Have we been accidentally bombarding our systems with chemical poisons our whole lives? CARRIE STEELE remembers back to the toxins of her youth.
In pursuing my vegan lifestyle, one thing that really irks me is when others refer to me as being ‘so good’. Their measure of my virtue will relate to something as basic as me not tucking into the sausage rolls or sticky buns on the staff room table. It makes me want to scream because I’m not trying to impress anyone. My change in lifestyle has nothing to do with that, it’s entirely focused on making up for lost time. I promised in my last blog that I’d talk about some of the other revelations in my life, which have come about as a result of changing my diet six years ago. Because when you really start to care about what you put in your mouth, you start to care about everything else too.
As I’ve become increasingly aware of all the things in the modern world that are bad for us, some serious self-analysis has taken place and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a wonder I’m alive at all, and almost miraculous that I’ve sailed past the half-century mark, mostly intact! This ‘critical inspection of self’, while helpful, has also come with the cruel realisation that although there is a lot that I can do on a day-to-day basis to enhance my time on this planet, there will always be elements that are beyond my control. Because I’ve always been such a great ‘guilt catcher’, I guess it was only natural that I would spend some time reminiscing about the past 50 years to think about things that I could have done better. I’ve been examining my past from an environmental and health-focused perspective, looking to find some nasties in there that I can blame for any pesky problems I’ve encountered so far, or those that might beset me in future.
Where better to start than my earliest memories, the first 10 years my life, spent on a Caribbean island. While giving thought to ways I may have unintentionally poisoned myself this far, I’ve often thought back to the Flit can, because it was such an elemental part of daily life during my childhood. It was brought out every night and its contents pumped profusely under beds, behind doors, anywhere that errant mosquitos might be lurking, or even thinking about lurking as darkness fell. As my Flit memories stem from the late 1960s to mid ‘70s, from the limited information I’ve found, I have reason to hope that it was the more modern version of this popular insecticide that we were flooding the house with, and not the original DDT-containing version (5 per cent) that was widely marketed in the late 1940s and early 50s, before the less than desirable impacts of that chemical were exposed. However, I can’t be certain of that, and the stockpile we were supplied from may well have been from the last remaining vats of the original cocktail.
As a best case scenario, if in fact we were dousing the house with the more modern version, then I believe from what I’ve read that the active ingredient would have been Permethrin, which my research tells me is a ‘common synthetic chemical, belonging to the family of pyrethroids’, which functions as a neurotoxin. Although touted to be ‘not known to rapidly harm most mammals or birds’, it is apparently dangerously toxic to fish and cats. Fish, because they are cold blooded, and cats, well… just because they are bloody unlucky I suppose. On further reading I learnt that in ‘very high doses neurotoxic effects do occur in mammals and birds, including human beings’. With a half-life of 51–71 days, I’d hazard a guess that our zealous spraying of the stuff on a nightly basis exposed us to ‘very high doses’.
While reading up on the chemical cocktail we were sloshing around in as children, my brother’s fish tank came to mind, and how we had a dismal track record of keeping the fish alive. Although we didn’t spray Flit into the tank, we certainly sprayed it around the room and I can still recall the way it coated the surface wherever it landed in an oily residue which I’m sure even the enthusiastic rounds of sweeping and mopping by our cheerful domestic did not remove. (Oh God, I hope my brother never reads this column, he might be traumatised about his fish!) And here’s where it gets really spooky. The one time we acquired a cat, our hearts were all broken in a fairly short space of time when we found her inexplicably dead not far from our house. According to the product warnings, in cats Permethrin may induce hyperexcitability, tremors, seizures, and even death. Flit has since been discontinued, but only to be replaced by other similar nasties.
As if I hadn’t spent enough time wallowing around in insecticide during my childhood, I continued to ‘re-inoculate’ myself in my adult years, by having my own home sprayed every summer (or whenever I saw anything that crawled!). At the beginning the baddies were flies, then it moved on to flies and spiders when we lived in a bush setting, and finally I guess they must have got the big guns out when it was to combat cockroaches – as I can’t bear to see one. Ironically, these unwelcome critters seem to like some of the best areas, and frankly, I would have been better to move house I’m sure. However, the spray worked a treat on these unwelcome visitors, though I’m not sure they did me much good in the five years we shared a house. Before the big spray I covered the beds, the tables, the couches, the benchtops, and the technician came in swathed from head to toe in protective gear, and all the while, I was just happy I wouldn’t see any live bugs.
Is it a coincidence that at age17 I had a (fortunately benign) tumour cut out of my thyroid, or that I had toxaemia in pregnancy, or that I developed chronic endometriosis – a condition that largely relates to the over-production of oestrogen? Over the last 70 or so years, xenoestrogens have been introduced into the environment by industrial, agricultural and chemical companies, and these synthetic oestrogens can have the unfortunate effect of tricking the body into overproduction. I’m pretty certain that all the pesticide exposure I’ve had has not been advantageous to my health. And let’s not forget the stuff that I’ve ingested from food, and continue to ingest with non-organic food, from widespread crop spraying with a variety of chemicals.
In the words of Roberta Flack, I’ve been ‘Killing me softly’. Now I’m trying to go clean. CARRIE STEELE