Shampoo, toxic pyjamas & the stinky fragrance loophole

I’ve just watched the recently added Netflix documentary, Stink (2015), about the current regulation, or rather, lack of current regulation of chemical ingredients in consumer products in the USA.

After releasing some very chemically-smelling pyjamas from their packaging (clothing bought for his two young daughters), the host of the documentary, Jon Whelan, embarks on a mission to identify the chemicals responsible for the stench, and, more importantly, to find out if the chemicals are harmful to the human organism.

Mr Whelan gets on the phone and starts dialing. He gets the run-around of course, is politely shunted from person to person until he decides the only solution is to get the offending pyjamas tested himself. He then takes the disturbing results and confronts an executive from the clothing company responsible for the toxic PJs, he demands an explanation – why use a fire retardant (banned in the EU because of its toxicity) in the production of children’s clothing? Especially as the chemical has been shown to interfere with hormone regulation in females.

The executive squirms, avoids the question with a pathetic worming that stinks suspiciously of complicity. And when Mr Whelan takes his concerns to a higher level – hunts down a lobbyist for the chemical industry in unknown corridor x – we get to witness denial in its more professional form – artfully cloaked in doublespeak and delivered without the slightest whiff of shame.

Companies are not required by law in the USA to disclose every chemical used in the production of their products. For example, chemical concoctions can be grouped under one very handy umbrella and simply listed as ‘fragrance.’ As it stands now, chemicals don’t have to be proven safe before they’re launched onto the market for human consumption, it’s the other way around – we’re the guinea pigs in this back-to-front system.  It’s the same situation in Australia, and this sneaky, stinky, loop-hole is of particular interest to me – you see, I have a personal aversion to many of these manufactured, toxic pongs.

It started back in 1988 when I worked night-shift, packing supermarket shelves (back when shops weren’t open 24/7 and young people were paid half-decent wages). I was the only woman in our small team, and, presumably, due to my status as a human with a vagina, I was alotted the task of stacking and ‘facing up’ the personal care isle, all the long-bodied bottles filled with stink designed to prevent and/or disguise our very own natural animal stink. And it was a difficult isle to manage I might add – due to the unstable design of the phallic, long-bodied containers, prone to tumbling like 10-pin bowls.

As I unpacked soaps and powders I would sneeze. Even now I feel my nose begin to tickle as I rush past the laundry section, the evil stenching boxes of OMO or triple-action Vanish. And in my mid 20s I suddenly developed an aversion to a perfume from The Body Shop called ‘Oceana’. It seemed odd that a smell I’d found delicious enough to purchase suddenly became repulsive to me. And the same visceral reaction began to happen around other stinky things as well – shampoos, new carpet, freshly unwrapped item A, B or C, new cars, the general plastic smell of Kmart itself, fresh paint, other people’s perfumes and OMO-infused clothes – and lately, pretty much all items of brand-new clothing (presumably sprayed with something unpleasant before being packaged for export in odor-trapping plastic).

For myself and many others, these unidentified chemicals trigger unsettling bodily sensations. For me, a light-headedness combined with slight nausea, and a general feeling that is best described as something’s not quite right. It’s my body’s own way of waving a red flag, a stand-in for the warnings currently missing from packages – THIS  PRODUCT MOST LIKELY CONTAINS CHEMICALS HAZARDOUS TO HUMAN HEALTH.


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