Introduction: I wrote the following speculative fantasy in February, 2010, before I researched formalin on Wikipedia last week. “Formalin,” I learned, is an aqueous form of formaldehyde, the simplest aldehyde in chemistry. Formalin contains 40% formaldehyde, 10-12% stabilizer, usually methanol, and the rest water. 90% of formaldehyde occurs naturally, through decaying organic matter. It does not build up in the environment because it is quickly broken down by sun and bacteria.
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, but used extensively in industry. Major products are composite wood products, like laminates, particle board, hard plywoods, and fiberboard. Its use in embalming is well known. It is also used as a pesticide in animal foods, and as a disinfectant.
The primary effects of formaldehyde toxicity are respiratory, with burning eyes and nose. It can worsen asthma. Long-term exposure is linked to leukemia.
The formaldehyde toxicity associated with FEMA-provided trailers in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, was possibly caused by the high concentration of new particleboard in poorly ventilated trailers.
Industrialization has raised the amount and diversity of environmental toxins to immeasurable proportions. From the particle board in kitchen cabinets to the PVC in water pipes, we are living in increasingly toxic conditions that we only worsen with our wasteful, consumerist culture.
While others worry about “climate change,” I’m more concerned with the growing generalized effects of environmental toxins, not only on humans but on all life. Flint, Michigan is unlikely to be the only city in the US with poisonous water. Industrialization has led to contamination of water everywhere, differing only in degree. Even bottled water—and maybe especially bottled water—leaches hormone-altering plastic into the water. Single-use packaging is particularly hard to justify.
“STRANDS OF CONSCIOUSNESS” FOLLOW FORMALIN
February, 2010–Seth in Jane Roberts’ Seth series talks about “strands of consciousness” reaching out and entering others, but they are no more invasive than the leaves on a tree and depend on each other for survival—their very existence. Every atom and molecule participates in a dynamic that can take it from rock to human to animal to insect to marsh grass, to every corner of the earth and dimensions unimaginable. The atoms and molecules have a kind of memory of their histories, traces, and essences, that contribute to the greater understanding of the whole.
Man is not diminished but expanded by that, because he feels less alone and more connected to the larger dynamic. We have created god in the human image, without recognizing god is as impersonal as a housefly, as placid as a mountain, as enduring as the galaxies, as strong and gentle as a spider’s web.
A dust particle in the air attests to god’s expansive creativity, and the dust will respond to the sun’s rays in its own way, as will the air molecules that hold it aloft. All are expressions of the infinite creativity of god –All That Is, in Seth’s terms—the multi-sexual expression of pure energy. The human division between life and death is arbitrary. A “dead” human is teeming with other life forms, bacteria and the like, so it is only dead from a human perspective. The other life that feed on it and helped it survive—as normal flora does—lives on and may not even notice the human identity’s passing. Until the formaldehyde hits, that is. Then all bets are off.
“But hey,” says the Cosmic Improv Group, that army of nags inside my imagination, which has lots of strands of consciousness invested in keeping me alive awhile, “Formaldehyde has feelings, too.”
“You betcha,” I reply. “Not to demean formaldehyde, but I’d rather not party with it, if it’s all the same to you. Let it play its role with other people.
“Formalin, actually,” say the medical experts. Formaldehyde has carcinogens and toxins that are believed to be carcinogenic, as I recall, but don’t trust memory on this. Formalin is supposed to be better on living bodies for preserving dead ones.
Go figure. All this so the body won’t stink while people gawk over the plastic model of the deceased soul. Be careful not to shed your tears on the make-up.
But the formalin goes into the ground, and into the sewer systems with the mortuary’s waste, and with the body’s interment. People dry their tears and start fighting over the estate, and life moves on.
The formalin continues in new forms underground, freed from human bondage, and off to have new adventures. Because it has the authorities’ seal of safety—was that the FDA, DEA, Cancer Society, Dow Chemicals, Pfizer? Who decided formalin is less toxic than formaldehyde? It is allowed free rein in the environment and can join its fellow non-toxins in joyful salute to the demise of mankind.
Now, that was not my strand of consciousness, certainly. Why would I go off on a tangent about formalin? Well, I was trying to understand formalin’s point of view, actually, to send a strand of consciousness to the probable life of a formalin molecule, and to enter its world.
Was that invasion? No. It was an appreciation for the greater unity that created my consciousness, the tools to make it conscious, and the formalin molecule, too. I guarantee no formalin molecule is equipped to write about its own life, so who will do it if I don’t?
My experience is minimal, so my imagination limited. The few anatomy cadaver dissections I participated in in medical school. A month of a pathology elective, in my senior year, where I spent most of the time studying sliced placentas.
But hey, I’ve probably inhaled more formalin than most people, so its molecules have entered my body and communicated in the way only formalin can. We just don’t know all the ways it can communicate with us.