connecting faith and the environment

By Sarah Streed

There were so many reader responses to my Plastics column that I felt I should devote another column to the subject.

My college buddy Dean Eggert, in New Hampshire, wrote of his grandfather, who was “an accidental environmentalist when it came to plastic.” Dean wrote: “I can recall his incessant railing against plastic in the early ‘70s. He would talk about how plastic was not fully degradable and how it would destroy our environment …and how one day our society would struggle to dispose of our plastic and speculate that it would be useless to dispose of plastic in landfills.”

Kitty Boyer and I became friends in Tucson, where our daughters were toddlers and our husbands trained in Medicine. Kitty wrote from Alabama how she had replaced her Tupperware/Rubbermaid and had switched hair care products to Aveda brand in order to avoid phthalates. She enclosed an article from her sister who works for the CDC National Center for Environmental Health. The article “What’s Poisoning Your Kids?” by Dr. Richard Goldstein, says: “[Phthlates] are used in many commercial products, including plastic food containers, PVC pipe, plastic wrap, children’s toys and cosmetics. The interest in phthlates has grown because they have been identified …as endocrine disruptors, compounds that adversely affect one or more of the body’s glands. [There are] many adverse effects of phthalates in animal studies, including liver injury, testicular injury and birth defects.”

Dorothy Lee, here in Wisconsin, wrote: “Some years back, I was having a recurring problem where the whites of my eyes became blood red and the cartilage in my nose extremely sore. I didn’t have a clue as to cause until I picked up an old book at a garage sale, opened it and began reading a few lines. Right on the spot I had my answer to the problem: Plastic. The book was 25 cents and worth every penny. After that I found glass bowls with glass covers at two more garage sales and never again stored leftovers in plastic—and never again had the eye and nose problem. I seem to have a ‘garage-sale angel.’” When I inquired into the name of this miraculous book, she told me it was The Health Finder, edited by J.I. Rodale and copyrighted in 1954! (Even back then they knew about plastic.) The words her eyes happened to chance upon were: “…the danger limit of formaldyhyde for man [sic] has never been determined. Workers in industries where plastics are used show reactions to formaldehyde on their skin, eyelids, conjunctive (tissue of the eyes) and cornea. …Cases of formaldehyde poisoning have increased rapidly with the great increase in the production of plastics. The manufacturing of phenol derivative resins (from which plastics are made) rose from four million pounds in 1920 to 33 million pounds in 1929... [There are] many stories of formaldehyde poisoning in industry—blisters …asthma attacks …” Dorothy asked me, “Sarah, don’t you see a possible connection with babies drinking from plastic nursing bottles and the high incidence of asthma? The formula is heated in the plastic bottles.”

Yes, Dorothy, I do see a connection. There are many reasons for the asthma epidemic in our children—particulates from coal-fired “dirty” power plants being one—but chemicals are certainly a big part of it. In this case Dorothy’s exposure was not to formaldehyde in the air, but to the plastic. She often put warm soup in Tupperware to freeze. Her hunch proved correct because after she stopped using plastic, she never again got the red eyes and sore nose.

We all have an angel or two, albeit maybe not Dorothy’s garage sale one. I firmly believe God gives us knowledge and awareness of how to live in harmony on the earth, our home. One such piece of knowledge is that we shouldn’t put harmful chemicals into our bodies or those of our children. All the readers’ responses reinforce this knowledge.

March’s tip: Finish throwing out your plastic. Glass containers are hard to find and I finally had to buy some at Wal-Mart, which I’m currently boycotting. In this case it was a necessary evil. The only other store I could find them was Williams& Sonoma for an exorbitant price. Also, buy Waxtex wax paper sandwich bags, which can replace plastic sandwich bags. My local grocery didn’t have them, so I made a request and they found them offered by a major supplier.

Sarah Streed is a board member of the Wisconsin Interfaith Climate & Energy Campaign (WICEC). She lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin with her husband and children. Email

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