Americans have access to modern healthcare, a glut of food and clean water. Yet most of us are sicker, more depressed and more overweight than ever before. Something is poisoning us, but we can’t see it, feel it or taste it. Could it be the thousands of chemicals that flow, often undeclared, through our food and retail systems? “Unacceptable Levels” is a film that seeks to answer that question.
“Unacceptable Levels” examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes of Ed Brown, a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children. The title is a play on the fact that the FDA, USDA, EPA and pretty much every other regulatory body likes to tell us that chemicals used in the air, soil and water are within “acceptable levels” for human health. What about their cumulative effect?
The film follows Brown as he interviews some of the world’s top experts in the fields of science, advocacy and law, questioning them about the 80,000 chemicals present in our system of commerce, many of which we eat or apply directly to our bodies.
The shocking and groundbreaking film, which has been featured at festivals around the world, won the Health and Environment Prize at the 30th International Environmental Film Festival in Paris earlier this year. “Unacceptable Levels” is now making the rounds in the U.S., with screenings scheduled all over the country.
Care2 recently had a chance to ask director Ed Brown about the making of the film, as well as what each and every one of us can do to protect ourselves. Here’s what he had to say:
Care2: What inspired you to make this movie?
EB: Having a family, hands down. We now have three children (my newest was just born days ago). All I have to do is look at them… and my wife. How could I even think about exposing them to a product that contains even one toxic chemical? What if they’re harmed because of it? It’s unfathomable. Like all parents, just the thought of any of my children living with a chronic disease breaks my heart.
Care2. Who was the most interesting person you interviewed, and why?
I would have to say Ralph Nader—he’s always been a hero to me. Here’s a man who has spent a good portion of his life attempting to protect all of us from harm. He’s a leader for real change.
To meet him—and have the opportunity to actually have a conversation with him—was one of the best moments in my life. But meeting John Stauber, who wrote the book “Toxic Sludge is Good For You,” was a close second. What he told me about how we’re fertilizing many crops across the country with toxins blew me away.
Care2: …The most challenging?
EB: Without a doubt, Sheldon Krimsky from Tufts University. I arrived at his office outside of Boston (in the middle of winter) wearing torn jeans. And I could tell the second I met him that he didn’t take me seriously. In fact, he commented on my apparel. He’s an incredibly intelligent man and, despite my wardrobe choice, the interview went well. Thankfully, preparation is something I take very seriously. I had studied his background thoroughly and knew a lot about the subject matter.
Care2: What connection between chemicals and disease did you find particularly shocking?
EB: BPA is highly toxic and a very potent hormone disrupting chemical. I learned from Dr. John Warner that most thermal printing tape is coated with that stuff, and you can’t wash it off and it’s easily absorbed into the body. (A survey found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older.) I had been waiting tables for ten years at the same restaurant, handling receipts! To find out BPA could negatively effect the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures… I couldn’t believe that barely anyone is talking about this.
I was most shocked to learn how many of the things we eat, drink, breathe and put on our bodies contain waste byproducts. It was shocking to learn that 3.5 million tons of biosolids—sewage sludge—are used as fertilizer on farmland across the United States. Biosolids contain pesticides, PCBs, DDT, mercury, lead and over 267 other contaminants, which make it hard to imagine what our farmland will look like years from now.
>>Keep Reading for more with Director Ed Brown
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