Healthy Living

Sean Penn, Environmental Paranoid?

crying newborn infant in green sweaterDoes it strike anybody else as extraordinary that not one but two major documentaries are out this year raising awareness about toxic chemicals? For years, there’s been this gentle murmuring of environmentalism that was pretty much ignored by the mainstream media, and then 2012 comes along and Sean Penn throws his weight behind one and the other trots off to Europe and wins an award at the Paris Film Festival.

I haven’t seen Sean Penn’s offering, The Human Experiment, which promises premiere information coming soon. But I’m loving the tagline, “Welcome to the lab,” as I do agree with the idea that corporate America has gone with an “innocent until proven guilty” premise when it comes to toxic chemicals.

For years, the fact that industry supports unregulated toxic chemicals at the expense of our health was basically ignored by mainstream media. But this year, Sean Penn is producing one documentary on the subject and another is winning awards. Are we at the tipping point of awareness? Some may be familiar with the facts these movies share: Roughly 80,000 chemicals are used in commerce in the United States, 200 have been tested for safety on an adult male (not a smaller woman or child, for whom they would have a greater negative impact), only five have been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, babies (like my newborn daughter, pictured above) are now born with 200 chemicals in their bodies—and that’s only what we test for.

But they seem even more devious when juxtaposed against a clip of American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley indignantly saying, “I take offense when anyone would even insinuate that our industry is supporting an increase in the body burden of chemicals.”

Yeah, right—offended all the way to the bank.

One of my favorite non-profit organizations, Teens Turning Green, makes an appearance in the trailer, and I’m guessing its one of their impassioned young leaders who makes the powerful voiceover statement, “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention to what’s going on.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I hope that “The Human Experiment” gets a better critical reception than Unacceptable Levels, which was panned by Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times for as “an appropriately feel-bad offering for discerning environmental paranoids.” Harrumph. Apparently, Mr. Abele, you’re not paying attention.

In fact, director Ed Brown has been working on this eye-opening and completely relatable film for several years, and brought in many heavy hitting environmental realists to contribute: Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, Alan Green of Feeding Baby Green, Christopher Gavigan of The Honest Company, Tyrone Hayes of UC Berkeley, and so many more.

And the lens through which Brown focuses his movie—he’s a concerned father whose family has suffered health problems linked to toxic chemical exposures—will resonate with many of us, both inside the environmentalist bubble and out. I endorsed it back when I was working with Healthy Child Healthy World, and stand by what I said then, “Ed Brown has done something by creating an amazing, powerful experience that moves all of us to realize how important it is to know how our system works and what we can do to fix it.”

Want to get inspired? Check the schedule to see if “Unacceptable Levels” is screening in your town. If not, encourage your friends to join you at a Tugg screening and bring the film to you.

Because there’s nothing worse than not paying attention.