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Better living through chemistry? Not so much

Remember DuPont’s long-used slogan, “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry”? Or its parody counterpart, “Zinc Oxide and You” from the comedy film “The Kentucky Fried Movie”? It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed we were all too ready to extol the virtues of chemicals in everything.

Today, though? Not so much.

“At no time in human history have we been exposed to so many chemicals,” warns the executive summary to “Bad Actor Chemicals,” a report highlighting the “winners” of Toxies awards from Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE). “There are an estimated 85,000 chemicals in the stream of commerce, and very little is known about most of them. The health effects of almost half the major industrial chemicals have not been studied at all. Of those that have been studied, approximately 1,400 chemicals with known links to cancer, birth defects, reproductive impacts
and other health problems are still in use today.”

The tongue-in-cheek Toxies single out 16 chemicals as some of the worst “bad actors” in widespread use in California (and beyond). They include:

  • Formaldehyde, winner of the “Worst Breathtaking Performance” as an “acting chameleon, having been
    linked to asthma and various types of cancers.”
  • Phthalates, winner of “Worst Makeup” for a cancer-causing performance as a plastic softener and ingredient in personal care products.
  • Toluene, winner of “Worst Intoxicating Performance” in nail polish, paints and glues for damaging the central nervous system and causing birth defects.
  • Bisphenol-A, winner of the “Worst Breakthrough Performance” award for “her career as an estrogen impersonator.”
  • Lead, winner of the “Lifetime Achievement in Harm” award for continuing to star in everything from children’s toys and candy to artificial turf and jewelry despite its known link to learning disabilities, infertility, cancer and increased risk of heart attacks.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether, winner of “Worst Local Performance” as a flame-retardant that’s widely required in goods in California, but not in any other state.
  • Trichloroethylene, winner of “Worst Underground Performance” as a toxic industrial solvent that’s contaminated many communities with aerospace and military operations.
  • Perchlorate, winner of “Worst Special Effects” as a oxidiser for rocket fuel that’s made its way into the groundwater or soil of 43 states.
  • Methyl iodide, winner of the “Worst Replacement Actor in a Series” as a Bush II-era pesticide with a “propensity to produce cancer.”
  • Mercury, winner of the “Worst Long Running Performance” for “his reputation for causing nervous system damage and birth defects.”
  • Hexavalent chromium, winner of the “Worst Performance in a School Drama” for being “a known carcinogen
    and reproductive toxicant for both males and females.”
  • Hydrofluoric acid, winner of the “Worst Performance in a Horror Film” as a corrosive actor found in high-octane gasoline, refrigerants, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, aluminum, plastics, electrical components, and fluorescent light bulbs.
  • N-methyl pyrrolidone, winner of the “Worst Stripper Performance” award for work as a paint stripper/graffiti remover with a “reputation for reproductive and testicular toxicity.”
  • Perfluorinated compounds, aka “Teflon,” winner of “Worst Revival Performance” for being linked to damage to ovaries, liver, kidney, spleen, thymus, thyroid, pituitary and testis.
  • Perchloroethylene, winner of “Worst Costume” as a dry cleaning chemical linked to damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, liver and reproductive system.
  • Triclosan, winner of “Worst Viral Media Performance” as a popular antibacterial that can lead to antibiotics resistance, cancer and thyroid disruption.

CHANGE notes in its Toxies report, “Although this report takes a tongue-in-cheek approach, make no mistake about it — these chemicals have deadly serious health impacts on male and female Californians of all ages, socioeconomic class and ethnicity. Childhood cancers have increased 20 per cent since 1975, and autism now is so prevalent that it is
diagnosed in one out of every 110 children.”


  • whole house window fan
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

    See what chemicals are up to and we thought that they are life savers

  • martha
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    @Richard Z – Life expectancy are longer for white men are indeed longer but the patterns of chronic diseases are changing, asthma, learning disabilities, and some cancer rates are still increasing.

  • Richard Z
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    @changeca – OKAY, so in 1900 before fertilizer, pesticides, vaccinations, and tons of fossil fuels, the life expectancy was 45 years old with one out of twenty five living to age 65. Now its 75, a mere 30 years added to your life. Yeah, chemicals really

  • Sarah E. Brown
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Excellent article! It’s time to take a stand against toxics for the health of our families, our communities, and the planet.

  • Ansje
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Great article! Let’s retire those bad actor chemicals for good. Send a letter to your representatives at

Comments are closed.

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