by Chrysan Cronin
It’s 6:30 in the morning. I am scrambling an egg white in a non-stick pan from an egg that, one minute earlier, had been nesting in a plastic egg carton, surrounded by 11 other eggs stamped with a red USDA certified organic stamp. I fill a glass half way with filtered water, the other half with “no sugar added” cran-grape juice and sit down at the table to eat my breakfast. Ten minutes later, I am in the shower using shampoo claimed to have never been tested on animals, and shortly after that, moisturizer, eye-liner and lip gloss. Dressed, I hop in my car, merge onto Route 22, and begin the slow crawl to work. As I unlock the door to my lab, I am blasted by a myriad of odors, including fetal pig preservative and cleaning products—the hallmarks of the biology lab. Lunchtime cannot come soon enough and I scoff down last night’s leftovers that I have just heated (in my glass dish) in the microwave. I work in my office for most of the afternoon, leaving my chair only to take a quick walk with a colleague. As the work day winds down, I head to my yoga class before coming home to eat a quick dinner, prepare for my classes the next day, and finally fall into bed.
At first glance, one might presume that although mundane, I live a pretty healthy lifestyle. But as much as I try, there are certain things beyond my control that challenge my greatest efforts. Starting with my breakfast, I am mindful that although food labeled “certified organic” is presumably just that, the reality is that we can’t always know if the free-roaming chickens that laid those eggs were roaming across land that had been pesticide treated 30 years ago or if the organic feed they ate was truly free of organophosphorous products. And, even if the organic feed was free of synthetic pesticides, chances are that it contained residuals of organic plant or bacterial pesticides that are approved for use in organic farming, some of which are neurotoxic. The plastic packaging that my egg came in most likely contains bisphenol A (BPA) and/or phthalates, common ingredients in modern plastics, and known disruptors of the endocrine system. And while we don’t eat the plastic containers, we do eat the food that’s been sitting in them, absorbing these toxic substances. My non-stick cooking pan is coated with fluoropolymers, which makes clean-up easier, and cuts out my need to cook my egg using butter, but are carcinogenic at high temperatures. My water filter gives me some peace of mind that I have eliminated potentially dangerous substances like lead, arsenic, cadmium, or chromium from my drinking water, but it doesn’t remove the pharmaceutical residues that are lurking in our water supply.
As I move through my morning routine, I am exposed to nanoparticles in my moisturizer and cosmetics. providing me protection from UV light, decreasing my risk of skin cancer. But nanoparticles are so small that they can be absorbed through my skin and pass through my cell membranes and their biological effect of this is still unknown. Many wonder what potential risks nanoparticles pose not only to human health, but also to the environment.
My drive to work poses its own set of problems. While the most obvious health risk is a car accident, the less obvious, but more likely risks come from the invisible toxins present in the auto exhaust, industrial emissions, and ozone that I am breathing. And the situation doesn’t improve as I enter the building where I work. Indoor air containing organic chemicals, VOCs, found in aerosols and solvents, cleaning products, and paint can not only cause respiratory irritation, but also nausea, fatigue, and dizziness, in the short-term, and cancer and heart disease in the long-term.
In spite of my best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there are many external factors beyond my control…
In spite of my best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there are many external factors beyond my control that, at times, make my efforts seem futile. I remind myself that change begins with individuals committed to educating others about the threats that environmental practices have on their health and continues with the masses speaking out and demanding it. While public health practitioners have been doing this for years, it is time for others to step up and join the environmental revolution. Human health is everyone’s issue.
Chrys teaches Biology and directs the Public Health program at Muhlenberg College.
(Published in the 2011 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)