I always get asked whether we are really exposed to all of these toxic chemicals. The answer is yes. Biomonitoring studies demonstrate that we all carry a toxic chemical body burden. One of the first studies found that participants had an average body burden of 53 chemicals linked to cancer, 62 chemicals that are toxic to the brain and nervous system, 58 chemicals that interfere with the hormone system, 55 chemicals that are associated with birth defects or abnormal development, 55 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system and 53 chemicals toxic to the immune system.
And our babies, before they are even born, are exposed too. We pass along our body burden to our babies. The Environmental Working Group (“EWG”) tested the umbilical cord blood from ten (10) randomly selected babies born in August and September 2004. The EWG found that it contained a host of chemicals. Of the 413 chemicals for which analyses were performed, 287 chemicals were detected. Of those 287 chemicals detected:
- 180 cause cancer in humans or animals;
- 218 are toxic to the brain and nervous system; and
- 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.
Biomonitoring is expensive, although you can test your hair for mercury through the Sierra Club. But, answer the following questions to see what you might be exposed to:
Was your home built before 1978? If yes, it is likely that you are exposed to lead paint and lead contaminated dust. The HUD estimates that 1 in 4 homes has a significant lead based paint hazard.
Do you use any folk or herbal remedies? If yes, you should consider that some are contaminated with lead, mercury and arsenic.
What’s in your drinking water? Do you know whether your pipes, fittings and/or faucets contribute to lead in your drinking water?
Do you eat meat? Meat products can be contaminated with chemicals that accumulate in fat, such as dioxins and PCBs.
Do you eat fish? Fish can be contaminated with mercury, dioxins and flame retardants.
Do you eat organic fruits and vegetables? The EPA estimates that 80% of our pesticide exposure comes from our food. A 2 year old drinking non-organic apple juice can be exposed to as many as 80 different pesticides, and her exposure to these pesticides is 20 times what her mother’s is on a body weight basis.
How many personal care products did you use today? What is those products? Think about all the products you might have used in the last 24 hours – shampoo, conditioner, soap or a beauty bar, shaving product, moisturizing body lotion, facial moisturizer, hair styling products, sunblock, toner, makeup, night cream, perfume, etc. Any or all of these products can have formaldehyde contributors, phthalates, parabens, toluene, and a number of other chemicals. Check out what is in your products using this database from EWG.
How many cleaning products did you use today? Do you know what is in those products? Check out this database on common household products.
Did you use any household pesticides, in the home or garden or on any pet? Ant foggers, roach sprays, weed killer, or flea and tick shampoo? Exposure to household pesticides is associated with an elevated risk of childhood leukemia, by as much as 3 to 9 times, with exposures to insecticides early in life more significant than later exposures in terms of increased cancer risk, and the highest risk associated with exposure to insecticides during pregnancy
Did you pump gas today? If yes, then you were probably exposed to benzene.
How many electronic products do you have in your home and your office (if you work outside the home)? Electronic products and upholstered goods have flame retardants added to them, which offgas and adhere to dust.
Okay, so what’s your reaction? How much of a body burden do you think you have? Other factors include whether you smoke or live with a smoker, what your occupation is, whether you were born outside this country (leaded gas used in other countries can increase your body burden), etc.
And what can you do about? Well, try some of these Simple Steps:
- Take care of any lead based paint issues. Try these Simple Steps to reduce lead exposure around the home.
- Check our any herbal remedies and make sure they are not contaminated with lead, mercury or arsenic.
- Read your water report and check out your pipes, fittings and faucets. If you want to invest in a filter, make sure it is certified by the NSF to remove the contaminant(s) of concern.
- Try organic meat. Or, prepare meat to remove fat – PCBs and dioxins are stored in fat.
- Choose fish species carefully. Check out this fish calculator. And, if you want to check out your mercury body burden, you can get your hair tested for $25.
- Go organic, or at least go organic for the most heavily contaminated fruits and vegetables. Use this cheat sheet.
- Choose your personal care products carefully.
- Green your cleaning with these Simple Steps.
- Go non-toxic. Try these Simple Steps.
- Step back while you pumpl
- Reduce dust by wet wiping regularly (will help with lead dust too) and vacuum regularly with a HEPA equipped vacuum. Also, when buying new, look for products that are free of chemical flame retardants.