Quick but important bit of homework for you this week, GFPs.
A real chance to make a potentially massive difference. Since I’ve done my GFP survey I know that most of you have already read Invisible Women, so you may remember the section where I talk about the lack of sex-disaggregated data (or in fact data on women at all) when it comes to the impact of a whole host of chemicals:
Men and women have different immune systems and different hormones, which can play a role in how chemicals are absorbed. Women tend to be smaller than men and have thinner skin, both of which can lower the level of toxins they can be safely exposed to. This lower tolerance threshold is compounded by women’s higher percentage of body fat, in which some chemicals can accumulate.
The result is that levels of radiation that are safe for Reference Man turn out to be anything but for women. Ditto for a whole range of commonly used chemicals. And yet the male-default one-level-to-rule-them-all approach persists. This is made worse by the way chemicals are tested. To start with, chemicals are still usually tested in isolation, and on the basis of a single exposure. But this is not how women tend to encounter them, either at home (in cleaning products and cosmetics), or in the workplace.
In nail salons, where the workforce is almost exclusively female (and often migrant), workers will be exposed on a daily basis to a huge range of chemicals that are ‘routinely found in the polishes, removers, gels, shellacs, disinfectants and adhesives that are staples of their work’. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, miscarriages and lung diseases. Some may alter the body’s normal hormonal functions. After a shift of paid work many of these women will then go home and begin a second unpaid shift, where they will be exposed to different chemicals that are ubiquitous in common cleaning products. The effects of these chemicals mixing together are largely unknown, although research does indicate that exposure to a mixture of chemicals can be much more toxic than exposure to chemicals on an individual basis.
Most of the research on chemicals has focused on their absorption through the skin. Leaving aside the problem that absorption through thicker male skin may not be the same as for women, skin is by no means the only way women working in nail salons will be absorbing these chemicals. Many of them are extremely volatile, which means that they evaporate into the air at room temperature and can be inhaled – along with the considerable amounts of dust produced when acrylic nails are filed. The research on how this may impact on workers is virtually non-existent. (IW, pp. 116-7)
I also wrote about how this issue is compounded by a lack of transparency in labelling.
In the US, there are no federal laws that require companies to list ingredients in their cleaning products (in the US women do 70% of household cleaning and make up 89% of home and hotel cleaners – most of whom are ethnic minorities), and a recent report found that even supposedly ‘green’ cleaning products contain EDCs. When Always menstrual pads were tested in 2014 they were found to include ‘a number of chemicals – including styrene, chloroform and acetone – that have been identified as either carcinogens or reproductive and developmental toxins.’ (IW, p.119)
But ffs, CCP, you very reasonably say, stop scaring us and give us the homework! GFPs, your wish is my command: