Half of my family tree has never had any heart trouble. The other side of my family tree never had a male live to age 60 until my father did it, and while some were killed fighting wars, all the others died of heart problems. So, I wonder, which set of genes did I inherit? Will I be bouncing a basketball and shooting hoops with my grandchild when I’m 80+ as one grandfather of mine did, or will I succumb to the “big one” before 60 as my other grandfather did? Well, my doctor says, and has said for decades, I should not leave it all up to genetics, and that I should be using diet and exercise to tilt the odds in my favor. And so, for years I have, to varying degrees I admit, been attempting to exercise and eat sensibly. The eating sensibly part has been a lot harder, mainly because what’s ‘sensible’ seems to change regularly. Complex carb, no carb, low carb. High protein, balanced diet, no fat. Big breakfast, mini-meals, all organic, over-the-counter supplements. Eeek. Exercising has definitely been the easier part. While there may be arguments about which exercises are best for you, it’s not like any exercises are bad for you, with the possible exception of 12-ounce curls. And while I won’t admit to being compulsive, nor to being anal-retentive, there may have been a time or two when my exercise routine headed toward the obsessive end of the spectrum. Hence the button pinned to the carry strap of my gym bag. It says “Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway”, as a reminder that despite my best efforts, something will get me eventually.
Not that I really need the reminder any longer. Although I try to limit my time in front of a television set, (oops, did I show my age by calling it a “television set” instead of just ‘television’?), advertisers seem to know my age group and our typical set of problems. During the few programs I watch, I get bombarded with ads for drugs to make me more energetic and more youthful and more potent. I get swamped with ads to help cure stiff joints, aching muscles, and lessening flexibility. There are seemingly endless remedies for the prevention of repeat heart attacks, strokes, and initial heart attacks. But they all have something in common.
All include disclaimers and warnings. Laws or regulations require full disclosure of all the potential side effects, adverse reactions, and potential complications. I could, according to the ads, see blue or go blind, get jaundice or suffer liver failure, die or suffer fatal side effects, have bad interactions with any medicine I take or any food I eat, suffer fungal or bacterial infections, get blood clots in my head or in my legs, be caused heart pain or heart attacks, get an erection lasting more than four hours or lose my mind, and so on, ad nauseum… I don’t even listen any more. If they advertise it on TV, it’s too dangerous for me to take!
But it’s not just television (and radio and magazine and website and newpaper) ads, it’s also becoming (m)SDS’s and product labels, too. Oh, it’s great that we have a Globally Harmonized System (which isn’t global and isn’t harmonized, but that’s another column). What’s not so great is what it has evolved to. It is, in my opinion, no longer a quick, easy, and intelligible way to learn the hazards of what I’m working with. Instead, it’s become such a cumbersome, lengthy, complicated system of warnings and precautions that it takes a safety professional with multiple university degrees to understand. Does a worker really care whether a flammable liquid is Category 2 or Category 3 or Category N, or does the worker just want to know to avoid starting it on fire? Who, without lengthy, detailed training, has a job as a warehouse worker and knows the similarities and differences between mutagens, teratogens, reproductive hazards, and carcinogens? And, good golly, “target organ effects”! I’ve got some external organs, such as skin and eyes, and internal organs. I’ve got digestive organs, such as stomach, intestines, pancreas, and colon. I’ve got waste removal organs like kidneys and liver, but I don’t know which are my “target” organs. None seem to have concentric circles on them, and there’s probably not an organ I have that isn’t ‘targeted’ by some chemical or another for adverse effects, so maybe none, or maybe all, of my organs are “target organs”. Finally, unless you’ve had occasion to read an SDS for air (which doesn’t really require an SDS), which chemical is not a potential hazard for inhaling? Even asthma medicines warn against inhaling too much. So, what good do ‘avoid inhalation’ warnings do, when there’s nothing that should ever be inhaled while working with it?
I’m starting to get the same feeling with product label warnings and SDS’s that I have with advertisements for medicines and supplements; overwhelmed. Everything’s bad for me, in one way or another. Bombarded with warnings, cautions, and precautions as I am, even with SDS’s, or maybe now especially with SDS’s, I find myself unconsciously tuning them out.
After all, no matter how well I eat and how often I exercise, not matter how alert, prudent, cautious, and safe I am, no one gets out of this life alive.

Written 5/27/2013 for HCB Magazine