By Kim Barnouin
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Kim blows the lid on all of the nasties in our everyday stuff (everything from lipstick to sofa upholstery), and shows how we can make both small and big changes in our home, wardrobe, and beauty regimen — for living the Ultimate Skinny Bitch lifestyle!
Ah, the filth we breathe. For decades, we’ve been warned about all that smog, carbon dioxide, and dirty exhaust that’s pumped into our atmosphere.1 We get it—it’s real bad for us. Check the air quality before you step foot outside and slather on the sunscreen. It’s a goddamn swamp out there.
In 2010, the EPA released a little report saying our air was getting cleaner. But nobody gave a shit. In fact, the air out there is much better. We’re talking fourteen percent better for ozone and seventy-eight percent for lead over the past four decades. In Southern California—where it once burned our lungs to breathe—outdoor pollution has dropped by sixty percent since the early 1970s.2 But the air didn’t just clear up magically. No, no. The government actually toughened up with new laws, and then companies and people had to start making changes.
The real slap in the ass is that the whole time we’ve been freaking out about the war outside our doors, there’s been another one heating up inside our homes. Yeah, get this: You may feel safe when you’re sitting on your couch watching some dumb reality show, but you’re not. You’re in deep shit. The toxic spray cleaners under your sink. The cancer-causing air fresheners. The pots and pans that leach crap into your food. Even our mattress is preparing for DEFCON 5. Every year, more than two thousand chemicals get thrown into our products, and only about seven percent have undergone any type of testing for safety.3 Sit on that for a minute . . . seven percent. And you thought that coffee stain on your white couch was eating away at you.
The air inside the average American home is anywhere from two to five times worse than the air outside.4 All those glass cleaners, tub and tile scrubs, dishwashing soaps, and laundry detergents are contaminating your home. Look around you for a minute. You have walls. Those things block much of anything from going out. When you tally up all the hours you spend indoors sleeping, working, relaxing, knocking the boots, cooking—whatever it is that you do—you breathe around nine out of every ten breaths inside.5 Now I wonder why childhood asthma has doubled in the last twenty years.6 Beats me.
All our woes don’t just come from the hazardous cleaning products. Home furnishings, fabrics, paint, carpets, candles, and almost anything plastic are also doing a number on our homes. I’ll bet you’re wondering how these innocent little material things could do any wrong. Wake up and smell the napalm. There are diesel trucks leaking oil all over the highway that are more innocent.
Every chemical has its own set of damages, but here are the three broad categories that the worst fall under.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Not everything that’s organic is good, honey. In scientific talk, organic just means it contains carbon. That’s the definition chemists play by. In that case, you are organic. The grass is organic.7 Most VOCs just happen to fall under the category “not so great” organic things. They are chemicals that evaporate from products at different concentrations and get released as harmful gases that sit in the air.8 You can’t stop them. They were born to fly. When they leave the product they rode in on, it’s called offgassing (or outgassing).9 Offgassing occurs at normal room temperatures, but spits out even more VOCs when exposed to heat or sunlight.10
You don’t have to be a genius to see that VOCs have a screw loose. Formaldehyde is a VOC. Alcohol, toluene, xylene,11 methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, and benzene12 are all VOCs. There are about two hundred that are commonly found in everyday home products.13 Once they’re in your indoor air, you inhale them. And that folks, is when you’ve got a little problem.
There is a whole mob of other chemicals that don’t qualify as VOCs because they don’t offgas into the air. But they’re not less dangerous. Plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates have been getting more attention lately than celebrities and their DUIs. The former is used to harden plastic and the latter makes it more flexible. Both have something in common that’s a real bummer: they are hormone disruptors (aka endocrine disruptors). It sounds fancy, but it’s really a medical term for chemicals that enter your body and start to imitate your natural hormones.14 Hormone disruptors are like the chick from Single White Female. They are a group of toxins that imitate your natural hormones and start copying everything they do. This fools your body so your hormones start getting blocked from their normal sites.15 Then they try and make up for it, and everything gets real jacked up. What you’re left with are cells that promote a handful of cancers and some screwy reproductive problems.16 The frightening part is that BPA and phthalates do the most damage in infants and kids—yet we still haven’t gotten enough balls to ban them from children’s products in the United States.
Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)
It’s great that you can clean dog piss right out of your couch, but I wouldn’t say it’s exactly natural. PFCs are a class of chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make materials stain- and stick- resistant. They’re in your upholstery, fabrics, and clothing under names such as Scotchguard, Stainmaster, and Gore-Tex. And they’re also coating your nonstick cookware to make sure your hash browns don’t stick to the pan. Yes, I’m talking about Teflon. But like VOCs, they don’t like to stay in one place. They creep out and end up a) getting absorbed by your skin and inhaled through dust, and b) leaching into your food. There have been some serious concerns that they can cause cancer, and weaken or impair our organs. Many companies have phased them out, or are in the process of doing so, but we’re going to feel their pain for years to come.17
In this section, we’re going to chit-chat about what some of the most popular things in our home have to hide, and your best alternatives. As much as all this bites the big one, it doesn’t mean you need to live in a bubble. Just quit inviting these crazies into your home. After all, they didn’t just walk themselves in there. You threw down some hard cash for all that toxicity.
Something made by the hands of man through a chain of chemical reactions. There is nothing natural about it.
THE SHIT LIST
The Worst Toxins in Your Home
Here are a few of the worst chemicals that hang out in your home, where they’re hiding, and how to kick them to the curb.
I’m not saying that products that contain these nasty chemicals are surely going to kill you. Quite frankly, I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what they can do to you in the long run. But I, for one, am not going to wait around to find out.
A chemical found naturally in the environment, ammonia is also added to household cleaners in higher concentrations because it’s a cheap and effective way to clean your home. The problem is it’s landed itself on the EPA’s Community Right-to-Know list for potential health effects when inhaled, and is known to irritate the lungs, nose, mouth, and eyes.18 (Seriously, have you ever taken a whiff?) It’s especially uncomfortable for those with allergies or asthma.
BENZENE (Nickname: Naphtha)
One of those vicious VOCs derived from petroleum, benzene is a known carcinogen common in oven cleaners, detergents, furniture polishes, and spot removers. With longer exposure—it’s even in your paint and furniture—benzene has some serious effects on the blood, leading to anemia, lymphoma, and leukemia. So it makes perfect sense that it’s one of the top twenty chemicals the industry produces by volume!19 Right . . .
BISPHENOL A (BPA)
Used to harden plastics and coat the inside of food cans, BPA can be found in plastic bottles, baby bottles, food storage containers, microwaveable dinners, kids toys, and oh, ninety percent of Americans. 20 Over time, it starts to break down in plastics and leaches into food and water. Give it a little heat with a blast from the microwave, and it leaches fifty-five times faster than normal.21 Now ask yourself how many times you’ve reheated baby formula, leftovers in a plastic container, or maybe drank from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car. Yeah, sleep on that one. Once in our bodies, it imitates our hormones—in this case, estrogen—and has been linked to early puberty, and increased risk of developmental problems, and cancer.
2-BUTOXYETHANOL (Nicknames: Butyl Cellusolve, Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether)
A very popular chemical in all-purpose and floor cleaners, liquid soaps, and stain removers, heavy doses of this one can damage your nerve tissues. It has the potential to rupture blood cells, leading to internal bleeding, and liver and kidney damage.22 In animal studies, 2-butoxyethanol really goes to town on the reproductive organs.23
CHLORINE BLEACH (Nicknames: Hypochlorite, Sodium Hypochlorite, Hydrochloric Acid)
Also known as plain ole bleach, it’s in mildew removers, toilet cleaners, fabric brighteners, and disinfectants. I’m not one to point fingers—psyche!—but chlorine is to blame for the most household poisonings in the United States.24 When it’s mixed with ammonia, it releases poisonous chlorine gas. Since you release ammonia everytime you take a whiz—it’s in your pee-pee—you’re creating a little chemical reaction every time you clean your bathrooms with this stuff.25 The damage starts with corrosion of your lungs, skin, and eyes, and works up to wearing down the enamel on your teeth.26
ETHANOLAMINES (Nicknames: Diethanolamine (DEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA), Triethanolamine (TEA))
A family of chemicals found in detergents, furniture polishes, and all-purpose cleaners that reduce the surface tension of water so it can penetrate materials easier to remove dirt and grease. The ethanolamines are another set of hormone disruptors that build up in your organs. The big fuss is in some cases they can react with nitrates in the air, or possibly in your body, to cause nitrosamines.27 Nitrosamines can cause cancer.28 The end.
It’s used to preserve frogs for science projects and as an embalming solution for cadavers. Maybe you recall the nauseating odor from Biology 101 when you were dissecting Kermit. You thought you would drop dead from the smell. Turns out, you just might. This one pops up in adhesives, paneling, carpets, plywood, pressed fabrics, wood products, and even air fresheners. It can set off allergic reactions that affect the entire respiratory system, and the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) classifies it as a known carcinogen—not to be confused with a “potential” carcinogen.29 Even at the lowest of levels, it triggers headaches, fatigue, eye and throat irritation, and shortness of breath.30 Because your body naturally produces it in very small amounts, some argue it’s nothing to be concerned about. Bullshit.
ETHYLENE GLYCOL (Nicknames: Ethylene Dihydrate, Ethylene Alcohol)31
A clear liquid antifreeze found in many all-purpose cleaners and mildew stain removers, it can slow down the central nervous system, and lead to kidney damage or heart failure if ingested.32
POLYBROMINATED DIPHENYL ETHERS (PBDE)
More than twelve million pounds of these flame retardants are produced every year for use in foam products such as mattresses, couches, pillows, and blankets. So it won’t come as a shock that it’s found in the bodies of almost every American. You absorb more of them than your body can get rid of, so they just hang around, banging up the nervous and reproductive systems. In one study, kids had 3.2 times more flame retardants polluting their blood than their mothers did. (Maybe that’s because cribs and toddler beds are covered in them.)33 Studies have indicated that even tiny doses of PBDEs at a child’s critical stage of development may slow down their motor skills, learning, memory, and hearing.34
PETROLEUM DISTILLATES (Nickname: Naphtha)
A very broad category that covers pretty much all chemicals derived from petroleum, these bad boys can be found in furniture polishes, paints, adhesives, air fresheners, and all-purpose cleaners.35 The EPA says they pose the biggest risk when they are inhaled, even in small amounts. Here’s the problem: They are all over your house. And unless you’re holding your breath, you’re inhaling them.36 Once they’re in your system, they can irritate and damage your lungs, and may also contain small amounts of benzene, toluene, and xylene.37
These toxins are commonly found in detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and disinfectants to cover offensive odors. But they are rapidly absorbed by your body when inhaled, and can trigger toxic effects throughout the entire body. Symptoms of overexposure include shock, delirium, dark urine, and damage to the respiratory and circulatory systems.38
Phosphates are added to detergents to “soften” hard water minerals and keep the dirt from settling back onto materials. It’s not what these guys do to our health that has everyone up in arms (they’re actually pretty nontoxic to humans). But in the environment, they do some nutty stuff. When you let nature do its thing, phosphates are essential to animal and plant growth. But all that changes when man adds more phosphates to the equation with pollution from our everyday household products. Let me break it down for you. For the algae that exists in our natural habitats, phosphates might as well be cupcakes. Algae finds them delicious and just eats them right up. But when algae feed on phosphates, they go buck wild and bloom like crazy, invading rivers, lakes, and oceans.39 Algae isn’t all that bad. But too much algae isn’t the best thing for these waters—it depletes oxygen and suffocates marine life.40
A family of industrial chemicals used to give polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics like shower curtains, paint, and teething rings that nice, flexible feel. Like BPA, phthalates are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen, which makes our natural estrogen go haywire. This is especially a problem for the kiddies, whose hormones are still telling their growing bodies how to develop properly. When phthalates start screwing with a child’s hormones, they are known to “feminize” little boys by slowing down the growth of their little johnson. It may not mean much when they’re five, but it will be a pretty damn big deal when they reach college. Trust me. Other possible developmental problems that would scare the pants off any mother include autism, testicular cancer, and lowered sperm counts.41
PERFLUOROOCTANOIC ACID (PFOA) (Nickname: C8)
A sneaky chemical that gets released as a toxic vapor from nonstick cookware, furniture, stain resistant carpets, and microwave popcorn bags. It’s been linked to infertility, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease in humans. But in animals, it causes everything from liver and immune system failure, to birth defects and all types of cancers.42
SODIUM HYDROXIDE (Nicknames: Lye, Caustic Soda)
A far-too-familiar chemical in detergents, stain removers, and disinfectants that can burn the crap out of your bodily tissues. Even the lowest of levels gets your nose, throat, and airways in a funk, but don’t get it on your skin or in your eyes. It can cause severe burns and may leave you blind.43
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE AND SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLS or SLES)44
A questionable pair of sulfates added to detergents, liquid soaps, and all-purpose cleaners to work up a good lather and prevent dirt from settling back onto clean materials.45 SLS can produce a deadly chemical called 1,4-dioxane, which is known to cause cancer according to the State of California and is considered a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).46 Aside from that minor concern, they are known to irritate your skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. I almost forgot—they are also used to degrease car engines. You hear that? Car. Engines.47 Sounds real safe for something you’re wiping all over your counters and lathering onto your scalp.
A toxic VOC found in everything from paint to furniture to mattresses to car seats.48 It’s considered a drug in “higher” concentrations, doing its worst damage on the brain. The solvent has also been linked to a higher risk of spontaneous abortion and miscarriage in women. 49 Experts say to treat it like a teratogen—an agent that interferes with fetal development.50 How do we know all this? Because some chicks are dumb enough to “sniff” paint and glue purely for shits and giggles when they’re pregnant, leading researchers to some pretty disturbing potential side effects.51 Though it may not be as toxic if you’re not sniffing it for recreation, it leaks out of paint and furniture for years into the air you breathe.?
A chemical potent enough to degrease metals, but also common in paints, stain removers, and furniture. It can cause headaches and dizziness, as well as kidney, nerve, and liver damage. But more importantly, the IARC says the odds are good that it also causes cancer. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) seconds that.52
The Vegan Taboos:
CRUELTY FABRICS AND MATERIALS IN YOUR HOME
Down feathers are ripped from the breasts of ducks and geese. The birds are often thrown into large warehouses—another way to say factory farm—and some allege that in certain countries their feathers are plucked “live” while they are restrained. They can be plucked when they’re dead, too. However some say their dead, rotting bodies don’t produce the best quality feathers.
It’s also been alleged that in certain places, waterfowl may go through this torture three to five times during their life. (Imagine if someone pulled out each one of your fingernails out.) After their feathers are spent, they are slaughtered for their meat. Others are force-fed until their livers swell ten times their normal size, and then they’re killed for food. We call this diseased, fatty liver foie gras. Vomit.
Wool gets around in “natural” carpets, fabrics, and as an alternative to polyurethane foam in furniture padding. It has its health benefits because it’s hypoallergenic and naturally fireproof, but not without a societal cost. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes: Animals aren’t just getting a harmless haircut. The farm is no day spa, honey. And Mary’s little lamb isn’t the only one being sacrificed for your home and apparel. Wool is also shaved off the backs of angora rabbits, and cashmere and mohair goats.
Sheep. Sheep have it baaaad. Every year, more than six million are raised in the United States for meat and wool production. Within weeks of popping out of their mother’s womb, a baby lamb’s ears are punched with holes, their tails are cut off, and males are robbed of their manhood without anesthesia. Nowadays, they are also genetically modified to produce wool in droves. Since they have wool coming out their ears, they don’t shed naturally anymore. So someone with a forceful hand “trims” the sheep, often cutting and injuring the poor thing during shearing. Their wool is cut so close to the skin that they have no protective layer to shield them from frigid weather or the blaring sun. So they get painful sunburns.
If you want to talk some real pain, let’s chat about mulesing. In Australia—where more than fifty percent of the world’s Merino wool is manufactured—lambs are painfully mutilated to remove excessive skin folds near their ass. Since these wrinkles are filled with shit, flies start to infest their backside. So farmers cut large strips of flesh out of their bums, sometimes as early as four weeks into the little lamb’s pathetic life. Thanks to pressure from PETA, ranchers have agreed to start phasing this fun little hobby out, but wouldn’t you know it, not everybody is living up to the agreement. For the ones that are, the method they’re replacing it with isn’t much better. They put clamps onto the lamb’s rump to cut off any blood circulation. The flesh eventually dies and falls off.53
To save the sheep from the pain of mulesing, ranchers may consider tail docking—a much less painful procedure. [Cough] Bullshit. They take a knife and slice off the skin on both sides of the tail stump. No anesthesia for any of these barnyard surgeries. Just lots of pain.54
When sheep age and stop producing as much wool, they are shipped off to slaughterhouses. Otherwise, they get labeled “downers.” That’s just a fancy way of saying they leave them to suffer and die from pure neglect. What a way to go.
Angora. Bunnies are cute, but not on coats. Angora rabbits are stuffed in wire cages for their entire lives. Except for the males, who are traditionally killed at birth because they don’t produce as much fur. They are alone the entire time with no sort of interaction in these unbearable cages. That can’t feel too good. Since they can’t fit in their cages as they get bigger, their bones deform. That really can’t feel too good. When it’s time for a shaving, they are roughly trimmed, which often freaks them out and traumatizes them for their short, miserable lives.
Cashmere and Mohair Goats. Animal shearers cut off a goat’s balls and horns without any anesthesia. What farmers are really after is that wool. When goats get shorn for the first time, their bodies usually haven’t even had the time to produce enough hair to shed. Nobody gives a shit. They’re left to suffer through the chill temperatures and put up with parasites without their protective fleece. Meanwhile, the filthy and overcrowded environment they live in makes them prone to getting sick. 55 When they do, they’re left to die without food, water, or care of any kind. Sounds like a great bedtime story.
For more on the toxic chemicals in your home and animal-friendly materials, visit healthybitchdaily.com.
(Dis) comfort Zone:
FURNITURE WITH A HIDDEN AGENDA
Your bed. The coffee table. Even that hideous couch your husband bought unsupervised. All of this stuff has some serious shit to get off its chest. And whether you like it or not, you and every living thing under that roof are suffering its wrath.
You think you didn’t ask for any of this? Oh, but you did. You asked for trouble as soon as you slapped down your credit card and told them Friday morning after your bikini wax was a perfect time for delivery.
Why wouldn’t you assume that every new piece of furniture and accessory you bring into your home is totally safe? I mean, it’s new. It’s not like it’s chipped or about to burst into flames. Yeah, about that . . .
FLAME RETARDANTS IN YOUR LOVE SEAT
Your couch is actually soaked in chemicals that are there to keep it from catching fire.56 Why would anyone be so concerned about your love seat starting a wildfire? Well, because most padded furniture is made with polyurethane foam—a soft plastic that is superflammable. Actually, it’s so flammable that firefighters compare it to gasoline.57 Put it too close to a heater or maybe a candle in the heat of the moment, and up in flames it goes. To calm your couch down, manufacturers spray it with fire-retardants. But don’t get blinded by the light. They may stop your couch from getting all hot and bothered, but they’ve got their own baggage.
The most widely-used industry flame retardants are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Try saying that in one breath.58
- On Sale
- Sep 27, 2011
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Running Press