Dede’s Green Scene: Stink! by Dede Tabak, March 16 2016, 4 Comments

Everyone is familiar with the saying, “if you see something, say something.” But how about, “if you smell something, say something?” In the new documentary Stink!, that’s exactly what director/producer Jon J. Whelan does. Whelan purchases pajamas for his young daughters for Christmas from the popular store Justice. Excitement turns to concern on Christmas morning when the Justice pajamas reek like synthetic chemicals—they stunk! A concerned Whelan calls the company to investigate why the pajamas made for tween girls smell like chemicals. One phone call turns into a three year journey and the documentary Stink! was born.

The film follows Whelan while he investigates exactly what the Justice clothing contains. But to his shock and dismay (and the audience's, as well), he is met repeatedly with Justice employees who either don’t know the chemicals used or won’t reveal them due to “proprietary reasons”. One spokesperson guarantees that the chemicals on the clothing are safe, but again can’t disclose what’s in them. Then how safe could they be? Determined to get to the bottom of this, Whelan decides to send the pajamas to a laboratory for chemical analysis. And the results are troubling. Not only do the pajamas contain two phthalates, an endocrine disruptive chemical that causes cancer, but tri (2-chloroethyl) phosphate, a flame retardant. A form of this type of flame retardant has been banned in children’s clothing for 30 years.

Justice isn’t the only company that refuses to disclose all of the chemicals it uses. Due to a loophole, companies can simply put “fragrance” on the list of ingredients, a term that can actually hide up to 100 synthetic toxic chemicals. All ingredients under “fragrance” are government protected as a trade secret and therefore consumers don’t really know what’s in all of these products. In the case of the Brandon Silk family, a company doesn’t have to disclose its trade secret, even if it’s making consumers sick. Brandon Silk is a boy who's been hospitalized numerous times and almost died due to an allergic reaction he has to a chemical found in Axe Body Spray. The family has tried repeatedly to get the list of chemicals found in the product in order to narrow down which one Brandon is allergic to, but the company has refused to reveal them each time.

The issue isn’t one product, but instead a combination of many chemicals found in the products we use in everyday life. It’s hard to ignore that there is an increase in autism, cancer, obesity and reproductive issues and an increase in our exposure to toxic chemicals. U.S consumers assume that their fragrances, cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products are regulated by the government, but the truth is, they aren’t. The United States is “a chemical dumping ground” for toxic and potentially harmful products. As the film points out, the European Union and China have stricter regulations on chemicals found in everyday products. The European Union has banned over 1200 toxic chemicals from products, and the United States has banned only 10. So the United States gets stuck with the chemical-filled products that are cheaper to produce.

“We have a health epidemic, whether it’s allergies, or asthma or cancer and people are starting to wonder why? What is the connection between the products we use, the chemicals in our environment and our own health?” said Jeffrey Hollander, co-founder of Seventh Generation.

There is also the issue with the flawed Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which passed in 1976 under President Gerald Ford. The TSCA is aimed at regulating chemicals used in everyday products. However, instead of requiring chemical manufacturers to test their products and ensure their safety before they go on shelves, the government and consumers have to prove that the chemicals and products cause actual harm for any action to be taken. The law also allows the chemical manufacturers to keep their chemical “trade secrets” making it virtually impossible to hold the company accountable. The TSCA also approved more than 60,000 chemicals that existed prior to 1976. Only 200 have actually been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and only five have actually been restricted.

Lawmakers are trying to modernize the law so that these flaws are corrected, but lobbyists for the chemical manufacturers are proving a constant hurdle. It's no secret that more needs to be done. One frontrunner in the battle for safer cosmetics and personal care products is the Breast Cancer Fund and its Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. With the help of a few Senators, the group is trying to pass stronger legislation that will better regulate what goes into the products we pick off the shelves every day.

The truth is that these companies argue that their products are safe, but the issue is that we aren’t using only one product with a few chemicals. We are using hundreds of these products and we are being exposed to many toxic chemicals that are harming not only our health, but the health of our unborn children. Studies show that newborn babies are born with hundreds of different chemicals already in their bloodstreams. The reality is, we as consumers have to be smarter and thoroughly investigate each of the products we use in our daily lives. We have to be responsible and ensure that our purchases don’t stink! A good place to start your search for safer choices is EcoPlum, a member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' Business Network.

Stink! is now available on iTunes and Amazon.