Janine O'Leary Cobb
On March 9th, BCAM sponsored a presentation and discussion of strategies for a safer home environment. We were fortunate to have, as our guest, Liz Armstrong, co-founder of both the Women's Healthy Environments Network (WHEN) and the Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition (now merged into the Saunders-Matthey Cancer Prevention Coalition).
Liz invoked the memory of Rachel Carson as she began her presentation and then intrigued us with a questionnaire on the "3 skins" — the skin of your body, the clothes you wear, the living space that surrounds you. Little or no attention is paid to the toxins in clothing fabrics, carpets, upholstered furniture, etc., and household cleaners are completely unregulated. This despite a 1990 study that found that women working at home had a 50% greater risk of developing breast cancer.
Liz also introduced us to her friend, Beverley Thorpe, who told us about her work promoting a transformation of the chemical industry through "green chemistry," which substitutes harmless chemicals for currently toxic formulations. As of now, there is no data on toxicity or human health for nine of ten new chemicals put on the market. In this regard, North America is far behind the European Union which requires information about carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins for every new chemical before it is introduced. Bev told us that a group of green chemists would be at McGill University for a special ten-day session during this past summer.
Liz and Beverley are united in their determination to switch the focus from the problem, i.e, the growing incidence of cancer, to the solutions. Liz provided hand-outs: One was a letter addressed to the Minister of the Environment regarding the continued use of perchlorethylene ('Perc'), a known animal carcinolgen and suspected human carcinogen, commonly used in dry cleaning. Two additional hand-outs covered a run-down of common hazardous ingredients in cleaning products and a resource list that included publications about safeguarding your home, brand names of less toxic products, and websites offering guides to safe personal care products as well as household cleaning agents.*
Despite a minimum of publicity, over sixty members and non-members turned out for this event. Their evaluations were highly complimentary: the information was sound and useful and the presenter was seen as informal, personable, self-deprecating and humourous. Given the enthusiasm with which this topic was greeted, the Board will give serious consideration to a follow-up event.
* Copies of the letter and the lists of hazardous ingredients and resources are available to BCAM members by calling the office.