By Elizabeth Grossman
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Additional resources for Chasing Molecules Poisonous Products, Human Hromise of Green Chemistry -
This contamination includes not only herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides—chemicals that are used in open air or that may have washed directly into rivers or released from factories as industrial effluent—and metals, among them mercury (from both industrial and natural sources). It also includes flame retardants and water repellants, among other substances that are, at least in theory, incorporated into the materials of the products they’re designed to enhance. 1 Also routinely recorded in the far north—some at remarkably high levels—are perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) used as stain repellants, waterproofing agents, and industrial surfactants (think Scotchguard, Teflon, Gore-Tex, and the slick coating on paper used in food packaging such as pizza boxes, candy wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags).
With the loss of daylight, days seem suspended. Outside, beyond the double sets of heavy metal doors, the decks are covered with frost and fine crystalline snow. From my bunk-length berth on the lowest level of the ship, whenever we moved, the sound of breaking ice roared just beyond my porthole. An ch02:IP_Grossman 26 6/12/09 9:22 AM Page 26 CHASING MOLECULES extraordinary grinding, creaking, and crashing sound, it was like being in the scoop of a giant snowplow. Labs housing sophisticated analytical equipment are tucked into the corners of the ship, some accessible only from the chilly decks.
And not all of the synthetic chemicals that are escaping from consumer products and causing biological anomalies that can lead to health problems are persistent. For example, the constituents of some plastics now under intense scrutiny for their adverse health impacts—bisphenol A, which makes up polycarbonate plastics (clear refillable beverage and baby bottles, dishware, appliances, bike helmets, eyeglass lenses, food can liners, and dental sealants among countless other products) and the phthalates (pronounced “thalates”) that make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics flexible (shower curtains, toys, medical tubing, packaging, fabric coatings, to name but a very few)—are organic and potentially toxic, but do not last long enough in the environment to be considered persistent or to travel long distances.