If you would have asked me to draw a picture of pollution fifteen years ago, it would have been something along the lines of a factory with smokestacks billowing and litter strewn around the surrounding grounds. Pollution was outside, over there. I was not a part of it.
According to a recent study, it’s a pretty typical perspective. “People more readily equate pollution with large-scale contamination and environmental disasters, yet the products and activities that form the backdrop to our everyday lives – electronics, cleaners, beauty products, food packaging – are a significant source of daily personal chemical exposure that accumulates over time,” said sociologist Rebecca Gasior Altman, the lead author of the study, Pollution Comes Home and Gets Personal: Women’s Experience of Household Chemical Exposure.
“Pollution at home has been a blind spot for society,” said Altman. Still, chemicals in our everyday environments are increasingly making media headlines. From BPA in baby bottles to phthalates in toys, pollution is starting to get really personal. But, is it really helpful at all to know all these dirty little secrets, especially when we don’t really know the health impacts of many exposures?
Some government officials and scientists worry that widespread access to information about chemicals in everyday products and personal body burdens will provoke fears and generate misleading hype. Yet, according to Altman, “This study documents that an important shift occurs in how people understand environmental pollution, its sources and possible solutions as they learn about chemicals from everyday products that are detectable in urine samples and the household dust collecting under the sofa.”
The participants in this study who learned about chemicals in their homes and bodies were not alarmed, but eager for more, not less, information about how typical household products can expose them to chemicals that may affect health. (They should check out HealthyChild.org!) According to Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Understanding that the indoor environment may be one of the largest sources of exposure is extremely important as we move forward – not only in getting appropriate regulation of sources, but in altering individual behaviors.”
Ask me to draw a picture of pollution today and I’ll draw a picture of the inside of a house, with brightly colored cleaners under the kitchen sink, a plug-in air freshener quietly doing its business in an outlet, and an elementary figure of a pregnant woman with a tainted womb. Pollution is inside, in our comfort zones and sacred spaces. It is in me and in my daughters. And, I am a part of creating more pollution every time I buy something or turn on a light. Like the women from the study, this new picture has changed my behavior dramatically. I am not afraid and I want to learn more. I recognize my role in the problem and I am empowered to be a part of the solution. I can make smarter choices to create a healthier home and a healthier planet.
How about you?