Worldwide toxic chemicals are six times global warming emissions. This hidden dilemma is fully exposed in a superbly researched new book by science writer Julian Cribb: Earth Detox, How and Why We Must Clean Up Our Planet, Cambridge University Press, scheduled for release August 2021.
The planet has become a toxic soup of tested, untested, and inadequately tested chemicals that includes deadly toxins. Within only a couple of generations, and largely unnoticed, this startling episode is unique to our generation. Far and away, it exceeds global warming emissions. Yet, it’s a pressing issue that’s not publicly recognized as such.
Earth Detox is an eye-opening exposure of unintentional toxic chemical warfare lodged against humanity virtually everywhere, all over the planet. Throughout this challenging subject matter, Cribb’s work is supported by extensive scientific data, for example: “Americans are a walking cocktail of contaminants.” That statement alone is provocative enough to demand more facts, a whole lot more. For example, why and how has American life been reduced to such a degenerative status? More on this to follow.
But most alarming of all: “More than 25,000 human lives are being lost daily to chemical poisoning.” That statistic of 25,000 deaths/day comes from UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) in its 2019 Global Chemicals Outlook II report, which Cribb disparagingly describes: “With unassailable scientific evidence that more than 25,000 human lives are being lost daily to chemical poisoning, and in the face of a mountain of fresh evidence of chemical harm that has accumulated since its 2013 report, the 2019 report betrays a chilling lack of urgency. Its language is softer and less candid, its proposals more soothing to industry than its predecessor. Indeed, it asserts: ‘We cannot live without chemicals’. It is hard to escape an inference that UNEP has been ‘got at’.” (pg. 216)
Yet, across the globe there are no signs of concern, no long banners flapping in the breeze on Main Street, no NGOs, no marches, no petitions, no pesky fund-raisers, no signature gatherers at grocery store parking lots, no public demonstrations of concern about this hidden peril found throughout the planet from the top of Mount Everest, where researchers, to their dismay, discovered toxic compounds in-excess of EPA standards, to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where small crustaceans that live in the pitch-black waters of the trench, captured by a robotic submarine, were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China.
Still, society fails to address this most pressing issue of the 21st century. According to Cribb: “A worrisome component of the poisoning of the planet is the absurd fact that modern society exists and functions as a result of these poisons. For example, industrialized food production uses five million tonnes of specialized poisons to control weeds, insects, rodents and moulds to feed the world.” Here’s the kicker, the vast majority of the chemicals used to produce food negatively impact “non-target organisms,” like honeybees, farm workers and consumers.
Cribb has produced a landmark study that demands further analysis and investigation at the highest levels. It belongs on reading lists of every educational institution and in the hands of policymakers as well as consumers worldwide. Cribb’s gifted science-oriented prose provides an ideal fundamental resource for: (1) supplemental textbooks (2) advocacy groups (3) policymakers (4) critical information for every householder in the world to better understand what’s at stake in everyday life. For example: “Never eat any food containing a substance you can’t pronounce or you don’t trust.” (pg. 67) In other words, read the damn labels!
Earth Detox is truly a masterpiece of deeply researched facts exposing a very, very big story, as big as the survival and condition of Earth’s basic resources that support existence. An opening statement in Cribb’s own words sums up the extent: “Earth and all life on it are being saturated with chemicals released by humans, in an event unlike anything that has occurred ever before, in all 4 billion years of our Planet’s story… Ours is a poisoned world… this has all happened quite quickly and has burgeoned so rapidly that most people are still unaware of the extent or scale of the peril… crept up on us unseen… in a social climate of trusting acceptance of authority, over barely the span of a single human lifetime… impacts are only now starting to emerge.” (pgs. 3-4)
The Swiss study is the world’s first-ever compilation of global chemical inventory and surprisingly discovered three times previous estimates, which speaks to the lax governance issue, nobody really knows for sure what’s going on, three times previous estimates is evidence of failure to observe. The study uncovered “widespread secrecy, misidentification and obfuscation,” leading to a question of who effectively monitors this darkened world that ultimately reaches into everyone’s home?
It’s the vastness and fragmentation of worldwide manufacturing that makes regulation so difficult. After all, one thousand (1,000) new chemicals are added to the mix every year. The chemical industry is the second largest manufacturer in the world, totaling 2.5 billion tonnes each year.
Indeed, chemical usage is an ever-present quandary that’s a challenge to navigate if only because so much of it is necessary in today’s world, leading to one of the great paradoxes of all time, a virtual “Catch-22”: “Man-made chemicals are so widespread in the world today because they are very useful, very valuable, very profitable and help to enhance billions of lives. They are central enabling technology in the modern global economy. They are never going to be universally banned – and nor should they be. But neither should they flood the Earth uncontrolled. The magnitude of our chemical – especially toxic chemical – exposure has crept up on the human population unawares.” (pg. 192)
It is highly likely that readers of Cribb’s exposé will have been exposed to toxic chemicals without knowing it. You only know, or suspect, after something goes wrong, like cancer or Alzheimer’s but by then forgetfulness masks the original cause/effect.
The modern industrial food supply chain, from A to Z, is loaded with chemicals. For starters, pesticides used to grow food and livestock end up in human bodies one way or another, and in high enough concentrations proven to influence cancers, brain, nerve, genetic and hormonal disorders, kidney and liver damage, asthma and allergies. Besides pesticides, some 3,000 chemical food ingredients are permitted by the FDA used to enhance freshness, taste, and texture. Preservatives, for example, which extend shelf life, are chemicals that poison the bacteria and moulds that cause food to rot. “Common chemical preservatives such as sodium nitrate and nitrite, sulphites, sulphur dioxide, sodium benzoate, parabens, formaldehyde and antioxidant preservatives, if over-consumed in the modern processed food diet, may also lead to cancers, heart disease, allergies, digestive, lung, kidney and other diseases and constitute a further reason for avoiding or reducing one’s intake of ‘industrial food’.” (pg 70)
By all appearances, based upon Cribb’s extensive research, the Industrial Food Frankenstein, which traverses pesticide-laced farmland-to-artificial (toxic) plastic packaging-to-home refrigeration, given enough time, kills or cripples wide-eyed consumers. There’s little middle ground with industrial foodstuff.
“It is important to remember that the universal penetration of man-made chemicals into the food chain has mainly happened in just the last half-century. No previous generations were subjected to such a wholesale chemical exposure.” (page. 76) “There could be anything up to 16,500 different chemicals in the modern food chain today that simply weren’t a part of your grandparents’ diet.” (pg.90) That one sentence says it all in less than 25 words with an underlying message: Avoid industrial food. Eat fresh food.
A major test of a family of five in San Francisco that ate industrial packaged food for a period of time followed by a diet of fresh food for a comparable period of time showed significant reduction of toxic BPA (used to make plastics) and phthalates (used to make household goods) of 67% to 90%, which is extraordinarily meaningful. (Source: Earth Detox) (According to Mayo Clinic, research shows BPA may be directly linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Phthalates makes plastics more durable used in hundreds of household products and can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system)
Above all else, readers of Cribb’s fact-filled gem must read the Postscript: “A Cautionary Tale From Deep Time,” which is an extremely intriguing very thought-provoking detailed description of how life on Earth originated, from day one, with some surprising results along the way. Don’t miss it. After all, who doesn’t wonder about the wonders of life’s creation?
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at