Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

Chemical trespass: Big burden, little bodies

Ed Brown’s new movie Unacceptable Levels tells the story of chemicals in our bodies: how they get there, what it means to our health, how in the world it can be legal, and what we can do about it.

All this from the perspective of a young dad contemplating the food his family eats, the water they drink and that cute little rubber duck his kids chew on. Brown’s personal journey, as he pulls back the veil on our chemically-saturated world, is well worth watching. I’ll be at the film’s July 11 screening in San Francisco along with other PAN staff — if you’re in the Bay Area, please join us! Showings are also happening soon in Chicago and Austin.

Pollution is personal

Brown captures the realities of our chemical body burden — which can, in truth, be overwhelming — in a powerfully personal way.

He combines self-deprecating humor (which reminds me very much of Judith Helfand in her amazing film Blue Vinyl) with solid, science-based fact sharing. The film includes interviews with more than 40 experts, including former PAN staff Kathryn Gilje and Karl Tupper and many longtime colleagues in the environmental health movement.

The 1950s footage of excited, white-coated researchers with fizzing beakers captures the DDT is good for me!” historical moment well. It makes clear that while the chemical industry may not have intentionally set out to put us in this fix, they’ve landed us here in the process of leveraging the magic of chemistry to crank out product after product after product — in the service of profit.

Too high a price

The bottom line? From the pesticides on our fruits and veggies to the industrial chemicals in our couches, mattresses, makeup and toys, we’re living our daily lives in a chemical soup — and our children are paying the price.

As our recent report A Generation in Jeopardy points out, this may be the first batch of kids ever who are less healthy than their parents. And as one of the experts in the film notes, genes don’t change fast enough to blame this dramatic increase in diseases and disorders on genetics.

The mix of chemicals we’re exposed to every day is much, much more harmful to our health than ever imagined, and the simple truth is that our laws and regulations have failed to protect us from these harms.

In the end, Brown’s film presents real and hopeful solutions. You’re likely to walk away really, really ready to do something. Many smart people and savvy organizations are already working hard to move us toward a safer future — and there are lots of ways each of us can help.

It will take work…

From state legislation to protect kids from toxic products, to a fresh debate about our national chemical policy — including green chemistry innovations and stroller brigades on Capitol Hill — a shift in the debate on industrial chemicals is well underway.

And from creative farmers saying “no thanks” to harmful chemicals in their fields, to parents demanding safe and healthy food, schools and parks for their children, to farmworkers standing up for a healthier workplace — efforts to roll back reliance on harmful pesticides are also gaining steam.

This definitely won’t be easy. While consumers certainly hold tremendous pocketbook power to make change, this isn’t a problem we can shop our way out of.

And as we here at PAN well know from our work to shine light on the undue influence of the Big 6 pesticide corporations, those who profit — a lot — from the status quo won’t take kindly to calls for real change.

.. and will be worth it

But films like Unacceptable Levels help make it clear that this problem is personal, serious and urgent. And that shifting away from reliance on harmful chemicals — whether to produce strawberries or rubber ducks — is a goal worth working toward.

This, from the filmmaker’s action-oriented website:

Unacceptable Levels opens the door to conversations about the chemical burden our bodies carry so that we can make informed decisions now and in the future.  The film poses challenges to our companies, our government, and our society to do something about a nearly-unseen threat with the inspired knowledge that small changes can generate a massive impact.

“Massive impact” is exactly what we’re going to need. I invite you to take a look at the trailer below, and if one of the upcoming screenings is happening in a city near you, please do show up! And bring a friend.

Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

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