Chemical Hazards from Multiple Sources

The news of a statewide ban on phthalates follows several other alarms sounded recently about the presence of chemical dangers to health to which the public and wildlife are commonly exposed, in everyday consumer products and even new forms of advertising.

Wetlands advocates and other environmental groups have issued warnings and public safety requests to Bay Area residents to forgo phthalate- and bisphenol-containing plastics, cosmetics, and cleansers because the chemicals in these products find their way into runoff that kills or harms wildlife in the Bay. As for human health, phthalates – linked to cancer, birth defects, and neurological damage – were found in 75% of urine samples tested in a 2003 study on safety (

Meanwhile, perfluorinated compounds – used in Scotchgard, Gortex, and nonstick surfaces like Teflon, are showing up in marine life literally throughout the world – the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Atlantic, the Ganges in India, the Midway Atoll in the Pacific, Korea, Canada and the US, and even as far away as Antarctica . These chemicals have caused hormone disruption, immune compromise, and devastating neurological effects. They have been linked to cancer in whales and dolphins, a disease previously unheard of in cetaceans (


Fake Cookie Smells

Last year, San Francisco bus shelter ads exuding aromatic smells of chocolate chip cookies were pulled after multiple complaints and controversy. Conceived by the “Got Milk” people – the California Milk Processor Board, the ads prompted complaints by health activists in defense of people with asthma and chemical sensitivity. Resisting behavioral manipulation, diet-conscious people complained of being driven by temptation while waiting for the bus. Others worried that cookie smells would constitute cruel and unusual punishment for the homeless who routinely sought shelter there from the elements but might not have the ready purchasing power to satisfy cravings (SF Chron, 11/30/06 and 12/6/06). Clearly, if the smells were genuine baking aromas, they would not trigger asthma attacks or neurological symptoms; rather it is synthetic chemicals that are health hazards.

Synthetic Pheromonal Pesticide

Hundreds of residents in Fresno were hospitalized earlier this month with stomach pains and shortness of breath when a synthetic pheromone-containing chemical was sprayed on crops to eradicate the brown apple moth. Whether it was the pheromone itself that caused illness, or other chemicals added to the pesticide, is still under investigation. Judge Robert O’Farrell issued a temporary injunction to stop the spraying, but he has since ruled that the spraying can resume, even though the source of the problem has not been identified; thus it would seem that locals will again be at risk (SF Chron 10/19/07).