When Viviane Maraghi took blood tests to find out how many chemical pollutants were in her body, she expected the number to be low. An environmentalist, she carefully monitored what she ate and the household products and items she purchased.
Nevertheless, lead, arsenic, mercury, PCBs, flame retardants, and an array of other chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological diseases were all well represented in her bloodstream. She tested positive for 36 of 68 potentially toxic chemicals, many of which never actually leave the body, but instead continue to accumulate over time in tissues such as fat or bone.
Dangerous chemicals are in the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat and the products you use. Over the last 50 years, from 70,000 to 100,000 different chemicals have been introduced into the world’s markets with about 1,500 new ones added each year. Only now are governments beginning to examine the dangers posed to human health and world ecosystems.
Many western governments are finally initiating new chemical controls as part of the 2006 Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management agreement. Leading the way is the European Union, with a new program called REACH (Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) that requires industry to prove the safety of their chemicals and consumer products before they reach the market.The sheer number of toxic chemicals that you are exposed to on a daily basis is truly staggering. With some 100,000 different chemicals being used throughout the world, and 1,500 or so more being added each year – all without any major oversight or testing for safety until after the fact – is it any wonder that you’re not as healthy as you should be?
The number of toxic chemicals is so large, addressing them all would be an impossible mission, but I believe being an informed and vigilant consumer CAN help you keep your toxic load as low as possible, even if it may be impossible to cut your exposure to zero.
After all, they’re everywhere; in your air, water, soil, food supply, and in a vast majority of the personal care, household and yard products you use on a regular basis. Today, they’re even in the circuitry boards of the electronics you surround yourself with. Some of the sources of toxins you have control over. Others, you don’t.
Keep reading to find out tips on how to limit your exposure to some of the most common of these health hazards.
Many of the toxins that you’re exposed to are from your general environment, which also ends up including your food supply. A few of the most common environmental toxins are:
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls): This industrial chemical has been banned in the United States for decades, yet is a persistent organic pollutant that’s still present in your environment.
Risks: Cancer, impaired fetal brain development
Major Source: Most farm-raised salmon, which accounts for most of the supply in the United States, are fed meals of ground-up fish that have absorbed PCBs in the environment and for this reason should be avoided.
Pesticides: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides are known to be carcinogenic. Alarmingly, pesticide residues have been detected in 50 percent to 95 percent of U.S. foods.
Risks: Cancer, Parkinson’s disease, miscarriage, nerve damage, birth defects, blocking the absorption of food nutrients
Major Sources: Food (fruits, vegetables and commercially raised meats), bug sprays
Dioxins: Chemical compounds formed as a result of combustion processes such as commercial or municipal waste incineration and from burning fuels (like wood, coal or oil).
Risks: Cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, chloracne (a severe skin disease with acne-like lesions), skin rashes, skin discoloration, excessive body hair, mild liver damage
Major Sources: Animal fats: Over 95 percent of exposure comes from eating commercial animal fats.
Chloroform: This colorless liquid has a pleasant, nonirritating odor and a slightly sweet taste, and is used to make other chemicals. It’s also formed when chlorine is added to water.
Risks: Cancer, potential reproductive damage, birth defects, dizziness, fatigue, headache, liver and kidney damage.
Major Sources: Air, drinking water and food can contain chloroform.
Heavy Metals: Metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium, which are prevalent in many areas of your environment, can accumulate in soft tissues of your body.
Risks: Cancer, neurological disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, foggy head, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels
Major Sources: Drinking water, fish, vaccines, pesticides, preserved wood, antiperspirant, building materials, dental amalgams, chlorine plants
The American Cancer Society has stated that environmental pollution causes:
- Nervous disorders and hyperactivity
- Nasal congestion and burning eyes
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Burning and tingling skin
- Irritability and mental confusion
- Lack of coordination, and other symptoms
So, just how high is your exposure to toxic compounds from your environment; the air you breathe; your city water supply?
If you’re a U.S. resident, one way of assessing your level of exposure in the area where you live, is by checking out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) TRI Explorer database.
This site summarizes the basic Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data for each county and state, starting from 2002, and contains information about the releases of toxic chemicals by industrial facilities.
The TRI was established by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, for the purpose of providing you with information about the presence and release of toxic chemicals in your community.
For example, within the state of Illinois (where I live) the grand total emissions of toxic chemicals from industry were almost 87,670,000 pounds in 2006 alone. That’s toxins released into the air, water, landfills, underground injection wells and other waste management locations, just within my state.
Your Home – Healthy Haven, or Toxic Nightmare?
Many people do not realize that their home – the building itself as well as your furnishings and decorations – is a major source of toxic contamination.
According to EPA studies, indoor air pollutants are anywhere from three to 70 times higher than outdoors! This is why I often recommend using a high quality air purification system in your home, and hopefully in your place of business as well.
Personally, I’ve gone to great lengths to remedy most of these common indoor problems. Not only are the building materials, paints, and furniture in my new office building all non-toxic recycled materials (or materials that can be easily recycled), but our air filtration system is beyond state of the art, circulating completely PURE air.
Other common hazards in your home that add to your toxic load include:
Mold and other Fungal Toxins: One in three people have had an allergic reaction to mold. Mycotoxins (fungal toxins) can cause a range of health problems with exposure to only a small amount.
Risks: Cancer, heart disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes
Major Sources: Contaminated buildings, food like peanuts, wheat, corn and alcoholic beverages
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): VOCs are a major contributing factor to ozone, an air pollutant. According to the EPA, VOCs tend to be even higher (two to five times) in indoor air than outdoor air, likely because they are present in so many household products.
Risks: Cancer, eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment
Major Sources: Drinking water, carpet, paints, deodorants, cleaning fluids, varnishes, cosmetics, dry cleaned clothing, moth repellents, air fresheners.
Asbestos: This insulating material was widely used from the 1950s to 1970s. Problems arise when the material becomes old and crumbly, releasing fibers into the air.
Risks: Cancer, scarring of the lung tissue, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer)
Major Sources: Insulation on floors, ceilings, water pipes and healing ducts from the 1950s to 1970s.
The Unsuspected Price Tag of Convenience and Beauty
Next, there are all those products you use in daily life. From your personal care products, to household cleaning agents, to plastic food containers and baby bottles… Many of them contain ingredients that are known to be toxic or cancer-causing.
For more information about which ones you’ll definitely want to avoid, please review the articles listed under Related Articles below, as I’ve written quite extensively on these issues before.
Something you may not have seen or heard before, however, is this list of the Top Cancer-Causing Products in the average home, as compiled by the National Cancer Prevention Coalition, which includes:
- Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder with talc
- Crest Tartar Control toothpaste
- VO5 Hair Conditioner
- Clairol Nice-n-Easy Hair Color
- Cover Girl Replenishing Natural Finish Make Up
- Ajax cleanser
- Lysol disinfectant
- Zud Heavy Duty Cleanser
I believe that putting something on your skin can be even more dangerous to your health than ingesting it directly, which is why I decided to create my own personal care line of products that are 100% USDA Organic Certified. My team has been researching this topic extensively and I am proud to report that we are getting very close to launching one of the best, most pure skin care product lines out there. It is truly effective and has absolutely no synthetic ingredients.
Is There Hope?
I realize this can get quite overwhelming, but as I stated earlier, I believe you CAN limit your exposure, and hence your risk of suffering any debilitating effects.
So, instead of feeling overtaken by the enormity and the pervasiveness of the problem, please focus on the things that you can control right now. That would include switching to non-toxic and natural alternatives for things that you use on your body, in your home and around your yard, to start.
Like Viviane Maraghi stated in this article, if her and her son’s test results revealed toxins in their bloodstream despite the fact that they eat mostly organic and are careful about the household products they buy, just imagine what your toxic load might be if you pay no attention at all!