When you look at the number of unregulated chemicals that surround us in North America, it's not surprising we're sicker than ever - and that could be just the tip of the iceberg.
The Human Experiment is an excellent documentary that poses a very disturbing question:
“What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time didn’t involve oil spills or nuclear meltdowns? Instead, it was much lower levels of exposure, inflicted over several generations and affecting several generations.”
The film suggests that we in North America are slowly poisoning ourselves and subsequent generations through persistent chemical exposure. We are surrounded by toxic chemicals, from personal care products, furniture, and building materials to clothing, cleaning products, plastics, and pollution. The human body absorbs and retains these toxins and, while certain small doses of chemicals may do little harm, there is great cause for concern that the cumulative effect of all these chemicals is creating a population that’s sicker than ever.
The Human Experiment follows several women whose lives have been changed by chemical exposure. One was diagnosed with breast cancer, despite being a young, healthy athlete. One has a non-verbal brother with autism. Another has polycystic ovarian syndrome and struggles to get pregnant. A woman who works as a house cleaner became terribly sick from the chemicals, primarily bleach, that her employer made her use.
Many of the individuals featured in the film have become activists in the U.S. Congressional debate about whether or not to reform the archaic 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires a chemical to be proven dangerous before taking it off the market. The debate serves as a focal point for the film, and shows the clash between the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the well-meaning senators who wish to pass the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.
The ACC, unsurprisingly, does not like The Human Experiment’s message. In response to the film’s initial release in 2013, it told ABCNews:
“[The film] paints an incomplete and distorted picture of current chemical regulation while ignoring the essential role that chemistry plays in making modern life safer, more convenient and more fulfilling.”
As long as safety is up for debate, any assurances of “convenience” and “fulfillment” coming from the ACC still don’t make me want to take any risks. The film reinforces many of the things I already know about chemical exposure and that I’ve written about for TreeHugger. Hopefully the film’s re-release will spur a greater number of people to action – to read labels, to learn which ingredients should be avoided, and to choose brands very carefully. There is a list of resources on the film’s website.
The Human Experiment was first released in 2013 and then re-launched in time for Earth Day of this year. It was produced by Emmy Award-winning journalists and filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, and narrated by Sean Penn.