We have saturated the world with chemical compounds of our own invention. There are tens of thousands of them, increasing by a couple of thousand a year, according to Cindy Klement. And only a couple of hundred have been tested for harm. And none have been tested with each other to determine what effect the combination might have. In Your Body’s Environmental Chemical Burden, Cindy Klement has put together a guide for the unwary. It answers a lot of questions everyone can relate to. What you don’t know will kill you.
A lot of the conditions and diseases people now exhibit can be traced to these chemicals, and the book lists them for each chemical family. Family doctors, however, have little in the way of tools to make those determinations. Instead, conditions remain a mystery, or are blamed on the patient (especially women) – stress, anxiety, mental illness and such. But as time goes on, more and more evidence piles up, and the book summarizes and updates the damage from a handful of the more widespread manmade chemical compounds. They are everywhere and in everything. We produce them by the millions of pounds per year. There is no escaping them. Organic vegan all your life? Your body is totally corrupted with them.
Without going into each chemical analyzed, let me say the overall impression it leaves the reader with is disgust:
-Antarctica shows these industrial chemicals in pristine snows, thousands of miles from society.
-Pesticides accumulate even eight months after a home treatment, even showing up in breast milk.
-The UN claims 75% of cancers are now environmental, not genetic.
-Organic produce can be just as saturated with chemicals because plants draw from the saturated soil.
-Washington state apples still show high levels of arsenic, even though it banned using it decades ago.
-In the Canary Islands, organic milk tests showed PCBs 100% of the time, while processed milked had it “just” 69%.
-Free-range chickens and organic eggs showed higher concentrations of PCBs compared to indoor/caged birds because the outdoors is so saturated in chemicals. Plus, foraging birds eat more because they’re more active.
-Great Lakes (freshwater) fish are highly contaminated, to the point where pregnant women are warned not to consume more than five ounces in a month.
-The US government says no one should eat more than four (Gulf) shrimp in any month. There are five in a shrimp cocktail.
Some of the chemicals cause cancer as they build up in the body. Some are obesogens, and are a prime reason why people are getting fatter. Various chemicals compromise different organs, but they cannot easily be blamed, because many people absorb them with no apparent effects, (just as not every smoker dies of lung cancer). And some affect not only the person daring to breathe, but will show up as defects in their offspring, two generations later (e.g. bisphenol A, pesticides, cocaine).
The book contains nine chapters classifying problematic chemicals by their group, with conditions they cause, risks, damage, and resources like foods that can carry them out of the body. However. There is no index, so if you don’t know that Xylene is a volatile organic compound (VOC), there is no way to find it.
Also, this is a reference book; there are no people, no stories, no interviews and no heroes save the occasional doctor who invented a test or a diet.
While the book is well arranged and easy to work with, it also contains a lot of nonsense in its design. There are endless color photos decorating it, but they’re all stock photos that have no relevance to the chemical or the chapter. They add no information whatsoever. It makes the book look like a corporate brochure. There are no graphics indicating anything – not foods, not body parts, damage, timelines, epidemiology, pathways or origins. On the other hand, it is unexpectedly colorful.
The message, however, is critical. We have made the Earth unrecognizable to its inhabitants. Future anthropologists and paleontologists will be able to recognize snow core samples and soil samples from precisely this era by all the unnatural contents in them, according to Edward O. Wilson in Half Earth.
Not one of them is beneficial for lifeforms. They serve purposes like making plastic flexible, or making cloth less flammable, or adding a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to perfumes, soaps and creams. Or killing insects and plants. They can appear as unintended consequences in burning tobacco or in pesticide runoff - to the point where every chapter in the book has a warning to check fish advisories before eating anything that lives in water.
The book is simply the latest update in an ongoing undeclared war on all life, and its message needs spreading. It promotes awareness, and awareness seems to be in very short supply.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. He is the author of The Straight Dope or What I learned from my first thousand nonfiction reviews. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.