The Internet and TV media are having fun about the “dangers” of the “New Car Smell” which subliminally lures the buyer even of a used car to be more prone to opt for the vehicle. The new car smell, which becomes especially pungent after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates along with many other chemicals volatilizing in the closed environment of the vehicle.

It is not so humorous when you consider the chemicals are inhaled and added to the many toxic volatile chemicals in your environment including your home, your office and your yard. In fact, I wrote a book about it, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals first published by Crown in 1992 and now available as an updated E-book.

Phthalates, derived from the organic chemical phthalic acid, include a large group of chemicals. World production of phthalates is estimated to be several million tons a year. . Phthalate compounds are used in just about every major product category including cosmetics, construction, automotive, household, apparel, toys packaging and medicinal material. You undoubtedly have phthalates in your body. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected phthalates in the urine of every Americans tested. Minute levels of phthalates used in toys, building materials, drug capsules, cosmetics and perfumes, have been statistically linked to sperm damage in men and genital changes, asthma and allergies in children. .Recent observations indicate some phthalates may be mutagenic, and cancer-causing

In 2004, the European Union banned phthalates in nailpolish. The FDA said in 2004 that phthalates are safe for humans in the amounts to which we are exposed. In 2008, The National Research Council (NRC) launched a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the potential health effects of phthlates including accumulative risks

Cynics say there are so many reports of minute amount of toxins and there is really nothing to worry about. It’s the dose that counts. But I always say tell me how much of a carcinogen causes cancer and what is the effect of the chemicals around us, in us and on us?, Here’s a pertinent quote, I believe, from my A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, At the Annual Conference of the American Medical Writers Association in 2005. She said among the reasons scientists believe in environmental causes of cancer:

  • Fewer than 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women born with genetic defects. The others are believed to be environmental.
  • The cancer risk for adopted children reflects their adoptive parents, not their biologic parents.
  • Fewer than half of identical twins get the same cancer.
  • Rates of cancer are higher for people employed outside the home.
  • The cancer risk for immigrants changes to that of their new country.
  • The majority of cancer cases have no known risk factors.
  • Disease is more aggressive in women with higher residues of toxins in their blood.

Manufacturers say there is no reliable evidence that phthalates cause any health problems. Newly identified markers are providing a better indication of our exposure to phthalates. So next time you sniff at the potential of adverse effects of the “New Car Scent” don’t laugh. That new car smell, which becomes especially noticeable after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates volatilizing and many other chemicals floating around the enclosed environment of your car, especially if the temperature is high.



I am recovering from a mysterious case of food poisoning. It is mysterious because not one of the 19 guests at Thanksgiving table became ill except me. And yes, I carefully washed my hands and counters while preparing the turkey.

The only thing I ate that no one else did was a sour tomato. I suspect it but can’t prove it since my son threw out the container while I was suffering the symptoms of the illness.

The Senate just passed a much needed overhaul of he nation’s food safety system, November 30, 2010, after thousands of people became ill from tainted dairy, vegetables, poultry, meat and other common edibles in recent years. Some of the victims died. In fact, I was wishing that I might pass away during the worst of the symptoms.

Recent legislation passed by the Senate 73-25 revamps the inspection and oversight laws established in the 1930s. The new legislation is aimed at strengthening the Food and Drug Administration that has long been understaffed, underfunded, and a political football The US House must still accept the Senate amendments before the measure can be forwarded to the President, who urged the House to “act quickly” on this critical bill.

The FDA has paid most attention to medical safety in recent times. That’s fine but most of us take a pill or two but all of us eat every day. The FDA is also responsible for overseeing cosmetics which have had pretty much free reign to reach the market. To make things more difficult, a large percentage of our foods, cosmetics, and their ingredients are made overseas in China, India and other countries, sometimes without any oversight at all.

In my first book, Poisons In Your Food (published 1969 and updated in 1991 by Crown) I quoted Howard Bauman, PhD, then vice president of the Pillsbury Company, who, at the American Health Association-sponsored National Conference on Food Protection warned of a “mass catastrophe” in the U.S. food supply: “Can you imagine the runways and control towers of the thirties trying to keep track of and land jets at our airports today? It seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what we’re doing in the food business,” Dr. Bauman said.

In the Seventh Edition of my Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives published last year, I pointed out some of the problems the FDA and other food safety agencies in other countries face. For example:
• The problem of underfunding , understaffing, and shortage of qualified experts
• The problem that almost no regulatory testing is actually done in science laboratories.
• The problem of how the additives in our food may interact with the drugs, cosmetics, and environmental chemicals in our lives.

I am delighted, just as most other consumer advocates are, Congress is trying to pass a law that will help to keep our food supply safer. As you can determine, however, that it is a tremendous undertaking that will cost millions of dollars that we don’t have in our treasury budget. Should our food safety, however, take priority over our wars overseas?

In 1985, the United States had the largest documented outbreak of foodborne illness in the nation’s history. The cause was bacterial contamination in a single Illinois milk plant— contamination that affected approximately 200,000 people.

An epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose job it is to track the incidence of illnesses, admits that the reports of foodborne diseases that do filter in to the Centers are only the tip of the iceberg and that the number of true outbreaks is actually fifty to one hundred times greater than the number reported.

I hope a weakened Congress does pass the new food safety bill but I don’t think I will ever find out if it was the green tomato that made me sick unless others report they also had a problem with green tomatos. Usually, people with ordinary food poisoning never report it. You can play an important part in strengthening the new law (if it is enacted), by reporting any adverse event with FDA-regulated problems such as food poisoning: The FDA emergency, 24 hour number, is 301-443-1240




When you select a pre-made sandwich or buy a bottle of sauce or a package of nuts do you know what you are really buying?


I have been accused of making consumer’s paranoid with my Seventh Edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives (Three Rivers/ Crown). I have listed chemicals made from known cancer-causing and brain toxic substances. Most of the thousands of other chemicals are added safely as preservatives and flavorings but who is watching the ones that are not? The FDA now allows the manufacturers themselves to self-affirm their additives as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).


The legitimate food producers do everything they can to protect their consumers’ faithfulness and safety. Kraft Foods was recently praised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for showing how the country’s food safety systems should work, after it discovered a salmonella outbreak in pistachios processed by one of its suppliers. The discovery, which was uncovered during what the company called routine third party testing that it was not legally required to undertake, led central-California-based processor Setton Farms to voluntarily recall its 2008 pistachio crop due to an unrelated salmonella contamination.


“This recall was not triggered because of an outbreak, in contrast to the peanut butter,” FDA associate commissioner for foods David Acheson told reporters.


The Grocery Manufacturing Association has suggested requiring all food manufacturers to adopt and update food safety plans so that they can be made available to the FDA.


To step up traceability, the GMA also suggested mandatory documentation by importers on the steps being used to police foreign suppliers, while also granting the FDA mandatory recall authority. Can you believe such protection does not exist in the US?


To back this increased scrutiny, the GMA said it also believed US Congress should increase the spending budget of the FDA to at least $900 million as part of attempts to ‘rebuild’ its scientific capacity.


While our guardian agencies, such as the FDA, are underfunded and overwhelmed, the British guardians are doing a better job.  A recently established food fraud division will support local authorities to take swift action to stop illegal activity as well as helping them uncover cases where the consumer has been misled, under the aegis of the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).The FSA defines food fraud as being committed when “food is deliberately placed on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer”.


This may take the form of selling products unfit for human consumption, such as those of unknown origin or which are past their sell-by-date; or misrepresenting food in some way, for example by substituting cheaper alternatives or making misleading statements about its source.


It is estimated the fraudulent food market in the UK is worth seven billion pounds a year—accounting for around 10 percent of the entire market. The FSA, for example, found sandwiches that did not contain cheese, but a non-dairy substitute “cheese analogue” which costs about half the wholesale price of real cheese. They also found “organic food” that was not really organic and Basmati Rice mixed with unrevealed less expensive rice.


Market researchers have found that that Americans have less and less confidence in supermarket safety, primarily in foods that need a lot of handling such as packaged sandwiches and rotisserie chicken.


I bought a package of store brand flour last year that was loaded with chlorine. The store apologized and gave me a coupon for another package of flour but I haven’t bought the store brand since. Have you experienced supermarket problems? Do you support paying more taxes to make a stronger FDA?