Paul D. Blanc is Professor of Medicine and holds the Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Blanc is also the author of How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace, which was published by UC Press in January 2007. An updated and revised edition of the book will be published by UC Press in the fall of 2009.
By: Paul D. Blanc
I recently completed the Preface to an updated edition of How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace. I had several goals that I wanted to accomplish in doing so. First and foremost, I have been stunned (and a bit dismayed) to see how many emerging hazards originally alluded to in the pages of the initial edition of the book, only published early in 2007, have evolved into major news events over the ensuing months. Ranging from leaded toys to the toxic contamination of foodstuffs to worsening conditions in the workplace – these episodes are important to document each on their own merits.
But such an update alone might only serve as a litany of seemingly isolated events. Collectively, this recent history also serves to underline the sadly lax state of regulatory affairs at home in the United States and internationally as well. The poster child of ineffective regulation in the U.S., beyond question, has been the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Time and again, I found myself coming back to the CPSC in the Preface (it plays a prominent role in the body of How Everyday Products Make People Sick, as well). But, unfortunately, even if the CPSC stands out, it is not alone: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all have had their fair share of recent shortcomings when it comes to the protection of the environment and those trying to work and live in it.
As I had the opportunity to speak about my work in follow-up to the original publication of How Everyday Products Make People Sick, one thing that I realized was that some things I had taken for granted and thus given relatively brief attention to in the book were, in fact, subjects about which many people were still unaware. This includes the rich histories of key longstanding work and environmental hazards such as lead and silica. Thus, I also used the new Preface as an opportunity to revisit some of these topics, as well as to address a few other questions that arose in relation to the book’s original contents.
One issue I do not resolve in this updated edition, however, is the unexpected ambivalence that the book’s title engendered in certain scientific-medical circles. How Everyday Products Make People Sick, I have been told more than once, “sounds like a ‘self-help’ book, when actually it is very well-documented and rigorous.” Most of these critiques give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that the title was hoisted upon me by some manipulative marketer deep in the recesses of the UC Press. I am taking this opportunity to publicly acknowledge that the title was my idea, and I stand by it – so I guess I will have to live with the critique. Anyway, I’m not sure I get the point: I always thought accurate knowledge was the cornerstone of effective self-help.