As I sit here, I can hear the blowers of the auto body shop next door. Each weekday, I wait until the blowers are turned off so that I can venture out into the backyard without becoming overwhelmed by the smell of solvents.

Months ago, I contacted Berkeley’s environmental health department and the county’s air quality management board to find out whether I should be concerned about my son, Ethan, breathing in the fumes. I assumed someone must document what chemicals are being emitted and that guidelines must exist detailing safe levels of exposure. I was wrong.

So, we just err on the safe side. If the blowers are on, we keep the windows closed and don’t take Ethan into the yard, but that is unlikely to be a workable plan long-term. Sadly, the likely toxic emissions coming from our neighbor is just one of a long line of very real environmental concerns in my everyday life.

These days I find myself drawn to news stories about toxic hazards. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t typically obsess about these things, but nonetheless, I am finding a never ending supply of things to worry about: there’s mercury in our fish, rocket fuel in cow’s milk, and even breastmilk is filled with chemicals and contaminants.

Each day, it feels like I am walking a fine line between healthy caution and utter paranoia. Maybe I’d be better off if I didn’t read the news — perhaps that’s why George W. Bush doesn’t bother.

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