environmental Working Group or as a parent, if you prefer.)

COOK: Those two things — my job as a parent and my job as the head of Environmental Working Group — have come together in lots of things. It’s a blessing to be able to do this work now, and have both of those sets of objectives in mind, because they do merge pretty well.

Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group. Photo courtesy: Environmental Working Group

Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group. Photo courtesy: Environmental Working Group

  • One of the first things we need to do, obviously, is deal with climate change. We need to reduce our carbon footprint — and our environmental footprint, generally. That means in our everyday life as well as at the government level.
  • Second, we think one of the most important environmental campaigns in history is to protect our health from toxic chemicals. So, again, we need to take steps in our everyday life. We can do a lot of things as individuals to protect ourselves and our families from toxic chemical exposures, but we also need laws at the state level and at the federal level, the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the enactment of something that looks like the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. That would be number two for me.
  • Third, I think we really do need to focus strongly on diet and nutrition in this country. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the food that’s available to us and the price it’s available. We need to do a better job of paying attention to which foods, individually, we can eat and which foods we have available, not just for those of us who can live in a big city and can afford to shop anywhere, but for the disadvantaged in this country and around the world. We need to be smarter about providing adequate nutrition, healthy nutrition that leads to a nice, productive life.
  • Fourth, I would say, we need to take care of the creatures in the world. We really do need to focus on the incredible threat that we are posing, as a species, to all the other species on the planet. We need to protect biological diversity, including the rainforest, with the native people living there and the incredible resources that still remain. We need to conserve those, as well as our ocean resources.
  • Then, the final thing I think is really important is, generally speaking, we need to have high expectations and engagement with our government. I don’t care what end of the political spectrum you’re on, this is not a time, and there never will be a time again, to step back and assume that we can let the government run along by its own power, influenced by the various special interests that come to influence it, and expect we’re going to have a good outcome.As a citizen, you need to be engaged with your government at the federal level, the state level, the local level. It doesn’t mean a full-time job; but it does mean, pay attention, get involved, get engaged, find organizations that you can work with, and, if you need it, organizations that can provide some access to information, ideas, and actions you might take. The EWG wants to believe it is, and tries to be, an organization that provides that for citizens. But being a citizen is one of the most important challenges all of us face, rather than just retreating into our own lives, our own homes, without paying attention to the bigger world around us.

2 Minutes with the President

BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?

COOK: I would say, “Hang in there. You’re trying to do a lot of the right things, and you’re trying to lead the country from a broad base; that hasn’t always worked out, but we salute you for trying.” I would say, in particular, “These environmental issues can really unite people. We have seen, in the case of our work on toxic chemicals, that across the spectrum — whether it’s the spectrum of religious beliefs or from conservative to liberal [politics] — people want to take care of the next generation and its health. And if, by providing additional protection for toxic chemicals, we can do that, that’s something we ought to do. I’d encourage you to do that.” And I’d say, “Thank you, Mr. President. ”

Ken Cook, President and Founder
Environmental Working Group

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Take Action – Remove Toxic Flame Retardants from Kids’ Products

Children in California are exposed to a huge burden of flame-retardant chemicals. Photo: © Suprijono Suharjoto -

In California, babies and young children are exposed to toxic flame-retardant chemicals in their clothing, sheets, and other materials nearly every minute of every day. Healthy Child Healthy World has launched a campaign urging citizens to send faxes TODAY to Governor Schwarzenegger and other government officials with a strong message in favor of SB 772. According to Christopher Gavigan, CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, the bill would “exempt baby and juvenile products from California’s regulations that create a de facto mandate for the use of toxic fire retardant chemicals.”

On the surface, fire retardants in children’s clothing, bedding, strollers, infant carriers, changing tables, cribs, high chairs, and other products sound like a good idea. We all want children to be protected from flames. But Gavigan points out the flaws in this reasoning:

Children's bedding sold in California must contain flame retardants, which are potentially hazardous. Photo: © Thomas Perkins -

Children's bedding sold in California must contain flame retardants, which are potentially hazardous. Photo: © Thomas Perkins -

There is no clear data showing that using these chemicals saves lives, and a growing body of research suggests that exposure to fire retardants is dangerous to the health of our children. Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission scientists cited studies linking fire retardant exposure to cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, thyroid disorders, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and a plethora of other health concerns.

A study published last year in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that Californians have twice the concentration of the flame retardant penta-BDE in their blood as people who live elsewhere in the United States due to the continued, and long-lasting presence of these chemicals in baby products and other home furnishings.

There is no evidence that a single baby‘s life has been saved by California’s regulation, which is why the Consumer Product Safety Commission has decided not to regulate baby products against fire. Given the stark budget realities, it makes no sense for the State to be spending its limited resources to regulate a product for which there is no known risk.

Worse yet, chemical lobbyists are trying to convince the California legislature to require even more products to carry these same toxic fire retardants. (Don’t the lobbyists care about children’s health?) We must not stand back and watch this happen. The health and well-being of California’s children is at stake. And this is one cause of ill health that’s totally preventable.

How to Help

The most powerful effort you can make to sway the opinions of Governor Schwarzenegger and California legislators is to write a personal letter telling why this bill is important. Gavigan urges concerned citizens to use his words above as the basis of your letters. Or, before you write, visit the Healthy Child Healthy World website to read more in-depth information about this topic.

If you are a Californian, your letter will be especially meaningful to the Governor and your legislators. If you live elsewhere, your thoughtful, information-filled letter may still be helpful. (Can’t hurt.) Write about the regulations in your own state or country. Let everyone know that we don’t need to overload our kids with chemicals to keep them safe from fire. We end up trading protection from a rare problem for a universal threat to all young children. That’s not a good bargain.

Gavigan invites you to fax your letters to the following:

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

1. Attn: Bismarck Obando, External Affairs Secretary #: 916-324-6358

2. Cabinet #: 916-323-0918

3. Chief of Staff #: 916-323-9991

4. Communications #: 916-324-6357

5. Constituent Affairs #: 916-445-4633

6. Attn: Linda Adams, Secretary CalEPA #: 916-324-0908

7. Attn: Maziar Movassaghl, Department of Toxic Substances Control #: 916-324-3158

This is a critically important opportunity to protect millions of California’s children from the potentially harmful effects of unnecessary chemicals.

Don’t have access to a fax machine? Fax from your laptop or desktop computer with this free online fax service.

I live in Iowa, but I’ll be faxing letters in support of SB 772. I’ll also spread the word to my family and friends. Will you join me?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)