Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chemicals Between Us

Chemicals have been on my mind this week, primarily because one of my best friends accidently (?) served cookies that had been laced with an air freshener oil refill. (I know it was an accident - I'm just teasing). After I politely tried to choke down the cookie, then threw away the rest, my friend figured out what the gross, perfumey taste was. Chemicals.

So, I jumped on the internet to find out how long I had to live.

When you want to find out about the chemical contents of general household items, you want to seek out the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for that product. I feel like this is such important information it should be taught on Sesame Street, but I never knew about MSDSes until I became a teacher and we had to find the MSDSes for all of the chemical products (including highlighter pens and hand soap) in our classrooms.

Chemical companies are required to have an MSDS for all of their products, but finding the MSDS is not always easy -- companies that make chemicals don't seem to like to advertise even the remote possibility that there might be a safety concern. You can't usually go to a product website and find a link.

Instead, Google "MSDS + the name of the product." You will sometimes find a pdf of an old typed sheet, which is quaint. The MSDS will display possible health risks for eyes, inhalation, and ingestion; plus the first aid for those various exposures (this is good for parents to know, as often it is recommended that vomiting not be induced). You can also find out about any known chronic health risks, or which organs will go first with prolonged exposure.

The MSDS tell you the LD50, which is the toxicity level. The LD50 is the level of the chemical that will kill 50% of test animals (usually rats). Gross, right?

Anyway, I discovered that it took over 3000 milligrams of the air freshener to kill 50% of the rats, so I felt safe. And, you know, I'm still alive a few days later. It did make me stop and think, however, about all of the chemicals in our lives. I'm glad that we can find information; I'm frustrated that corporations try to hide it from us.

Chemicals (in particular, pesticides) have also been on the mind of fellow eco-bloggers over at 2000 Dollar Wedding so check it out. It's a great site for DIY and green types, not just those planning weddings.

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