I've been taking safety courses to help Derek reach a specific certification for his company. As I was sitting in class, sort of bracing myself for a possibly boring lecture, I was quickly filled with anxiety as the hours ticked by. It was honestly not what I was expecting.
The instructor began listing off some common household items, and what their safety data sheets (SDS) outlined were precautions about the product. This course was designed to teach me essentially how to be safe in the workplace, especially when we are responsible for other employees. At first I found some of the findings hard to believe, but then they kept accumulating, taking my feelings of wellbeing down with them.
When an item is purchased and brought back to the home, no one really cares what you do with it. It's in your own personal care and therefore your responsibility. However, when you're an employer and are responsible for your employees, the safety of the products you use change. You become responsible for the employee's health. If something happens to their health - it's on you.
Suddenly, many of the products that I may use to clean my home bathroom are no longer safe for the workplace bathroom. Hmm. Really. That doesn't seem to make much sense to me.
We were being trained to look at the safety data sheets of all products we bring into the workplace, and that can be as diverse as WD40 to toilet bowl cleaner. So for example, if the toilet bowl cleaner the employer uses has a warning of being corrosive to the skin and it somehow gets on an employee's skin and burns said skin off (maybe some was left on the toilet seat), the employer could be held liable. This might sound like an extreme example, but something that is designed to eat through shit stains can very well eat through the epidermis.
When my instructor started listing off the dangers of my at-home Swiffer wet jet - touting the inaccuracy of the commercial showing a barefooted woman cleaning her floors, I started to feel my stomach flip flop. This is a "consumer" product (meant for the home) so they don't technically need to share what the dangers are because it's not intended for the workplace. Only when something is in the workplace, or intended for the workplace are the dangers required to be shared and a safe work practice/procedure put in place.
Even though the dangers are, no skin should come into contact with the product for 24 hours...
And here I have Hawksley and Rogue crawling all over it minutes after I use it. And guess what? If something were to happen - it would be my fault. However, the product does say it should not come into contact with the skin.
But it's for the floor.
And how many of us walk on it barefoot?
Something maybe more obviously dangerous - WD40 - is something many people have sprayed on their bike chain to degrease and clean it. But this product has insane warnings on it (workplace product so they do disclose it) as it's flammable, has contents under pressure (explosive) and is a major irritant if it comes into contact with skin, eyes or inhalation. I know I never used gloves or wore a face mask when I have used it in the past. What's crazier, some people even apply this to their bodies because it is a penetrant and takes away arthritis pain. What's grosser, they've tested this product on animals and know it has caused defects on their liver and kidneys. How many of us have sprayed this in the garage on our kid's bike, our child standing next to us?
In my cupboard, I have a couple bags of this sweet and savoury microwave popcorn. I bought it because I like the flavour, and it was an attempt to have a sort of healthier treat option available when I needed it. And most importantly - one that was quick. So in my class, when we reviewed a newspaper article of a man who won a lawsuit against a microwave popcorn company, I found myself mentally travelling back to my pantry in my kitchen. Apparently, there was a man who absolutely loved snacking and smelling microwave popcorn, and every time he would make a bag, he would open it up and inhale the yummy scent.
You know that yellow coating of oil in the bag? Well, when that coating becomes vapourized, it's cancer-causing, giving this man something called "popcorn lung" AKA lung cancer. And while this man may have smelled his popcorn vapour a little obsessively, ultimately he won his lawsuit because employees who work at this popcorn factory are 30% likely to develop lung cancer.
So. Maybe I toss my popcorn. I was trying to do something healthy - convenient - for myself, and now it has me feeling scared.
I don't want to list off a bunch of products that I now deem unsafe. I've never been about bashing products or ideas, but rather, promote the things I actually like while ignoring the stuff I don't. But as a new mom, this has me feeling totally afraid, because I don't even know what I don't know. And I really don't think products/companies have malicious intentions. They are warning us, but we don't know to look. Or maybe, we don't care.
Some cellphone manufacturers even disclose that you should not put the phone close you to your head because it can alter cells in the brain. Another word for that is cancer. This is a phone! It's meant to be by our heads! This one hit exceptionally close to home for me because my dad passed away from cancer from a mole on his head. This mole was right by the ear he always used his cellphone with, and my family always wondered if his cellphone was the culprit to his cancer. My dad was in sales and on his phone constantly for work. He was also using some of the first cellphones out there - before we knew much about cellphones other than they were new and convenient and could be in our cars with us.
Fast track to my mom mode: Hawksley plays with our old cellphones all the time. They're in his toy basket. He sees us on them and he copies us. And knowing that children's bodies are more sensitive than adult bodies are, and the fact that we're now giving eight-year-olds cellphones - absolutely terrifies me.
Did you know, they are even classifying wifi as a potential hazard? Wifi is relatively new and we really don't know that much about it, but in theory it's casting an energy all throughout a space; an energy that is foreign to the human body and has potential to alter our chemistry. It's not verified yet, but has been marked as a potential hazard.
For me, this is all timely. I had an oncology referral looming over me all summer. It had me depressed and living in fear that I was going to be diagnosed with cancer again because of some strange symptoms I was feeling. Honestly, it was hard for me to enjoy a lot of things this summer, because getting cancer again was constantly on my mind. And I felt like I couldn't really share all the details until I knew what was up.
I finally got to oncology, thankfully having my fears squashed. I didn't have cancer again, but I did have treatment-induced hypothyroidism due to having radiation to my face, neck, chest, and abdomen. We can fix it by putting me on a daily medication for the rest of my life... and my symptoms will go away.
While initially my doctors thought my ovaries wouldn't work right (obviously, now we know they do - HELLO HAWKSLEY), they underestimated the fact that my other organs could alter. We knew my heart had been affected (it's lazy and aged from treatment), but what about all the other organs?
The oncologist informed me, that medicine has come a long way in ten years - obviously - and that they no longer treat people who have the cancer I had with the same sort of treatment I had. They have since learned that it was too aggressive and has caused some serious and avoidable longterm side effects. They also told me that I have a pretty good chance of developing breast cancer (radiation and chemotherapy combination risk to the targeted area) and that I was now due for regular, monitored, annual mammograms.
Hypothyroidism is something that a lot of people get. Mine just happens to be from having targeted radiation. All this means is, I was exposed to something foreign and my body chemistry changed. Now, that part of my body doesn't work right anymore. And it never will again.
But the scary thing is, we use products that alter our body chemistry everyday. We put things on our skin that are loaded with chemicals and our skin absorbs it into our body. We put food in our bodies that are loaded with chemicals and we are expecting to grow into strong healthy people.
And the part that is really scary is that when we get a cold, it's from an outside source so the body knows to attack it. But cancer grows from an internal source and the body doesn't recognize that it should attack it. We've created all these products to help make our lives easier because we are obsessed with speed and conveniency and quick results and it is absolutely killing us. And while it may seem extreme or like everything around us is a potential hazard, it's actually easy to take our power back and not feel overwhelmed.
I guess it has me feeling like, "OK, well what can I control?"
I can control what I put in and on my body. I can control what products I bring into my environment. I can control what products my family interacts with when they're under my care. It doesn't mean I need to be psycho controlling, but it does mean I can do my due diligence and become more aware of the risks/threats of a product, and then make my choice on how I want to act once I'm informed.
I really want to stress that even though I may be throwing out a lot of products, I'm not sure that's the answer. I think the answer is in research, and of course, replacing things with more mindful products as they run out. But I'm someone who has a vulnerable immune system and have lived through the tragedies of having my body weakened. So I'm scared. I don't want these potentially bad things in my home or around my son.
And I'm feeling grateful for Hawksley for making me care about these things, because I'm not sure if I'd feel as strongly - as afraid - as I do if the person in question was only me. But Hawksley doesn't get to make the choice of what products he interacts with yet. I make that choice.
It also makes me feel better and better about the choices we make as a family about living slower and more mindfully. About growing our food. About living in the country. About using homeopathic remedies. About sourcing local products. About making things from scratch.
This is the way we used to do things. And maybe it's not a bad idea to bring some of those things back.