Read the full article by Lauren Kirchner (Consumer Reports)
“You’ve heard of Erin Brockovich, the law clerk without a science degree who exposed the existence of a dangerous contaminant polluting a town’s groundwater, a toxic hazard that otherwise might have stayed invisible.
She’s not the first person to practice ‘citizen science’ to powerful effect, nor will she be the last.
Maybe you’ve wondered whether that plastic container you’re about to zap in the microwave is really safe to use or whether your favorite chipped coffee mug is exposing you to toxic paint. Some particularly enterprising people who’ve had similar concerns have also wondered—but then took the extra step of testing the chemical makeup of what they were concerned about and then publicized the results.
These citizen testers aren’t professional chemists or government regulators, but all of them were able to raise red flags and spark important conversations about the health hazards that can be hiding in our homes and lives…
The PFAS Hunter – Leah Segedie
One reader of the ‘Ms. Green’ column happened to be Leah Segedie, who lives near Los Angeles and writes Mamavation, a blog about how to avoid toxins in the home. Segedie says she was a Nancy Drew type as a child—curious and relentless—and grew concerned about environmental toxins after several family members died of cancer.
Knowing that PFAS is in many products, from pots and pans to food wrappers, Segedie followed up where Choy left off. She has now sent more than 450 products in multiple categories to a lab for testing, including cooking oil, dental floss, tomato sauce, ketchup, parchment paper, yoga pants, sports bras, bamboo flooring, and toothpaste. She laughs when she imagines lab assistants receiving yet another pallet of toilet paper from her.
The testing isn’t cheap: She has spent about $75,000 on the work so far, though she has offset that cost with reader donations and sponsorship from the nonprofit publication Environmental Health News. ‘But to be honest,’ she says, ‘I’m such a pain in the butt that I would do this regardless.’
Segedie says many of her readers are mothers, who are often the decision-makers of a household. ‘These women who need to care for and feed their families, they don’t have the information they need,’ she says. ‘No one was answering my questions quick enough, so I just had to go and figure it out. And God bless these [labs] that can handle me.’
Segedie is quick to admit that she doesn’t have a scientific background, but she has a lot of experts helping her translate lab results into plain English and vetting her write-ups. One is Terrence Collins, PhD, a professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the director of the Institute for Green Science.
‘Leah and her work are important—even critical—elements of addressing the massive unsustainability’ of how many everyday products are made, Collins says. He also has thoughts about critics of people like Segedie who decide to take testing into their own hands. There’s so much work to be done to combat toxic contaminants that the more people who get involved, the better, he says. ‘People say, ’Oh, you can’t do that, you’re not a scientist.’ ‘ ‘But,’ he says, ‘that’s nonsense.'”…