Toxic Torts

Living without Toxic Chemicals: Can It Be Done?

Chemicals are a part of life. Your high school chemistry teacher will tell you that. But as with most things, there's a dark side to the prevalence of chemicals. Some are toxic and pose health risks. Is there such a thing as "everything in moderation" here? Or can we completely free ourselves from toxic chemicals?

What's Wrong with Plastics?

One of the best-known lines in the famous movie The Graduate came when young Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman) was given this advice on the key to his future: "Plastics, my boy, plastics."

Several decades later, many have undoubtedly found their fortune in plastics. They can be found in countless products in homes, offices and stores around the world. Consumers who have tried to go plastic-free have found it a struggle to find substitutes.

What's the fuss about? Recent books and reports have exposed the hidden dangers of plastics. It's now known you could be harmed if you microwave your lunch in a plastic container. You should use glass or ceramic instead.

The biggest culprits are the phthalates. They're found in children's soft rubber toys, shampoos, soaps, flame-retardant pajamas and many other products.

BPAs are synthetic chemicals found in microwavable plastics, and in some baby bottles. These have become worrisome to parents, and many manufacturers of baby products now tout their products as "BPA free."

A recent book, "Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Dangers of Everyday Things" by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, sheds light on the many unseen dangers of plastics. The authors did an "adult science fair project" in which they exposed themselves to everyday plastics, including by eating and drinking only from plastic containers and from plastic baby bottles. Their bodies' BPA levels skyrocketed eight times higher than their previous levels.

Green Cleaning

Many stores and catalogues now offer toxin-free cleaning products, labeled as environmentally friendly, organic or natural-based. These can be better alternatives, especially for those who clean homes or offices for a living, less expensive. But natural cleaning methods can be used as well.

Baking soda and vinegar are two household favorites that are inexpensive and safe. Rather than using glass cleaning products for windows, mirrors and glass, which pose risks if it comes in contact with your eyes or skin, try warm water and vinegar. White vinegar works well to clean just about any household surface, including floors and sinks. Baking soda works as a good cleanser and deodorizer when mixed with warm water.

Monitor Consumer Agencies and Organizations for Updates

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are two federal agencies with helpful web sites and educational materials. You can get frequent updates of hazards found in toys, household products and consumer items which have been recalled or for which replacements or repairs are recommended.

Many state and local governments also have their own consumer agencies which regulate and oversee consumer concerns within their boundaries. These can be especially helpful if you have concerns about products produced, sold, or marketed within your own area.

Consumer organizations also exist as "watchdog" groups to alert consumers to hazards, scams and unfair practices. They can be a powerful voice for consumers if government agencies haven't taken a firm stance on risks, hazards or dangers.

Another place to check for problems or concerns is the web site of the product manufacturer. Call or write their consumer complaint department if you've encountered problems or have concerns with the safety of the materials used in making the products.

Also keep up-to-date on product recalls through the Consumer Product Safety Commission where you can subscribe to particular news feeds. keeps you current on many recalls on many children's products through Twitter. You can follow us @lawyerscom.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I prove I got sick from using too much plastic?
  • Can I sue the plastic manufacturer if I get sick from using their products?
  • If there's a class action suit against a manufacturer, how can I add my claim?
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