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

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

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

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


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 Sick is a rich and meticulously documented account of injury and illness across different time periods, places, and technologies. It presents a picture not of one exceptional or corrupt industry but rather of how run-of-the-mill manufacturing processes and consumer marketing expose workers and the general public alike to toxic hazards. More troubling still, even when such hazards are recognized, calls for their control are routinely ignored. Written for a wide audience, it offers a critical and disquieting perspective on the relationship between industrial development and its adverse health consequences.

Among the surprisingly common hazards discussed in How Everyday Products Make People Sick:

• Glue and rubber cement

• Chlorine bleach

• Rayon and other synthetic textiles

• Welding and other metal fumes

• Wood preservatives

• Gasoline additives


When someine 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 ask whether my field is a new branch of health care, along the lines of modern subspecialties such as sports medicine, genetic counseling, and bariatrics (the treatment of obesity). That such issues could even become the stuff of popular song only serves to further reinforce the impression that occupational medicine, so topical, must also be novel, too. Dire Straits’ 1982 ironic rock-n-roll ballad “Industrial Disease” was nothing if not a processional anthem meant to be played at the arrival of yet one more late twentieth-century health obsession:

Doctor Parkinson declared “I’m not surprised to see you here
you’ve got smoker’s cough from smoking, brewer’s droop from
drinking beer
I don’t know how you came to get the Bette Davis knees
but worst of all young man you’ve got Industrial Disease.”

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