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Episode 03, Part 2: Out of the Factory

The Beehive, The Pouf, Elvis Presley’s swooping pompadour — it’s hard to imagine an iconic hairstyle that doesn’t call for a bit of hairspray.

Last episode, historian Gerald Markowitz and lawyer Billy Baggett Jr. brought us through the house of documents that uncovered the deadly story of vinyl chloride in the factory workplace.

Now, we’re curious how this chemical impacted everyday consumers. And most importantly: how did the industry get away with quietly taking vinyl chloride out of hairspray in the 1970s, with no word about the danger to consumers? From the sixties to the early seventies, vinyl chloride was used as a propellant by dozens of popular brands. When people sprayed hairspray in their faces they were exposed to even higher amounts of vinyl chloride than workers in the factory.

And the story doesn’t stop there – industry-funded studies, seeds of doubt, and a near-impossible burden of proof make vinyl chloride cases hard to pin down.

But don’t despair: these experts show us how to advocate for greater transparency and better consumer habits, while still holding industry accountable.

You can find more information about PVC in our Material Collections, or browse our tools & guides for information on affordable, healthy building material alternatives.

The Environmental Working Group website is a fantastic resource for consumer guides and in-depth research.

Find educational resources and environmental health information from Mount Sinai at the links below:

The Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center

The Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research

New York State Children’s Environmental Health Centers

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit

Regarding phthalates specifically, check out these resources:

Phthalates Fact Sheet

BPA and Phthalates

Phthalates Action Plan Checklist




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Check out a gallery of images from the episode below:

Click here for a full transcript of the episode.

Trace Material is a project of Parsons Healthy Materials Lab at The New School. It is hosted and produced by Ava Robinson and Burgess Brown. Our project director is Alison Mears, and our research assistant is Olivia Hamilton. Trace Material was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our theme music is Rainbow Road by Cardioid. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions.

Contributors:
Gerald Markowitz, author of Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution;
Billy Baggett Jr., personal injury lawyer;
Dr. Sarah Evans, Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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