How Everyday Products Make People Sick

How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace

Paul D. Blanc
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Pages: 424
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw3zk
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  • Book Info
    How Everyday Products Make People Sick
    Book Description:

    This book reveals the hidden health dangers in many of the seemingly innocent products we encounter every day-a tube of glue in a kitchen drawer, a bottle of bleach in the laundry room, a rayon scarf on a closet shelf, a brass knob on the front door, a wood plank on an outdoor deck. A compelling exposé, written by a physician with extensive experience in public health and illustrated with disturbing case histories,How Everyday Products Make People Sickis a rich and meticulously documented account of injury and illness across different time periods, places, and technologies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94531-9
    Subjects: Public Health, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    When someone inquires about my professional work and I reply, “Occupational and environmental medicine,” an awkward pause usually follows. To fill in the gap, I’ll elaborate, “That’s the treatment of diseases that people get from their work or as a result of pollution.” Sometimes bringing up a specific problem clarifies matters. Officers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since March 1, 2003, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services), for example, seem to relate easily to carpal tunnel syndrome, likely because of their own experience with keying in data and hand stamping documents for hours at a stretch.

    People often...

  6. ONE The Forgotten Histories of “Modern” Hazards
    (pp. 5-27)

    A few years ago, I was asked to provide a medical consultation for a four-month-old boy who was admitted to the hospital because of possible appendicitis. He was of an unusually young age for such a problem, but the precipitant of the problem was more unusual still. A few weeks before, the parents of the boy had noticed symptoms of colic in the infant and treated him with the remedy that had been used in their home village in rural Mexico for generations: they gave him some quicksilver to drink.

    One might wonder how this village had gone on for...

  7. TWO The Shadow of Smoke: How to Evade Regulation
    (pp. 28-44)

    The links between exposure and occupational or environmental disease, even with novel toxins, usually are identified with surprising accuracy and speed. These causal connections, however, seem to require periodic rediscovery over time. In a cyclical pattern, the accumulated knowledge and experience tying toxic risks to adverse health effects are erased with a regular periodicity. The discoveries and then the rediscoveries of new/old environmental hazards, sometimes over many decades or even several centuries, are matched by a repeated pattern of corrective failures when it comes to definitively fixing the problem. In fact, the two are tightly linked in a parody of...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. THREE Good Glue, Better Glue, Superglue
    (pp. 45-91)

    Two contract workers went down into an underground vault to do a one-time job, applying a coating of sealant resin to water pipes. They mixed together two components of the resin product, working quickly to apply the sticky black coating material before it hardened. Essentially, they were spreading a kind of glue onto the pipes. A key ingredient in the substance was a chemical solvent called 2-nitropropane. Its sole purpose in the product was to keep the adhesive runny enough to spread.¹

    Neither man had ever worked with this product before. By the end of three days in the cramped...

  10. FOUR Under a Green Sea: The Rising Tide of Chlorine
    (pp. 92-131)

    A bottle of household bleach sitting peacefully on the laundry room shelf is not a ticking time bomb. It is merely a small tactical weapon in our never-ending war against dirt, germs, and stains. Bleach is not benign, however, because the chlorine that is trapped inside it, if released, can be a potent toxin. Chlorine is one of the most common causes, worldwide, of chemical gas poisonings. The most dramatic chlorine gas inhalation scenario is played out when a derailed gas tanker leads to mass evacuations and large-scale injuries. Far more common, however, are the everyday small-scale chlorine gassings that...

  11. FIVE Going Crazy at Work: Cycles of Carbon Disulfide Poisoning
    (pp. 132-171)

    From the case history of a twenty-seven-year-old man, previously healthy, committed to the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane, April 1887: “I have no hesitation to diagnose his case as acute mania…. At times will not answer questions put to him, at others, raves incoherently … at other times in constant dread that some one will kill him…. He will undress himself entirely naked, lie for a moment in that state upon the floor, and then will get up and dress himself again.”¹

    The published report refers to him only by his initials: C. S. The strange illness afflicting...

  12. SIX Job Fever: Inhaling Dust and Fumes
    (pp. 172-214)

    A few years ago, my colleagues and I embarked on a series of research experiments that had a fairly simple design, verging on simplistic. The participants in the study, referred to as experimental human subjects in the formal design, had a straightforward task to carry out. They came into the laboratory and performed electric arc welding on steel plates. The period of welding varied from fifteen minutes to one hour. There was nothing special or sophisticated in the welding itself. It was basic “stick” welding, which means that the welding rod used is a stiff electrode consumed in the heat...

  13. SEVEN Emerging Toxins
    (pp. 215-261)

    Fear of contagion induces deep-seated anxieties. The old specter of epidemic allows each of us to tap into artesian sources of angst. These sources may run faster at one time and slower at another, but they never seem to be drained dry. Although this is not a new phenomenon, in these particular times of ever-multiplying dangers, our capacity to worry is near to over-flowing. Some of the diseases that cause the most alarm today are truly novel. Others are not new at all; they were once common and close-at-hand killers that have become remote but, as it turns out, have...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 262-270)

    This is a time of particularly intense political struggles over occupational and environmental health and safety in the United States. Examples of old yet new issues are emerging all the time. I began this book with the description of a case of mercury ingestion as a folk-medicine treatment and juxtaposed that case with an episode of public exposure to mercury through the inhalation of contaminated paint. As this manuscript was nearing completion, a major environmental public policy debate emerged with the proposal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken its air pollution emission standards for mercury, to the benefit...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 271-346)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 347-374)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 375-375)