Chemistry Exam

The results of a study released last week that showed pregnant women in the U.S. have high levels of dangerous chemicals in their bodies is no surprise to those of us who have been reading and studying the effects of environmental chemicals.

What was surprising is that some of these chemicals, including harmful pesticides and flame retardant chemicals were banned even before some of these women were born. It also is an “in your face” wake up call to the rest of us.

I heard the news during the national morning news program we always have on in the morning while Dale is getting ready for work. As I was loading his hot breakfast and lunch into plastic containers, I heard some of the chemicals come from heating food that is stored in plastic containers in microwaves.

Others come from non-stick cookware and other household items we have a tendency to accept as part of our daily lives.

Again, no surprise to me, but it did make me rethink our priorities when it comes to how we might be able to curb the amount of these chemicals in our own bodies.

I’ve been trying to convert all of our cookware for quite sometime, as well as eliminate the plastics from our lives by replacing Dale’s lunch containers with glass.

Both are financially costly endeavors and can only be done in increments. As you know, I tossed the microwave out of Our Little House and I did push up buying some microwaveable glass dishes for Dale’s lunches this week.

After reading this story, though, I wonder if anything we do can really help the issue of what dangerous things are floating around in our bodies.

I mean, if something that was banned in 1972 is still showing up in women who weren’t even born yet, does it really make a difference for those of us who are older and thus have been exposed to these chemicals most, if not all of our lives?

I’ve wrestled with this question, especially when I think of people like my mother, who smoked a good 70 years of her life, used non-stick cookware unabashedly, ate tomatoes coated with pesticides by the bushel throughout the summer months every year and used many household chemicals in her routine cleaning. Still, she didn’t succumb to any chemical related illness, her lungs simply gave out after smoking for so many years. Her doctors told us her other organs were as fit as that of a 20-year-old.

I’ve also often wondered what a test of our own bodies would reveal against that of our neighbors who are the strictest of organic vegetarians (they only eat out once a year, on their anniversary at a far-away organic restaurant).

What do you think, Living Large community? Should we worry? Does it really make a difference to spend the extra money to buy organic and take other precautions?

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25 Responses

  1. Sheryl says:

    DH and I are talking about the kitchen items (after I read this article to him). I’m wondering what folks are using for replacing the plastic lunch containers?
    We are thinking we can replace the cooking pots one by one — since there’s just the two of us now, and most of cooking is just for us. Thanks for a great article, Kerri.

    • kerri says:


      I just bought some glass lunch containers at Wal-Mart (about our only option here). I know my neighbor uses any glass containers she can get her hands on, including old bottles and canning jars.

  2. Sandra says:

    Oh yeah alot of information I got from Dr. Dean Ornish’s books. Reversing Heart Disease and Spectrum. You truly can reverse it if you want to

  3. Sandra says:

    Here is my 2 cents. for what it is worth. we thought we ate healthy. Then hubby had a hidden heart attack. He had gas for 4 days. We only went to dr. cause he couldn’t stop bulching. After quadruple bypass. They gave him vytorin. Almost killed him. Caused him to gain 48lbs in 6 months. He ate hardly nothing. No one would listen to us. Kept telling us calories in calories out. So being a P.I. I started researching. Had a theory. Statin caused fatty infiltration of liver in turn he couldn’t process his food especially carbs of any kind. Metabolic Syndrome, Sydrome X in Men, Sydrome W in women. 3 cardologist said we were nuts. Endo agreed with them. We turned to VA which they agreed to run tests. Guess what I was right. LIVER DAMAGE! Fatty infiltration drug induced. Imagine that. He stopped drug lost 20 lbs. Now stuck in metabolic syndrome. In order to keep cholesteral in check we have to be on a strict diet. Does anyone realize these statin drugs also cause type II diabetes??? He was also headed that way. Oh yeah Lovasa, perscription form of fish oil is really a drug deritative caused him to get cellulightis of the knee (spelled wrong) he almost died in one weekend on that episode. So now we only take certified supplements. As for organic you only truly know it is organic if you are growing it yourself or you know the local farmer. I have seen first hand Ark. free range chickens and turkey in Omaha. Boy is that a joke. Finally found a cardiologist that does agree with our diet and does not like the drugs. By the way all the others told us if hubby didn’t take drugs he would die of a heart attack in 2 yrs. Well almost 4 yrs out he just had a stress test with dye. Dr. said I don’t know what you are eating and doing but you need to keep it up. There is no difference since after surgery. Arteries are clear as a bell, no inflamation, no blockages. Imagine that ????

    I do not eat meat, chicken or pork anymore. But do eat fish. Anyone interested in diet info I would be more happy to pass it on.

    • kerri says:

      Those meds are sometimes worse than what they were prescribed to help. I had a similar issue when my mom had a heart attack. She was a zombie until I figured out that it was a Beta Blocker drug she was on. When the doctor took her off, it was like an awakening for her! I’m working toward eating less and less meat. Got in 3 meatless recipes this week!

  4. Kim says:

    Kerri- great post. We’re trying to get rid of our plastic food containers, too, and the microwave lives on the back porch, where I’m less tempted to use it. Big Lots had 3 2-cup glass containers for $2 this week… pretty good deal. The lids are still plastic, but we can take those off if we need to heat something.

    On your well water– have you looked into a Berkey water filter? I’ve heard that you can use those to filter rainwater and even pondwater safely (lots of missionaries and peace corps type workers use them)… maybe it’d work for your well water too.

  5. This feels so complicated. Honestly, I’m not sure we can avoid most of these dangers … mostly because they are everywhere.

    Tom and I are gearing up to this big body cleanse thing soon. We’ll see how it goes.

    • Kerri says:

      That reminds me that I bought one of those kits for Dale and I, Roxanne, and never used it. I hope it works out better for you and Tom!

  6. mat says:

    You know I’m all about the amateur chefery….
    We own a nonstick pan, but it never gets used. When I was 20 or so, I learned that teflon-coated pans simply cannot take heat beyond the low-end of medium high, they became useless to me.
    It takes a little time, but you can get a great season on regular stainless pan with a few applications of butter and low heat. We do have a nonstick griddle, but we’re extremely careful with how we use it and store it…and in fact, it is covered by a season anymore anyway.
    You also need to be careful with your cooking utensils. Over the last few years, we’ve moved to mostly bamboo equipment and a good set of spring-loaded metal tongs. Tongs ought to be the hammer of any kitchen toolbox.

    • Kerri says:

      I love hearing from you, Mat, especially when we’re talking kitchen stuff! 🙂
      Good point about the plastic utensils, I hadn’t even thought of those, although I do use a wooden spoon a lot and I do love my 3 sets of tongs! Thanks for chiming in!

      • Mat says:

        My pleasure. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and try to take great care in what I put in front of my family–and how I put it there. One of the things I enjoy the most about my relationship with my mom (sometimes the only thing) is when we talk shop about food.
        I’m lucky in that I come from a long line of great cooks and it’s tragic, really, how people are sent into the world to subsist on McDonalds.

        • kerri says:

          I agree, Mat. I cannot believe the difference in the taste of our food by using fresh garlic (USA organic, of course!) 🙂

  7. Alexandra says:

    Oh, yes! What I see as being the most important is, in fact, these pregnant women. While unfortunately they do have these chemicals in their bodies and will pass them on to their unborn children, choices to eat organic will LIMIT the amount of certain chemicals and being watchful will remove others, like BPA, which does not stay in the blood, as I understand it. I learned so much from Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which just came out in paperback. I think it is important to support the regulation of synthetic chemicals, which Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey will again propose to Congress, and demand that legislators support this. Thanks for the conversation here! On Cape Cod we have found it hard to oppose more toxic chemicals being added to our drinking water, although they do not need to be there. I wrote about this topic on my blog today, and will go add a link to Living Large in Our Little House.

    • kerri says:

      Darn it, so many good books and so little time (and money!) I just placed an online order for books yesterday and forgot about Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which has been on my reading list for some time now.
      Thanks for the link, Sandy. Readers, if you don’t remember, her blog is Chezsven and she does a fabulous job of informing herself and others about chemicals in our environment:

  8. It is so disheartening to learn about the ways that poison has seeped into everything we eat, drink and breathe. If you ever read what McDonald’s puts on their chicken nuggets to keep them “fresh” (actually, it’s just the appearance of fresh- it’s really so they can keep them for months in a freezer with no noticeable change in taste) you’d definitely not eat one again, let alone give any to a child.

    I think as others have suggested here, that all we can do is try our best to eliminate as many toxins in our own environment and diet, as possible. When we moved to the country, we started buying our water because rural water has much higher levels of chemicals used in agricultural production, than city water.

    I also agree that a positive attitude and enthusiasm go a long way towards extending lifespan- and even if they didn’t, it’s still the best way to live!

    • kerri says:

      We also buy our water, further adding to the problem of plastics in our landfills, as well as drinking water that comes from a plastic bottle. We are on a well and without a $200 test, we couldn’t be sure we aren’t drinking even more harmful things by sipping from the tap, so we don’t. Filter for well water is on the list….

      • It’s on our list too, Kerri. I don’t like buying water and we don’t really have any assurance as to its own quality. And- as you say, it adds more plastic to the environment, too. Right now, it’s all we can do though. In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan talks about how consumers are modern day hunters and gatherers. Early humans had to figure out what plants and animals they could eat, that wouldn’t poison them. Now, instead of studying the stem of a mushroom to determine whether it’s safe to eat, we have to read labels and try to understand what chemicals we’re exposing ourselves to.

    • Tanille says:

      I thought we were doing fairly well in this department. I’ve stopped using plastic containers, use only natural cleaning products, got rid of all non-stick pans. The list goes on. But as I was reading this I glanced over at our Brita water pitcher that all of our drinking water goes through and realized it’s PLASTIC! I’m not obsessive about this, but really don’t prefer plastic anything. So, I found a glass water filtration pitcher online at DWR and I’m ordering it ASAP. It is more expensive up front – but the filter only has to be changed every 6 months compared to the 3 month brita. More convenient but about the same in price.

      • Kerri says:

        Thanks for the information, Tanille. I will have to check that out. It would help if we actually knew what was in our well water so we knew what we need to filter for!

  9. Olivia says:

    I struggle with this, too. Well, I guess I don’t really “struggle” the way I used to, but I agree that it makes you wonder.

    My grandmother lived to nearly 100, still working when she eventually died of congestive heart failure. She had been a heavy smoker for years, drank a lot, ate all the fat she could get her hands on, etc. and, most importantly, enjoyed her life and didn’t worry about most things.

    My FIL eats a rigid, vegetarian, BORING diet – no fat, no sauces, only water to drink, bakes his own whole grain bread, etc. He is 90 years old, frail, can’t walk too far, etc. while my MIL is 89, exists on pop and cookies, cake, processed cheese and ham and white bread . . . you get the picture. She is as fit as a fiddle and scoots around like a 2 year old.

    This proves nothing, of course, except maybe much of our health and longevity is predetermined by or genes. Or maybe luck. Who knows?

    Since even the polar bears in Canada’s Arctic carry a lot of pollutants in their bodies and they certainly aren’t microwaving or using plastic containers or using questionable shampoos or whatever, I think it’s reasonable to assume that even the air that we breathe is so laden with contaminants that we just can’t get away from this stuff.

    I do what I can and try to live lightly but that also means living joyfully and not stressing over every little thing.

    As for microwaves – I have an old one that lives in the basement and is rarely used but I also wonder about cell phones, cordless phones, WiFi – all of which I have – and even if I didn’t I would still be surrounded by all those “waves” that zoom around the atmosphere, wouldn’t I? Maybe not – I don’t know.

    Maybe it’s because of my advancing age but I just try to enjoy each day as it comes and not fret too much. I don’t even watch/read/listen to much news except our local news here which runs along the lines of a seal in someone’s field or the latest restaurant opening. That’s front page, hard core news here.

    • kerri says:

      First of all, Olivia, your post made me LOL. Our front page breaking news for our weekend edition of the paper was a story about a woman who lost a watch 600 miles from here 30 years ago and it ended up in a retro shop here in January and a friend across the country found it on eBay. That was the BIG news here! 🙂 Anyway, I think maybe you’ve hit the nail on the head about the worrying. Maybe it is the worry and other negative feelings we take in and hold within ourselves that determines an early fate – or maybe not – I just thought of some very negative people who are living long lives. Maybe it is just the luck of the draw. 😉

  10. kerri says:

    Regarding the locally grown organic products, I do buy those without thought as I believe that not only good for our health, but for that of the local farmers and our community. They also taste much better! 🙂 Still, I wonder if it is making much of a difference when we buy organic canned and packaged products, or products that have to be shipped certain times of the year. Thanks for your thoughts, V.

  11. V Schoenwald says:

    Very difficult theme today, Kerri. And a very hard subject to penetrate with an answer.
    Personally, I just try to eliminate the very major problem items, (Plastics, Teflon, etc) and I have used my cast iron forever. I have glass containers from grandparents handed down that I adore also. I use glass canning jars or glass to store leftovers in also. Some of the problem is also that food is packaged in plastic from the factory and is stored in it at warehouses, and you have no idea how long it’s been sitting in plastic, so the expense of buying more local or fresh food and not packaged, if you even have access to fresh food?
    I still have the microwave, as partner pops popcorn in it, I can’t get it through him to stop, so I have the microwave in the utility room away from the kitchen.
    This is a huge subject for a huge problem, no real answer. Just do the best that you can do, and slowly work changes into your home and life as you can do so or afford to do.