Unacceptable Levels - Pollution just got personal: a new movie

Pollution isn’t just what you can see littered in the ditches by the side of the road. It’s also the hazardous chemicals you can’t see in the air we breathe, the water we drink and wash in, the food we eat, and the ground we play on. In all of our blood and urine hazardous chemicals can be measured by the dozens. How do they get there? That’s a story worth watching. The new movie – Unacceptable Levels – shows just how ‘up close and personal’ pollution can be.

In an informative, factual, and entertaining format – especially cameo appearances from the Muppets and Jack Nicholson as Penguin – the movie Unacceptable Levels makes some critically important points about how hazardous chemicals get into the places we live, play, work, and learn.

First, Unacceptable Levels goes beyond the obvious smokestack and tailpipe pollution, to show how many of the hazardous chemicals we find in our bodies are ones we invite into our homes, for example, as common ingredients in soaps and cosmetics, in air fresheners, or as flame retardants and stain-resistant coatings on furniture. Do you like that new car smell? That’s a mixture of off-gassing volatile toxic chemicals. Do you use dryer sheets that make your laundry soft and perfumed? Those are toxic chemicals too.

Second, Unacceptable Levels explains how our one-at-a-time regulatory system allows levels of hazardous chemicals into our environment at low levels considered “safe”, but fails to take into account that we are exposed to dozens – probably hundreds – of such chemicals at the same time. Altogether, they are not likely to be so benign. And, in particular, the combination of chemicals may pose an increased risk for people that are especially vulnerable, either because of illness, age, gender, dietary patterns, lifestyle, nutrition status, or location. For example, if I live next to a factory that belches out toxic pollution every day, then my “background” exposures added to the other chemical exposures are more likely to put me over the “acceptable” exposure limit. And, what if I’m pregnant? Is a level that is safe for me also safe for the fetus that is sharing my blood circulation? Does anyone consider this when a new chemical is approved for market? And, how are new chemicals approved for the market anyhow? And, that gets us to the third point of the movie.

Third, Unacceptable Levels interviews a suite of scientists who expertly and intelligibly explain our regulatory systems and the gaps and holes that allow hazardous chemicals to flow out into our environment in fire hose fashion.

If you don’t believe me, come see Unacceptable Levels and hear what the experts have to say! (Disclaimer- I am one of the experts in the movie, but even more reason for you to come along!)


About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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