Authors take on harmful chemicals

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies
Bruce Lourie & Rick Smith
University of Queensland Press, 2013
289 pages

The intrepid, and possibly just a little mad, environmental advocates Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith, are up to their old chemical tricks again in Toxin Toxout.

Whereas in Slow Death by Rubber Duck they deliberately exposed themselves, in the spirit of scientific investigation, to toxic chemicals to measure the poisoning dangers that lurk in hundreds of common household products, now they are self-testing various detoxification treatments.

After over-loading with phthalates, parabens, bishphenol A (BPA), triclosan, flame retardants, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene and dozens of other known or potentially toxic synthetic chemicals, the authors (or their volunteer subjects) ran the detox gamut from the benign (eating organic food) to the dramatic (passing out from too-intense sauna sessions).

They drew the line, however, at such horrors as colonic irrigation.

So, what works? Apart from specialised medical interventions (chelation), it is the sensible means of drinking lots of water (preferably filtered) and eating well (preferably dark-coloured organic fruits and vegetables high in anti-oxidants and low in agricultural chemicals) that assist the body’s natural detoxification systems.

Saunas (for sweating out toxins) and exercise (for reducing the body’s storage capacity for fat-loving, synthetic chemicals) also help.

On the other hand, the fad diets, foot baths and other pseudo-scientific contenders from the multi-billion-dollar detox industry succeed only in extracting money from your purse, not poisons from your body.

The authors acknowledge, however, that such an individual survival guide is not enough. The industrial-scale chemical tide is too persistent.

They ambitiously call for “broader social, cultural and economic change”. Less boldly, however, they pin their hopes on the useful but only partial strategies of stricter government regulation, “green chemistry” and “green consumerism”.

Their plugging of “activist campaigners turned corporate players” in the chemical “greening” of business betrays a pessimistic “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy.

Eliminating the political and economic toxin — the profit motive — that poisons capitalist society, however, will require radical, socialist, transformation, not cosmetic refurbishment.

The authors’ profound commitment to “putting public health ahead of large corporate profits” sadly runs up against the very villains — corporate power and its political protectors —they indicted in Slow Death by Rubber Duck.

Like many film sequels, Lourie and Smith haven’t quite matched their initial achievement, though there is still much to learn from in their useful, and enjoyable, second outing.