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Documentary on household chemicals

Sunday 18 April 2010

ChemericalCanadian newspaper The Vancouver Courier has an article about Chemerical, a new documentary focusing on a family and their efforts to minimise the amount of potentially harmful chemicals in their home:

Film follows family's toxic-free trial

Documentary part of annual Projecting Change festival

Cheryl Rossi
Vancouver Courier

Friday, April 16, 2010

First he got an urban family to hoard all of their garbage for three months, then he explored how their lifestyle affected the environment for his award-winning documentary Garbage!

Now Toronto filmmaker Andrew Nisker has captured a family's efforts to switch to non-toxic household cleaners and personal products in his latest film Chemerical.

Released in December, Chemerical makes its Vancouver debut at the Projecting Change Film Festival at Fifth Avenue Cinemas from April 22 to 25.

"Through doing that [Garbage!] investigation, I discovered that our indoor air quality is 10 to 50 per cent worse than our outdoor air quality," Nisker said. Air fresheners and cleaning products are two contributors.

Chemerical follows the members of the Goode family as they strive to create a toxic-free home. They learn about lead in some red lipsticks and mix awful-tasting toothpaste while their teenaged son wonders if going toxic-free means sporting flat, gel-free hair.

The documentary also highlights a woman who is one of more than two million people in the U.S. who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity. Her condition had reached the point where she had a hard time breathing in her own home and walking by exhaust vents from clothes dryers without feeling ill.

"It's becoming a growing problem for post-menopausal women who basically spent their life bathed in chemicals," Nisker said, referring to cleaning and skincare products, nail polish, hair dyes and cosmetics.

Chemerical shows where petrochemicals are produced in "Chemical Valley" in Sarnia, Ont. where the life expectancy on a nearby native reserve is 54 years, one in every two women miscarries and more girls are born than boys because of exposure to chemicals in the air. It also looks at the disposal of cleaners and containers and examines the Love Canal neighbourhood in Niagara Falls, New York, which was built bordering a toxic landfill and was considered an environmental catastrophe in the 1970s. "You have to remember that if you're supporting the chemical industry by buying these toxic products, there's always someone that's going to suffer at the end of the day where the stuff is being disposed of, too," Nisker said.

Chemerical and isn't just about drama and doom, but also solutions.

It tells viewers how they can easily and cheaply make non-toxic cleaners with ingredients including vinegar, water and a little essential oil. "You don't necessarily need to smell like a fish and chip shop," Nisker said.

Nisker can't attend the Vancouver screenings because he'll be busy showing Garbage! at Wal-Mart's world headquarters in Arkansas.

But Projecting Change's organizers pair inspiring local experts with each film. Twenty-three-year-old Emily Jubenvill will give youth who attend the screening of Chemerical April 23 tips and resources for household cleaners and cosmetics.

Jubenvill, a community gardener and co-founder of Small Feet Inc., a carbon and sustainability consulting firm, said switching from a conventional to natural dish soap was an adjustment because natural products don't produce as many suds. But she prefers scrubbing her tub with sea salts, baking powder and water.

"I don't feel like I'm going to throw up because of the fumes," she said.

Jubenvill also takes comfort in knowing that she's not decimating fish by letting chlorine and ammonia down her drains. Buying natural products can be more expensive, she said, but the extra costs balance out for the fish downstream and affects what manufacturers produce upstream.

Projecting Change also includes a documentary on the Alberta oil sands, a film from the producers of Who Killed the Electric Car on the big business of bottled water, and Carbon Nation, which includes Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver's deputy city manager, when he worked in Chicago.

Profits made at Projecting Change are invested back into local initiatives. Festival goers who show a bike helmet at the box office receive $2 off their admission. For more information, see

© Vancouver Courier 2010

The article originally appeared here.

Incidiintally, we also reported on the documentary in a news item in December.


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