The Film “Stink” Investigates the Stench of Hidden Toxins

BY ON February 4, 2016
Jon Whelan in a scene from Stink.

Jon Whelan in a scene from Stink.


Is nothing sacred?

Apparently not when it comes to our exposure to toxic chemicals. Even the pajamas you put on your kids could be treated with fire retardants (Tweet this) and other dangerous compounds that are linked to cancer, birth defects, and learning disabilities.

Filmmaker, Jon Whelan stumbled upon this shocking information completely by accident, when he bought new pajamas for his two young daughters for Christmas. The girls were excited to get the new jammies, which came from a company called, ironically, Justice. But when the children opened their packages, they couldn’t believe how much the clothing smelled.

Whelan wondered why his kids’ brand new clothes smell to high Heaven?

Finding an answer sent him on a journey to discover what the pj’s had been treated with, and why. What he learned is documented in “Stink,” a new film that will be available on demand February 16.

Whelan’s beloved wife Heather had died from breast cancer while their daughters were still toddlers. Could her exposure to toxic chemicals have a hand in her death?

As the dad and husband set out to find answers, he became aware of what he calls the “Cancer Loophole.”

“I thought that if a product was on the shelf in a store, that meant it was safe…I naively believed that if a product contained dangerous, toxic ingredients, ingredients that could cause cancer, that product would be banned.”

At the very least, he thought that the packaging would alert parents to a threat.

But that’s not so, Whelan contends,

“In making “Stink!” over the past three years, I have learned that companies don’t need to disclose whether products contain chemicals that cause cancer or disrupt hormones, even chemicals that could interfere with a child’s growth, or cause reproductive problems…Certainly we can all agree that American consumers should have the right to choose whether they want to be exposed to chemicals that cause cancer, or birth defects, or reproductive harm?”

The film is poignant without being maudlin, and less ideological and more entertaining than it would be if Michael Moore had made it. Graphics help simplify the science, and Whelan’s cartwheeling, adorable daughters add some levity at just the right places.

Meanwhile, representatives for the chemical industry seem both slick and cavalier when asked how they can justify the extraordinary numbers of chemicals to which Americans are exposed in the course of living day-to-day.

More than 80,000 chemicals are in circulation in the U.S., most of which have never been tested for how toxic they are to people. In the European Union, nearly 1,500 chemical ingredients are banned. Only 11 of those are banned in the U.S. Carcinogens like formaldehyde, propylparaben, and lead acetate are among the thousands of dangerous compounds still found in common consumer products, including cosmetics, fragrances, and deodorants.

That seems just fine to Michael Rayden, the retired CEO of the company Justice, which is where Whelan’s kids’ jammies came from, or Calvin M. Dooley, a former member of Congress who is now the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. They, and other defenders of using toxic chemicals in consumer products without revealing that information to the people who buy them, say they are following the letter of the law – and they are.

That law is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – and it doesn’t require full disclosure when it comes to the chemical exposures that may be inflicted on us and our kids.

The end of the film leaves viewers: What can we do?

One action is to support strengthening TSCA, which has to be finalized Congress and signed by the President. You can learn more about TSCA here.

You can also take immediate steps to protect yourself and your loved ones by shifting your spending to products that are the safest available in the market. Here are some smart and simple ways to avoid toxic chemicals in shampoo, cosmetics, and even dry cleaning.

“By keeping the ingredients secret, companies are taking away our ability to make informed choices. In other words, we don’t even have the right to choose whether we want to be exposed to a carcinogen...Americans need to know that our system to regulate chemicals stinks!”



TOPICS: Dads, Toxics