When environmental advocate Laura Turner Seydel found out that her family’s blood was full of toxic chemicals, she decided to take action. Turner Seydel tells Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about her participation in the first intergenerational toxic body burden test and the changes she made to lessen her family’s exposure to chemicals.
GELLERMAN: We live in a sea of synthetic chemicals - by one count, 80 thousand are used in the United States, and only a few hundred have been tested for safety. And even before we’re born, we’re exposed to these potentially toxic substances. That concerns Laura Turner Seydel. She’s worried that what we don’t know about synthetic chemicals could hurt us.
Laura Turner Seydel is chair of the Captain Planet Foundation, which brings environmental programs to schools. Her dad is media mogul Ted Turner. She recently spoke with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: A number of years ago you decided to have your family’s body burden tested. Now, that’s the total amount of toxic chemicals that are present in our bodies. What led you to do this?
SEYDEL: Well, you know there were really a number of factors, but my family has been part of the environmental movement for years and years and we know that toxins are a big problem in our land, air and water. And when we had the offer to participate in this toxic body burden program, we jumped at this opportunity. And, really, my father, my son and I all agreed to participate and the results have been fascinating.
CURWOOD: And I gather this was something that was just getting started.
SEYDEL: Yes. Actually, we became part of the first inter-generational study. They took 15 vials of blood from each one of us and tested us for about 80 chemicals that are very prevalent in our society today and in many people’s blood. They are known carcinogens, known hormone disruptors and other toxic type chemicals. And it’s really frightening to know that this is going on in our communities and we were happy to be part of it.
CURWOOD: Well, let’s start at the head of the generations - what were the results for your dad’s testing?
SEYDEL: Well, Dad had high levels of mercury and lead. Probably from the fish he ate. He was about 98th percentile for mercury. And then lead, you know he has an older home that probably has lead in the solder and the pipes, and then also there was lead in paints. So even if you paint over the walls, you still get a lot of lead dust from opening and shutting doors and windows. So that’s probably where his came from. But, you know, it’s hard to say for sure.
CURWOOD: Okay, and then what about your body Laura? What did they find?
SEYDEL: Well, it wasn’t surprising when they told me that I had high levels of artificial musk. This is a chemical that is widely used in personal care products: make-up, cleaners, it’s artificial fragrance. And it can be hormone disrupting and a carcinogenic-type chemical. And so, you know, right away it told me I really had to clean out our products in our home that had artificial fragrance.
CURWOOD: And what did they find in your son?
SEYDEL: Well John R had high levels of flame retardant - and you can absorb that through your skin if it’s on your clothes. And for children they make pajamas with flame retardant on it. I always bought those thinking that it was the right thing to do. Also, it’s highly prevalent in dust in homes because all of our electronics and a lot of our furniture has flame retardants in it.
So you can get it into your blood by inhalation. And then he had high levels of Teflon type chemicals, which is kind of a barrier for grease. It’s prevalent in candy wrappers and fast food wrappers, even microwavable popcorn - they use that to line the bags so that the grease does not soak through. So it was alarming to me to know that he had such high levels of chemicals that could really affect his health.
CURWOOD: What changes did you make in your life and in your family’s lives to lessen exposure to these chemicals?
SEYDEL: Well, I really started paying a lot more attention to what I was putting in the shopping cart. A great resource for me, one of them, was going to Skin Deep Database at EWG.org, that lists thousands of personal care products, cosmetics and foods that can have high levels of egregious chemicals so that I as a consumer can make an educated choice about what goes in that shopping cart and what comes home to be consumed by my family.
CURWOOD: I wonder how overwhelmed you felt in this. I mean, there’s so much information out there, so many cautionary advisories in the media, you know, don’t use products with bisphenol-A, don’t use personal care products with parabens. How did you cope with this, well, sometimes people call it an overload of information?
SEYDEL: You know, I love my community and I’ve really enjoyed finding people who are working towards the same goal, which is making sure that until we have legislation protecting us and regulating this kind of business, that we educate ourselves and get the word out as much as possible.
But you know, as much as we educate ourselves and, you know, even if we go to a website and look up what’s the best to use, you still can’t shop your way around it. So that’s why we have to call on our Congress to do the best thing for our communities and for the health of our children and that’s pass these two really special bills - important bills - the Safe Cosmetics Act and the Safe Chemicals Act.
CURWOOD: Tell me - what’s in that proposed legislation and why would it help?
SEYDEL: Well, the Safe Cosmetics Act would be an update for a bill that was passed in the 1940s that’s a page long, that doesn’t require manufacturers of personal care products or cosmetics to list all the ingredients.
For instance, 86 percent of the red lipstick has lead in it - and by law they’re not required to list it. Of course, I don’t think I know any woman who would buy, knowingly, a tube of lipstick that had lead in it. But this bill would require that all ingredients are listed so that the consumer can make an educated choice.
Now, the Safe Chemicals Act would really look at some of the…about 400 of the most egregious chemicals. Europe has banned these outright: known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and this law would put the responsibility back on the manufacturer to prove that these chemicals are really safe for human consumption, for human use, and especially for our children who don’t have the immune systems to protect themselves from an egregious onslaught of toxins.
CURWOOD: We’re just about out of time, Laura, but have you thought about going back and having your family tested again? What, it’s seven years ago you did this first.
SEYDEL: I have thought about that on a regular basis, as a matter of fact, and I can’t tell you how many people out there want to do the same thing. They want to know what’s in their bloodstream. And it’s hard to do: it’s expensive - these tests are expensive - so that’s why it’s even more important that we make sure that we limit exposure to egregious chemicals and just outright ban… ban them. You know, just like Europe has done. They’ve found alternatives; they might be a little bit more expensive, but what’s our health worth, the health of our families, the health of our communities?
CURWOOD: Laura Turner Seydel is an eco-living expert based in Atlanta. She’s the chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, which brings hands-on environmental programs into schools. Thanks so much for joining me, Laura!
SEYDEL: Thank you, Steve, have a great one.
CURWOOD: To find some links to resources on chemicals and personal health, go to our website - LOE dot org. I’m Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC: Stanton Moore “Snowball” from Take It To The Street]
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