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Once Thought To Be Helpful, Now Known To Be Harmful

I hardly ever set an alarm. I didn't need to. I had been up to almost 1am last night after the game. It was always a little harder to sleep on the nights I pitched. I lay in bed for a little while, but eventually rolled out and headed to the kitchen for some cereal.

We had to be at the field around 2pm, so I decided to walk to get some lunch around 12:30. Sometimes I ate at the little restaurant below our apartment, but often I walked to the 7-eleven. This time, I chose to walk. It was only a few blocks.

I opened the refrigerator door and grabbed a package of hot pockets. A few refrigerators down were the smoothies. I grabbed the Green Smoothie that said it had lots of vegetables in it. I thought it was a pretty healthy meal compared to what a lot of the guys on the team were eating.

Looking back on it, you're probably thinking what I think now: "Are you crazy? You are a professional athlete. You need the highest quality food, not junk food."

At the time though, I thought it was pretty good. As a minor leaguer, you don't usually

have a full kitchen with all of the pots and pans you need. You go on week-long road trips, so stocking the refrigerator leads to waste. It wasn't too bad, right? Basically a couple of pieces of pizza and smoothie.

These days, when I look at the ingredients, I see things that jump out so blatantly. Pizza is supposed to be bread (flour, yeast, egg, maybe a touch of butter), tomato sauce, topping, and cheese. What are all these extra ingredients in the pizza pockets?

As Americans, there have been tons of chemicals introduced which at first seemed good, but later we realized were harmful. They may look convenient like my pizza pockets. They solved a problem we had.

America has banned very few chemicals when we compare ourselves to the European Union.

"In cosmetics alone, the European Union has banned or restricted 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed only 11" - Oliver Milman, The Guardian

Let's take a look at a 5 compounds that when first introduced were considered wonderful, but were later proven to be harmful. 

We used these chemicals a lot. Do we now regret it?

BPA - Bisphenol A

"In September 2008 the National Toxicology Program of NIH determined that BPA may pose risks to human development, raising concerns for early puberty, prostate effects, breast cancer, and behavioral impacts from early-life exposures. Pregnant women, infants and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of BPA, although a recent study linked BPA exposures to risk of heart disease, diabetes, and liver toxicity."


From The Royal Society of Chemistry,

"Asbestos causes cancers of the lung, ovaries and larynx and is suspected to cause others, including gastrointestinal cancer. Once inhaled, asbestos fibres may stay in the body and cause asbestosis, a progressive inflammatory disease that scars the lungs. Medical experts say there is no evidence for a threshold of exposure for cancer: any amount of airborne asbestos fibre poses a risk."

PCBs - Polychlorinated Biphenyls

From the EPA,

"Products that may contain PCBs include: Transformers and capacitors, electrical equipment including voltage regulators, switches, re-closers, bushings, and electromagnets, oil used in motors and hydraulic systems, old electrical devices or appliances containing PCB capacitors, fluorescent light ballasts, cable insulation, thermal insulation material including fiberglass, felt, foam, and cork, adhesives and tapes, oil-based paint, caulking, plastics, carbonless copy paper, and floor finish.

Based on extensive studies conducted using environmentally relevant doses, EPA found clear evidence that PCBs have significant toxic effects in animals, including non-human primates. PCBs can affect an animal’s immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system."

PFAS - Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

PFAS can be found in food packaging, commercial household products (especially stain repellent fabrics, non-stick products i.e. Teflon, polishes, waxes, paints, etc.), at the workplace as a result of manufacturing processes such as chrome plating, and in local drinking water as a result of contaminated water from manufacturing.

From the EPA,

"Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to: low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)."

Michigan alone has over 58 sites with a PFAS contamination level over 70 ppt in groundwater. According to the Michigan Environmental Council, "the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) estimates there could be as many as 11,300 potential sites where PFAS may have been used."

Sunscreens - oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and avobenzone

[The] "FDA raised concerns about the substantial skin absorption of oxybenzone, its potential to affect hormone levels and the increased absorption susceptibility of children (FDA 2019). Lab studies shows that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones, ... which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application."

"The most worrisome is oxybenzone, ... In lab studies, it is a weak estrogen and has potent anti-androgenic effects (Krause 2012, Ghazipura 2017)."

Why Did We Not Know Sooner?

American agencies attempt to verify that chemicals are okay by using a self-certification system.  The company that wishes to introduce a new chemical will conduct its own study, with its own procedures, and then supply the results for review.  There is no governmental verification of their findings, the studies, or their conclusions.  There is no independent certification. 

"It’s possible to find formaldehyde, a known carcinogen banned in EU-sold cosmetics, in US hair-straightening treatments and nail polish. Parabens, linked to reproductive problems, are ruled out in the EU but not the US, where they lurk in skin and hair products. Coal tar dyes can be found in Americans’ eyeshadow, years after they were banned in the EU and Canada." writes Oliver Milman.

The chemicals and compounds that made the list above were not banned because the government found out that they were harmful as a result of testing. They were banned because the public, us, were suffering from the diseases they caused.  In many cases, it was public demand that finally pushed these chemicals onto a banned list, not the government reacting to research. 

Maybe we should be approaching new chemicals with an attitude of guilty until proven innocent, rather than the current strategy which is innocent until proven harmful to the public?

This damage may have included someone you know, a family member, a friend. 

The damage we have taken might be hidden under other names like thyroid disease or strange metabolism or cancer or infertility.

The system is set up as innocent under self-certification, until proven guilty. As a parent, this seems like an extremely dangerous strategy. I could be trying my best to protect the health of my daughter only to be undermined by companies who aren't willing to admit their products are unsafe.

What Is Going To Be Added To This List?

A question we must think through together is: what chemicals are being widely used today that will eventually end up on this list? 

Looking at labels, thinking about each product and what makes it capable of the amazing features it has, makes me think there are tons of chemicals out there right now that are going to be added to this list.

I regret eating pizza pockets. I wonder what sort of pitching performance I would have been able to give if I had eaten better. What if I had eaten in such a way that my body was given the very best fuel instead of fuel that very likely made me worse. I imagine that not only was my body having to recover from the rigors of pitching, but also from the chemicals that I ingested.

I don't want to have the same regret for myself as I get older or for my daughter. I don't want to look back and think, what if I had been a little more rigorous with my acceptance criteria? Maybe my daughter might not have this struggle. Maybe I wouldn't have this body that seems to be breaking down.

PFAS - Fish consumption warning in the Huron River, Michigan

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