Chemerical (DVD)

 Andrew Nisker
 Take Action Films
 2009

The First World War was a war of chemical warfare. It was a period in history when humanity witnessed the introduction of chlorine gas and ammonia to be used against the enemy, with extreme results intended – and achieved. Skin melted off, eyes burned and insides turned to liquid. From 1914 – when the first chlorine shells were fired – to now, we have contentedly watched these corrosive chemicals leave the battlefield and enter our homes. Even though the Armistice of 1925 outlawed the use of such poisons in warfare, housewives across North America have since welcomed these toxins with open arms, excited to look at their reflection in the kitchen sink.

Chemerical, released at the end of 2009 by Take Action Films, unveils the truth behind the most common household cleaners on this continent, in what is labelled “toxic debate.” Independent environmental filmmaker Andrew Nisker set out to see how an average family could handle the challenge of switching from their toxic-addicted attitude to a more neutral position of open-mindedness and acceptance towards earth- and body-friendly cleaners. Although the film technique is a bit kitschy and might work better without trying to be so creative, the main idea is not lost: We are a nation addicted to chemicals. As Take Action Films says, “Chemerical explores the life cycle of everyday household cleaners and hygiene products to prove that, thanks to our clean obsession, we are drowning in a sea of toxicity.”

The film opens with hard-hitting facts; for example, each American comes into contact with more than 72,000 chemicals every year. And stay-at-home-moms have an increased cancer rate over those who work out of the house. In the film, Nisker approaches the Goode family, a typical American family, and propositions them with the challenge to live chemical-free. To start the process, the Goodes invite green cleaner expert Kay Valley into their home for an assessment. The family suspects they have around 25 or so chemical cleaners. After Valley searches the home with a fine-toothed comb, she declares she has found 40 chemical cleaners.

What is most frightening about the amount of toxins found in many homes is not just the sheer amount of poison, and it’s not about the unnecessary money spent, or the environmental concerns caused both by creating and packaging such chemicals (and then dumping the remains into our lakes and streams), either. Rather, it is the realization of how easily so many consumers happily purchase these chemicals and bring them into their homes without asking questions.

The mother of the family in this experiment presents herself as clean-obsessed. She has an outrageous amount of cleaners in every room with a sink. There are numerous bottles of liquids, sprays and gels under the kitchen sink; more can be found in the washrooms, and even more in the laundry room. She is bothered by the idea of going chemical-free, and is concerned that bacteria and germs may remain on surfaces if she doesn’t use the cleaning products that advertising campaigns recommend. Unfortunately, the majority of consumers do not stop to think about what exactly it is they are purchasing. Goode was shocked to find out that the squeaky-clean dishwasher soap she had become loyal to was in fact leaving chemical residue on the dishes she feeds her family dinner on.

The Goodes’ home was tested for Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) levels. Three locations were tested over three nights. The verdict: “Not Acceptable Reading” flashed across the diagnostic tool. The mother, understandably upset at learning she has done more harm than good by bringing these chemicals into her home, says that she doesn’t know how this happened, and that she just trusted the companies and the way society lives.

This point is emphasized further when Nisker visits microbiologist Dr. Donald Low. You would anticipate that a man who spends his days analyzing germs would be extra vigilant when cleaning his home. He is. But not in the way corporations would like. Soap and water, he says, “are the most important thing at the end of the day.” And he’s not talking antibacterial soap, either. Low explains that it takes 20 minutes for bacteria to replicate. Generally, we will only touch the surface of something for 15 to 18 seconds, and not the time necessary for bacteria to spread. Though he says it is unnecessary to use such a soap, he also points out that washing with antibacterial soap causes bacteria to become more resistant. And “it’s just another chemical that’s put into the environment that doesn’t need to be there,” the microbiologist says. Items of recommendation: soap, water, vinegar, baking soda and essential oils.

Perhaps the most frightening reality depicted in this indie film is that of chemical casualties. More than 2 million Americans suffer from chemical related sensitivities. Many states and provinces have found it necessary to establish Environmental Health Clinics to treat the growing number of cases. There are also toxic-sensitive people who avoid leaving their homes to run errands because they know they will be faced with an onslaught of chemicals their bodies reject.

This film, though not showing on the silver screen, is one of the most eye-opening and information-rich films you will see this year. If you’re looking for inspiration to green your home, Chemerical is the motivation you’ve been waiting for. During the First World War, more than 400,000 Russians alone suffered from the effects of chemical weaponry. Don’t put your family in a similar position. For more information and to order the film, go to www.chemicalnation.com

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