6:00 a.m. Rise and shine.
Nowhere in the world could besafer than your own cozy bed— unless you count the carcinogenic benzene and formaldehyde commonly used in the manufacture of mattresses.
6:10 a.m. Shower.
Those hot jets wash away all the nasties—and replace them with new ones as lead that leaches out of the solder joints that connect copper pipes. Also streaming out of the showerhead: trihalomethanes, carcinogenic chemical compounds that form as a reaction to chlorine, widely used to disinfect regional water systems.
6:15 a.m. Wash hair.
No one wants lackluster locks. So rub-a-dub slippery suds into your scalp, risking exposure to the preservative methylisothiazoline, a common shampoo ingredient that the National Institutes of Health suggests is a neurotoxin, causing brain and nervous system damage and disrupting fetal development.
6:30 a.m. Apply cosmetics.
Lighten, brighten, and smile oh-so-pretty with the help of carcinogenic formaldehyde (used in cosmetics as a fixative, preservative, and disinfectant), mineral oil (a petroleum product linked with acne and premature aging), and a wide variety of other toxins absorbed through the mouth and skin. Some lipsticks include lead, linked to brain and other damage. Some mascaras and eyeliners include mercury, valued in cosmetics for its antimicrobial
power but which can cause neural damage. (Minnesota recently became the first state to ban the sale of cosmetics
6:50 a.m. Button up.
Your outfit is 100 percent cotton, or organically grown hemp. It was manufactured miles from the nearest synthetic fiber and contains not a single animal molecule. But if it’s been dry-cleaned recently, you risk exposure to perchloroethyline, also known as tetrachloroethene, a solvent that can cause central nervous system disorders.
7:10 a.m. Breakfast.
Load up the toaster and pour a glass of cold milk. That’ll bolster your bones—and possibly, ever so slightly, poison you. Milk can contain dioxins, a group of carcinogenic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine
and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A key ingredient in the herbicide Agent Orange, dioxins are generally
produced by burning. Massive unregulated industrial activity in China releases these pollutants, which cross the
Pacific Ocean in clouds and fall as rain onto American fields. Cows that have grazed in such fields retain dioxins
in their fatty tissues and milk. The bread might contain pesticides if it isn’t organic—or pack a double pesticide
punch if it’s raisin bread.
7:50 a.m. Drop kids off at school.
He’s done all his homework, including a report on acid rain. She’s proud of her new manatee-shaped lunchbox,
packed with tempeh sticks and kombucha. Off they stride, giggling with friends, onto a campus that has probably been doused with industrial pesticides. Public school buildings and grounds are regularly and systematically sprayed with pesticides containing such ingredients as glyphosate and oryzalin, which have been linked to
respiratory diseases and cancer. Children are more vulnerable to toxins because of their smaller, still developing
8:00 a.m. Commute to work.
You’ve cranked up an anti-anxiety sounds-of-the-sea CD. You’re driving a hybrid whose bumper sticker declares My
Other Car Is a Bicycle. But you’re breathing. On nearly any roadway—even with the windows rolled up—this means
exposure to diesel fumes and soot via exhaust from trucks and other vehicles. Inhalation of diesel fumes—which contain carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur compounds, formaldehyde and benzene—can cause respiratory ailments, and has been linked with lung cancer. Roadways also entail exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carcinogenic chemicals present in vehicle exhaust. (They’re also in
tobacco and woodfire smoke.)
9 a.m. Arrive at work.
It’s a nonprofit. It’s a spa. It’s a shelter. It’s a progressive school. And it’s got computers, chairs, maybe even sofas, that expose their users to polybrominated diphenylethers, a class of flame retardant that is a major component in the manufacture of plastic computer casings and polyurethane-foam furniture padding.
11:00 a.m. Field trip.Your daughter’s class visits a nearby farm, where palling around with pigs and goats destined for slaughter makes many children vow to become vegetarians. As they make these vows, they inhale toxic ammonia that is a component in fertilizers and decaying animal manure. Extensive exposure to this corrosive gas can cause lung damage.12:10 p.m. Lunch.
No animals were harmed in the making of this salad. But if the greens aren’t organic, they might have been treated with pesticides.
1 p.m. Gym class.
Playing soccer at school, your son gulps lots of fresh air. He runs. He jumps. He rolls. But if it’s on artificial turf, he faces exposure to lead, which has been linked with brain and neurological disorders. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has been investigating turf toxicity ever since high levels of lead were reported in synthetic playing fields last year. The turf’s rubber padding has been found to exude toxic volatile organic compounds including styrene-butadiene, which the EPA classifies as a probable human carcinogen. If he’s playing on real grass, he risks exposure to pesticides.
3 p.m. School’s out.
Your kids spend the rest of the afternoon at friends’ homes. Your daughter and her pal give each other manicures—and thanks to the nail polish, a hefty helping of phthalates, a group of chemicals employed to increase the flexibility of plastics in a wide variety of products from mini-blinds to food packaging to sex toys. Phthalates are now undergoing research by government agencies investigating possible links to cancer as well as hormonal and reproductive disruptions. Another common nail polish component is toluene, a solvent that has been linked to liver and kidney damage, cancer, and nervous system disorders. Your son and his buddy build things with plastic blocks in a damp basement, possibly exposed to allergenic mold on the walls and asbestos in old insulation. The blocks, like many such toys, contain chromium, arsenic, mercury, and lead.
5:10 p.m. Fill ‘er up.
After work, you visit the service station. Smell that gas? You’ve just inhaled benzene, a carcinogenic volatile organic compound that is present in gasoline fumes. One of the twenty most commonly used chemicals in the United States, benzene has been linked to high rates of leukemia among gas station
workers and auto refinishers.
5:20 p.m. Commute.
While listening intently to a public radio program about global warming, you double your daily exposure to diesel exhaust.
6:00 p.m. Keep fit.
Nothing beats twenty laps in the pool. So much bare flesh, so many germs inadvertently slurped. The last two decades have seen a steady rise in what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call “recreational water illnesses,” or RWIs, which affect the skin, ears, and eyes as well as the respiratory and gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. The most commonly reported RWI symptom of all, diarrhea, can be caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, Norovirus, and E. coli, which enter the water through the fecal matter of fellow swimmers. RWIs can also be contracted in hot tubs and spas.
6:45 p.m. Home again.
Sleek granite countertops make your kitchen feel closer to nature than lino or tiles. But fierce debates are raging among scientists, consumers, and countertop manufacturers about potentially high levels of radon in granite surfaces. Many consumers are now having their kitchens tested for levels of this radioactive gas.
7:15 p.m. Dinner.
Swordfish steaks: Protein-packed and easy to make, they require just a dash of salt and pepper. No need to add mercury, because it’s already in the meat. Along with shark, halibut, and king mackerel, swordfish contain unhealthy levels of this metal. Today’s polluted oceans make mercury a hazard in many sea creatures; larger and longer-lived species retain the most dangerous quantities. Over time, mercury poisoning can cause brain and kidney damage as well as central-nervous-system disorders. Repeated exposure can also imperil unborn babies and induce miscarriage.
7:45 p.m. Dessert.
Rushing to watch your favorite nature show? Quick, open a can of fruit—and continue your heavy-metals meal. If it’s imported, the can might have been manufactured with lead solder from which lead has leached into the contents. Prohibited in US can manufacture, lead solder is a common feature of imported canned goods.
8:10 p.m. Kickin’ back.
Delight in the antics of those madcap meerkats while relaxing on the couch, whose polyurethane foam padding and cushions have been treated with flame retardants containing benzene and formaldehyde.
8:15 p.m. Rug fun.
Your kids rollick on the carpet, facing possible exposure to flame retardants.
8:25 p.m. Here comes Fuzzy.
Your pets join the fun and get a lot of cuddles for being so cute. And you get possible exposure to pesticides if they wear flea collars and/or if they’ve been doused with flea powder.
10:30 p.m. You need your beauty sleep.
Soften. Silken. Smooth and soothe. And increase your daily dosage of formaldehyde, mineral oil, talc, and other toxic ingredients found in beauty products.
11 p.m. To bed, to bed.