Cancer in the Kitchen...

Julie Silas | December 07, 2009 | Policies

Until I read "Cancer from the Kitchen," Nicholas Kristof's opinion piece in this Sunday's New York Times, I actually thought I would take an entire weekend for my family, putting work aside for two days. But, Kristof's article was a reminder that there is little that separates my home from my work these days.

Kristof posed the "What if..." question that we at Healthy Building Network and Pharos confront daily. He asked, "What if breast cancer in the United States has less to do with insurance or mammograms and more to do with contaminants in our water or air - or in certain plastic containers in our kitchens?" At home, I think "What if my daughter's respiratory problems have less to do with smog and more to do with the plasticizers coming off the floors (as well as the shower curtains, wall coverings, upholstery, and fabric) in her life?"

Like Kristof's advisors recommended, I have eliminated plastic from the microwave and the dishwasher. I don't let my kids bring home those cheap plastic party favors (and much to their chagrin, I make them throw them in the trash if they make it through our front door). I was the first in my parent group to switch to unlined stainless steel water bottles. But, my one-woman show certainly can't tip the scales to make the world free of chemicals that can harm my daughter and her friends.

It is my work that brings me comfort. It reminds me how ubiquitous the problem is and how those who have the greatest market power can change the "What if" question. I can get rid of all the plastic containers in our home, but on a larger scale, the best I can do for my family is work to provide consumers with better information about what is in the products that they buy. So, I spend more than my allotted 40 hours per week on Pharos, communicating to those who source millions of square feet of product for hotels, hospitals, libraries, schools, and office buildings, information about the chemicals in the billions of dollars of products they purchase. I am counting on them to make the "What if..." question irrelevant.