Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More than One Way to Go


A first glance at the Washington Post today resulted in articles on dying and the toxicity of plastic – not exactly how I intended this day to go. But interesting, just the same.

“A Life Worth Living” by Claire Panosian Dunavan (now at UCLA) focuses on her experiences with death as a young resident. She recognizes that at 27 she was far more ready to label a patient’s situation as hopeless than she is decades later. She is still troubled by the memory of a beautiful young spinal cord victim who bled to death through her tracheotomy while no one attended. But in her medical practice she has come to have a healthy respect for the human spirit’s power to “survive, rebuild, and soar.”

The next article reported the first decrease in life expectancy for women since 1918. It is fairly localized to the Deep South, Appalachia, the lower Midwest, and one county in Maine, but it is not limited to a single race. The culprit? Probably obesity and a rise in women smoking.

The final article is the one that really disturbed me. It looks at the toxic effect of plastics on our lives. We are surrounded (literally) by plastics these days: water bottles, food containers, food wraps, CD’s, toys, you name it. Scientists are now saying that man-made components in plastics can leach chemicals that get absorbed into our bodies causing increased rates of cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and infertility. My immediate response is to think how I can eliminate such plastics from my life, concluding it would be difficult. Then I wonder if I’ve already sealed my fate by microwaving my broccoli with Saran Wrap stretched tightly over the container for years. I wonder if drinking spring water out of plastic bottles is worse than drinking tap water containing trace elements of multiple drugs. Could I buy my food in non-plastic containers even if I wanted to? This health what-if-ing always leads me down a slippery slope.

So I closed the Post with the declaration that I had had enough enlightenment for one day. I haven’t touched a piece of plastic today, I promise!

13 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

I read this as eating my (homemade) lunch out of a plastic container. Serves me right. I do have some glass food storage containers, but I seem to break them all.

1:02 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I remember being told as a teenager that plastics cause cancer and that one should not drink directly from plastic bottles. I suppose that so many companies package their products in plastic because it is (was) relatively cheap and easy to produce. However, since plastic is made with petroleum, perhaps the skyrocketing price of oil will cause manufacturers to decrease their use of plastic. I'm not holding my breath for them to do so just to make us healthier.

2:26 PM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

today's post looks like it's full of articles I'd be interested in - thanks for the head's up - fortunately their epaper (web) has most of the articles that are found in the paper paper.

you might be interested in a documentary that was made several years ago called 'rachel's daughters' - it's been a while since I saw it but it's about trying to find things that contribute to the alarming rate of breast cancer in this country - I remember plastics were a big culprit. if you haven't seen it, I expect you might be able to hunt up a copy through your library system ... or via one of those thing like netflicks....

I've seen teasers for stories on the local news about plastic baby bottles - but since I don't watch tv news, don't know what the story was exactly, but it sounded like there is an ugly and alarming issue about them.... eh gads!

not touching plastic - that is hard to do! my keyboard is plastic, the stroller I push around is made of plastic, the arms of my desk chair is plastic,and even my telephone is plastic oh my.....I don't think I could promise not to touch plastic in a day!

(but I never, ever microwave plastic - that is something I remember picking up from when I saw rachel's daughters oh so many years ago.....)

4:52 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I am not worried about plastic. The culprit is the plasticizers (you might recognize their odour from that "new car" smell). As far as I am concerned any plastic, vinyl, rubber that has a "fresh, new" chemical smell, is probably horribly toxic and I avoid them.

I would be more concerned by plastic bottles as (1) using a non-renewable resource for production (oil), and (2) contributing to unnecessary waste (and despite all the propaganda we are fed, plastic is not really recyclable. Plastic is primarily mulched and then wither turned into filler or mixed with glue and turned into "limber". Images of your plastic bottle being reclaimed and turned into a new plastic bottle are 100% false. There are chemical processes that can break plastic down into its constituants, but I think it is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.)

5:02 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- There are many good things to be said for plastic containers, the fact that they don't easily break being one of them. I suppose we must decide if they outweigh the health risks.

MC -- So did you quit drinking from plastic bottles as a teenager? I keep meaning to buy one of the safe refillable bottles. I'm sure REI carries them.

Mouse -- So many good things to follow up on to find out just how grim the situation already is. Unfortunately it's probably like with melanoma: the damage is done long before the evidence of it.

Richard -- I always loved that new car smell. You mean even it is toxic? Dang man!

5:53 PM  
Blogger Ruth D~ said...

Oh, I know . . . it is not a pleasant thing to review all the plastic in our lives, but in two decades they'll refute the fact that plastics are dangerous. And even if they don't, it's just something that I can't get worked up over. Maybe I'm jaded.

Interesting stories. I'll need to go online to read them.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Colette Amelia said...

Some how I think that the old ways might be returning. how about left overs in a bowl with a plate over it in the fridge? Wax paper...is it better for you, it is made of petroleum products? I have a large collection of tupperware is it safe?

It sure seems like it is difficult keeping up with all the health trends these days...now they are saying vitamins aren't healthy? what next?

12:33 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

It is most definitely toxic.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I wouldn't be so quick to say it's obesity and smoking that's lowering life expectancy for women. In our culture we believe everything is caused by smoking and obesity.

The truth is, we don't know. As for plastic, it's all around us. No way to get away from it. Just one more human invention with a terrible downside.

Sigh.

Oh well.

9:18 AM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

Mouse beat me to it. Unless you typed this using wooden chopsticks there is no getting around the plastics.
On the upside- the breathing tube that kept my mother alive several weeks ago was plastic- and I thank God for it.

We'll all die of something-hopefully, at least, it won't be smoking or obesity in this house.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse, Gewels -- True confession: I had forgotten my keyboard was plastic. Oh well, I hope it's not the BAD plastic that might do something awful to my fingers or far worse... Yes, we all must go someway. Most of us will probably never know the true culprit. And like your mother, many of us will have benefited somewhere along the way.

11:01 AM  
Blogger media concepts said...

Yes, I immediately switched to glass bottles -- Budweiser, Miller, Heineken ....

With all due respect to Gewels, the breathing tube is a bad example. That's an emergency solution either for a very short term, or, if for a long term, the alternative is imminent death, so of course it's preferable at the time.

Ditto for the statement that "we'll all die of something." That kind of statement has been used to justify smoking, drunk driving and every other risky behavior in the book. The issue isn't whether you're going to die someday. The issue is how soon do you want to die, and how sick to you want to get beforehand? If products are proven to be harmful, isn't it prudent to try our best to avoid them? You seem to agree when you say that there won't be any smoking in your house.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Yikes! We're becoming overwhelmed by what we should and should not do in the name of health and saving the planet!
One can only do so much. I don't re-use plastic bottles and I no longer heat up food in plastic containers in the microwave or put Saran on top.

9:11 PM  

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