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The Human Experiment - Film Review

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by Maria M (subscribe)
A New York gal living in Sydney. An ICU nurse by profession and urban hippie. A pescatarian, runner/yoga lover, scuba diver & green-living enthusiast. Admits to being a coffee snob & is owned by a sweet French Bulldog.
Published September 10th 2014
Do not go shopping again without watching this
I was lucky enough to be invited to a Sydney screening of a compelling new documentary called The Human Experiment, courtesy of Naturally Home. This film is narrated by Academy Award winner Sean Penn (who is also an executive producer) and exposes the truth about 85,000 untested chemicals that are in everyday products. Penn won his first Academy Award for Best Actor in Mystic River (2003) and again for Milk (2008). Besides being an actor and filmmaker, he is also an activist, politician and the Ambassador-at-large for Haiti.

The Human Experiment is from the Emmy award-winning directing team of Dana Nachman and Don Hardy. Their previous films include Love Hate Love (2011) and Witch Hunt (2008). The Human Experiment follows the lives of everyday Americans who have been affected by the thousands of chemicals by eating or absorbing through the skin or under our tongue. Little do we know that untested chemicals are in toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, lotions, cleansers, cosmetics, perfumes, baby products, plastics, cans, furniture, cleaning products along with the leads in jewellery - the list is exhaustive.

According to the film, the United States does not have to prove the chemicals in its products are safe to use. In fact just like the judicial system, chemicals are "innocent until proven guilty." Even then if proven dangerous, it is almost impossible to win to ban chemicals because of the millions of dollars chemical companies have to use for their defence. The chemical companies have a lock on politicians to vote against bills to ban toxic chemicals. Chemical companies hire PR firms to use a 'deception through distraction' tactic that conspires to keep people ignorant. For instance 'Little Dutch Boy' paint has a sweet little boy on the could this product be dangerous? How long has it been known that products like tobacco, lead, DDT and formaldehyde are dangerous? For ages these chemicals were simply not labeled on products, which allow the chemical companies to get away with murder.

The Environmental Protection Agency 'grandfathered' in 62,000 untested chemicals when the agency was first formed. The documentary blatantly states that products we buy are not safe. There is NO consumer advocacy keeping an eye out for us. What's on our shelves and we put on our faces? People for years have just assumed that all the chemicals in the products have been tested and are safe.

BPA in everyday products like plastic in water-bottles, baby-bottles, cups, detergent, aluminium cans and even the unassuming water cooler at work can be toxic. BPA acts like hormones in the body and causes endocrine disorders such as polycystic ovaries and reproductive issues.

Since the use of these chemicals, The Human Experiment reveals that back in 1999 one child in 500 had autism, but in 2010 now that number is a staggering one in 88! Since the age of industrial chemicals ADHD has gone up 53%, asthma 80%, breast cancer 60% and rates of childhood cancer have drastically increased.

Of the American citizens adversely affected, some have become activists to alert others in their fight for safer products. A young woman aware of the chemicals used in cosmetics started to alert others. She wanted to share that girls are wearing makeup younger and younger. Did they know that their cosmetics, soaps, perfumes and deodorants contain toxic chemicals such as parapens, phthalates and triclosan that lead to cancer and reproductive disorders? She picketed big name stores like Abercrobie and Fitch regarding the dangers of their popular perfumes. She also would go into chemists and sticker her own 'warning labels' on certain deodorants like the brand Secret.

At this point in the film the viewer is left wondering if anything can be done? The answer lies outside the United States and Canada. Despite the rates of childhood cancer rising, formaldehyde that is a known carcinogen, is in Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo in the US and Canada. Oddly enough, it is not an ingredient in their baby shampoo in other countries where it is banned such as the UK, Japan or Sweden. China produces products deemed unsafe for even its own citizens and then ships them to the US. The US is a literal dumping ground of chemicals.

Since 2007, The EU has legislation which regulates chemicals and looks for safer alternatives. Following suit of the EU is Korea, India and China. The US needs to join the movement and hopefully will do so when Americans become more aware of their exposure to toxic chemicals and thus demand these alternatives.

I did note some flaws in the movie, as watching short clips of politicians and chemical lobbyists speaking during trials in court, their words could be taken out of context. It is easy in a film format to simply cut and paste what you want the viewers to see. On watching any documentary, I do like to hear both sides of the story. This was addressed in the movie, but simply stated as the American Chemical Council had declined to be interviewed for the film.

Many high calibre expert speakers are presenting keynote talks at the various Australian screenings including; Danielle Shirley (pharmacist, nutritionist, herbalist and the driving force behind getting these screenings to the public), Nicole Bijlsma (biologist and author), Professor Mark Cohen (health scientist), Tabitha McIntosh (naturopath and clinical nutritionist), Theresa Kerr (author and ambassador for holistic family health) and Bill Stratham (author of The Chemical Maze). According to Bill, "Australia is no better and in ways is worse off than the United States, as this country is slow to change and sees what the rest of the world does first." Upon answering my questions regarding Australia's chemical predicament, David Shirley from Naturally Home stated that "Every one of these speakers has said the situation in Australia is worse than that portrayed in the US in the film."

Danielle and David from Naturally Home, who sell Australian, organic and chemical free products for home and body, had to work very hard to secure the rights to bring this amazing film to Australia. Besides the ten film festival awards The Human Experiment has already won, the filmmakers are are hoping this film will be eligible for an Academy Award.

All images appear courtesy of KTF Films &
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Why? Compelling documentary about toxic chemicals in everyday products
When: Screenings in September
Cost: Varies
Your Comment
Very well written article. Alarming subject!
by Accpr (score: 0|7) 2277 days ago
This is really quite shocking; I didn't realise America had such more health/safety regulations.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2276 days ago
The beauty industry is the worst for chemicals, luckily Australia has a growing alternative health movement. Great article, I can't wait to see this movie now, I have always loved Sean Penn.
by Trudencej (score: 1|52) 1880 days ago
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