Friday, January 21, 2005

My Neighbors Think I'm an Activist

A week or so ago, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about Toxic Breast Milk. It seems that in our desire to make all the polyurethane products that we use nonflammable, we've actually contaminated ourselves with PDBEs (polybrominated diphenylethers). Human breast milk in this country in contaminated with levels of PDBEs 10-100x that of other similarly industrialized nations! At some point in the next 5-10 years, the adverse effects of the PDBEs in breast milk may eclipse the benefits that breast feeding provides for the newborns, but no one really knows. Luckily we have scientists spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to find a miracle weight loss drug, but only a handful of people in the country are concerned with the chemical contamination of breast milk that will affect more than half of the children born in this country! That's pretty freakin' scary. My reaction to this article reminded me of my only other foray into the world of chemical contamination of our environment which basically resulted in my neighbors thinking I'm crazy....

About a year ago, I watched Blue Vinyl on HBO. Blue Vinyl is a great documentary about the dangers of vinyl siding (and vinyl in general). Turns out that the production and incineration of PVC produces dioxin (a known carcinogen) that accumulates in our fatty tissues. It's also thought that some dioxin leeches into the environment from vinyl products (makes you think twice about the pipes in your house, the packaging your food comes in, and the toys your infant cousin chews on, right?). Again - pretty scary! The problem was that my annual condo association meeting was just a few days later. I wasn't going to go seeing as I think there's a level of baseline resentment that I encounter for being a 24 year old homeowner, but the association management company called and told me that since I hadn't submitted my proxy form I had to go. proxy form, because I'm sure they make such amazingly important decisions at these meetings. I decided it couldn't be so bad, so I got in my car and headed over to the Polish home or Lions club or whatever random local building they'd reserved for the meeting...

I managed to snag a seat at the back of the crowd, fortunately avoiding any meaningful conversation or eye contact, and I read a textbook while the discussion covered everything from the color of the garage doors (you won't believe how upset one guy got about the color of his garage door) to the type of flowers in the flower beds by the mailboxes (lilies? tulips? that's a tough call). At this point I was really beginning to wonder when these all important votes were going to take place. Then, as if solely to rescue me from boredom, the discussion turned to the siding that had recently been installed. My hand shot up: "I was just wondering what the siding that was installed is made of?" I asked, as if I had any doubts. Turns out it was vinyl siding. So then I asked if the construction committee and association management company had considered the implications of using a product and supporting an industry that produces a product that is poisoning America. Whoa.... that drew some stares. After some considerable stammering, the spokesman informed me that the vinyl siding was the only economical option. I settled back down in my seat and resolved to let it go, but then the conversation turned to the garage doors again. Turns out they were planning to replace the wooden garage doors with, yep, you guessed it, vinyl garage doors. After an exchange strikingly similar to the one that had occurred five minutes before I was really getting some nasty looks. That discussion was followed shortly thereafter by a discussion about replacing the wooden decks with Trex material - yet another artifically made product - but this product, I was assured, is actually safer because the arsenic in the sealant for wooden decks REALLY is toxic. Well, THAT makes me feel better about the deck I've got out there now. Anyhow, to make a long story short, those looks of resentment I was getting before are full-fledged glares now and I'm pretty sure I didn't make any friends. But I suppose that if I caused just one person to think about what they put in their homes and what effects it might have on their health, I succeeded in some small way. At least that's what I tell myself at night so that I can sleep (on a mattress that is probably poisoning me).


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