Guest Blog: What’s Gotten Into Us, a Review
Author McKay Jenkins has been a friend to SafeLawns ever since he agreed to appear in the film, A Chemical Reaction, to summarize America’s obsession with lawns. We were thrilled and honored when Jenkins and his publisher, Random House, included a long discussion of the SafeLawns movement in his new book, What’s Gotten Into Us, Staying Healthy in a Toxic World. Here is Donna Morin Miller’s review of the book, which went on sale nationwide yesterday:
ALMOST 50 YEARS after Silent Spring, McKay Jenkins’ latest book is the next compelling treatise on the still-present chemicals saturating our lives. Professor of English and Director of Journalism at the University of Delaware, Jenkins employs his journalist skills after facing his own mortality. After doctors discover what turns out to be a tumor the size of an orange in his hip, Jenkins wonders, “This was really happening. But how?….I did not feel sick, and never had. How could I possibly have cancer?” The tumor turns out to be benign, and is removed successfully, but it’s enough of a jolt to send Jenkins on a journey to find what could have caused the mystery growth.
In What’s Gotten Into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World, Jenkins methodically, provocatively paints a frightening picture. He introduces us, for example, to a Maine study of the body burden of chemicals. Conducted in 2007, this modest study tested thirteen people from all walks of life, and many from the remotest parts of the state. It would test hair, blood, and urine samples for known toxins like lead, arsenic, and mercury, as well as relatively new chemicals such as phtalates, flame retardants, and bisphenol A. What they found was enough to shock not only the participants and residents of Maine, but an entire country.
Jenkins also invites Albert Donnay into his home. Donnay is a Johns Hopkins-trained toxicologist, who, according to Jenkins, “inspects homes the way a physician inspects bodies: he looks at something you know intimately and gently reveals the consequences of your behavior. For better or for worse.”
On a trip through a suburban mega box store, Jenkins and his wife, Katherine, scrutinize ingredients of products with a care one wishes would exist within the realm of a government inspection. Although what they find listed is disturbing enough, it is the information not available that is perhaps more unsettling. “Huge swaths of products, from plastic toys to upholstered furniture, report nothing about what went into them,” he writes. “The labels are typically inscrutable, Latinate, and printed in fonts that seem purposefully difficult to read. It’s like the information was created to dissuade you from asking too many questions.”
Jenkins also introduces us to people like Paul Tukey, author and founder of SafeLawns.org, who travels North America on a relentlessly passionate mission to inform people of the dangers lurking in lawn chemicals. Then there’s author Doug Tallamy, who shows people how to create tranquil outdoor environments without the use of chemicals.
Writing with the precision of a skilled prosecutor, Jenkins has a way of presenting the facts and leaving the rest up to the reader. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed into apathy, but Jenkins’ offer of “What’s Next?” allows the reader hope. Although organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council have been instrumental in framing legislative change, it’s the people- the participants in the Maine study, along with the Albert Donnays, the Paul Tukeys and the Doug Tallamys who are shaping real change. It’s the mothers who are saying enough with the poisons who’ve inspired companies like Dupont to work on replacing petroleum products in its paints. It’s the changes we make in our own homes first that inspire our neighbor’s neighbor.
Jenkins ends with the changes he’s since made to his home — perhaps most poignantly revealed in this line: “My son, Steedman, now nine, can identify not only monarchs and tiger swallowtails, but which plants they like to eat. Why? Because last year they were not here, and this year they are.”
Don’t wait another moment to buy this book. It’s information the chemical industry won’t want you to see, but facts you really shouldn’t be without.