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STUDY: You are what you ate, breathed, drank and more
AUTHORS: Dr. David Fleming
ABSTRACT: Researchers say toxic chemicals make their way into our bodies every day through a range of products from cosmetics and food additives to pesticides and building materials.
Two recent studies cast dramatic light on the extent to which Americans are absorbing toxic chemicals in their bodies as part of everyday life. They present a striking picture of Americans riddled with low levels of chemicals, the vestiges of eating, drinking, breathing and touching the synthetic products of the industrial world. Given how common these chemicals are, can personal actions and better choices reduce one’s level of exposure in a toxic world?
COMMENTARY: C Brody used to think so. For 20 years, she ate organic produce and followed all the usual recommendations to reduce chemical exposure, from using non-toxic household cleaning detergents to avoiding pesticides in her home and garden.
Joking that she washed her bathtub in vinegar so much that her family said it smelled like a salad, she adds, “I’m the one hand-picking individual weeds from my garden rather than using chemical sprays, and going that extra mile to get my organic milk in a glass bottle.”
With more than 70,000 chemicals in use in the United States and 2,000 new compounds being introduced every year, according to government figures, the average American is exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from various sources.
Brody used to think her efforts helped limit her exposure, but after volunteering to take part in a study measuring toxic chemicals in her body, she was shocked to find that she still had some 85 toxic chemicals in her blood and urine.
“I’m proof that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t shield you,” says Brody.
Brody and eight other volunteers were tested for the presence of 210 chemicals, commonly found in consumer products and industrial pollutants, by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and two non profit groups, the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal.
The study claims to be “the most comprehensive” survey to date of the multitude of contaminants found in humans.
Tests on blood and urine detected an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals in the volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found across the entire group. The researchers chose subjects who did not work with chemicals in their jobs or live in industrial areas.
This small Mt. Sinai study and a much more comprehensive survey done by the Centers for Disease Control, also released in January, shed new understanding on the “body burden” of toxic chemicals we all carry inside. The results illustrate a side effect of modern life in which everything from carpets to cosmetics are bathed in toxins.
The CDC tests measured some 116 harmful chemicals, including lead, mercury and other heavy metals, chlorinated solvents, insecticides and other pesticides, PCBs, and plasticizing agents called phthalates, to name but a few.
The agency noted some public health successes, such as a decline in lead levels and in cotinine, the byproduct of tobacco smoke. But the researchers also announced some troubling findings, including:
Children have twice the levels of certain pesticides in their blood as adults Children have higher levels of cotinine than adults
Children have higher levels of certain chemicals used in soft plastic toys Adolescents have high levels of phthalates from personal care products
Mexican-Americans have three times the levels of the banned pesticide DDT in their systems as other Americans.
Rather than be paralyzed by our toxic exposure, we ought to use the results of these studies to promote better policies and product lines.