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Thursday, 23 December 2004

Better living through (the denial of) chemistry

The Times ran a suite of stories today on research suggesting a link between over-enthusiastic housekeepers keeping their immediate surroundings a little too clean and perhaps applying a little too much zeal with household cleaning 'chemicals' and the increasing prevalance of asthma. Times reporter Anna Patty diligently filed a story concerning a young boy with asthma and his mother, Shelley:

Although the cause of asthma is unknown, Mrs Cohen-Morgan believes that weather changes trigger Joshua’s asthma attacks. She also suspects that household chemicals and pollution bring on attacks, and is vigilant in keeping her home free of household cleaners and dust.
“Everything I buy is organic. I stay clear of anything with chemicals in it,” she said. “I don’t use polish, air fresheners or household chemicals. Joshua doesn’t need to be inhaling any aerosol-based products.”

The title of the story was, obviously 'I don't use anything with chemicals in it'.

I hope she doesn't know her son was born with chemicals in him already!

8 comments and trackbacks

She's got a point though, and as hard-to-describe as it is, I can see what she's saying. Potato chips are chemicals, sure, but potato chips + E621 are worse. What should we call E621, or the weird stuff in air fresheners, or the stuff sprayed on to supermarket meat to make it look fresh [serious question]? These are the folk chemicals she's referring to, and they're a problem--partially because they can't be grouped together and discussed using headlines such as "X bad for your health."

Posted by: mattw on December 30, 2004 12:48 PM

Yup, I agree. I was just being needlessly pedantic and pointing out what seemed to me to be an amusing headline, then got carried away.

I always understood the rationale behind the "E" number compounds to be an initiative to make it easier for consumers to understand what additives were in their foods. That'd be laudable but for the fact that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever which compound tallies up to which "E" number, and whether they're any good for me or not...

Posted by: Dan Hon on December 30, 2004 08:14 PM

This is a good site for E numbers: http://www.bryngollie.freeserve.co.uk/Enumbers.htm

(The index tells you the substance name and the worrisome details, the details page gives background. Many a fun time to be had seeing what's in that food you're eating. I'm pickier about what stock cubes I use now, for instance, given most of them are just powdered flavour enhancer rather than anything genuinely tasty.)

You're right, it's not terribly useful without easy access+understanding. Sounds like a job for some indexing and a phone-camera+barcode-scanner+net-access. Take a picture of the food/freshener/whatever and have the result come back: "Your food is coloured with ground-up mice and is 82% bad for babies."

Posted by: mattw on January 1, 2005 03:54 PM

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