Published: October 2006

Toxic People

Lead Paint X Ray

The Pollution Within

Modern chemistry keeps insects from ravaging crops, lifts stains from carpets, and saves lives. But the ubiquity of chemicals is taking a toll.

By David Ewing Duncan
Photograph by Peter Essick

My journalist-as-guinea-pig experiment is taking a disturbing turn. A Swedish chemist is on the phone, talking about flame retardants, chemicals added for safety to just about any product that can burn. Found in mattresses, carpets, the plastic casing of televisions, electronic circuit boards, and automobiles, flame retardants save hundreds of lives a year in the United States alone. These, however, are where they should not be: inside my body.

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