Our Chemical (Toxic) Burden
We rarely think about all the chemicals that are present in our everyday lives. We know about air pollution and water pollution and we may try our best not to contribute further. But do you know just how many chemicals you are exposed to every day, and the fact that most have not been tested for safety?
Late last week I posted a link to a report issued last year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) titled The Pollution in People: Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Americans’ Bodies. I know that many people follow the EWG but don’t much like to read research papers. I get that. Most people don’t. I’m one of the few that does. I actually subscribed to the New England Journal of Medicine when I was an undergrad considering medical school as my path. I read them as soon as they landed in my mailbox. Unfortunately, I discovered I would not make it through the hands-on stuff like dissection, as I couldn’t even dissect a sheep brain in my Biological Psychology course. I sought out a lab partner who was willing to handle the scalpel while I took notes and drafted the report. However, I never lost my inquisitive sense towards medicine and health. So, without further ado, here is an introduction to the report and why it is so important.
What is this report all about?
We rarely think about all the chemicals that are present in our everyday lives. We know about air pollution and water pollution and we may try our best not to contribute further. But do you know just how many chemicals you are exposed to every day, and the fact that most have not been tested for safety? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) report indicates there are nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States. Thousands of these chemicals are in our air, food, water and consumer products. Levels of these chemicals in our bodies can be determined through biomonitoring tests, by measuring them in food, urine, breast milk, hair and other human samples.
Most important is the fact that the carcinogenic nature of chemicals was stressed in a 2008-2009 report of the President’s Cancer Panel (the Department of Health and Human Services) which expressed the gross underestimation of the true burden of environmentally induced cancer. The report acknowledges the public is unaware of the many common environmental carcinogens, as well as the fact that children are more vulnerable to environmental toxins and radiation than adults.
What testing can and can’t tell us
Biomonitoring can tell us what our exposure levels are. Biomonitoring cannot tell us the source of exposure or how all the chemicals interact. How they interact is another level of concern. Think of it this way. When a doctor prescribes medication, there are known side effects and some known interactions with other drugs or benign substances. But the more you pile on, the greater the risk of unknown interactions. Any given cocktail of drugs can have effects that are not, and cannot always be known until it’s too late.
For this reason, and others, medical errors are estimated to be the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. In 2006, independent research estimated it to be the leading cause of death; with adverse drug reactions being the leading cause of iatrogenic deaths. The term iatrogenic refers to a medical disorder (or death) caused by the diagnosis, manner or treatment of a physician. The statistics are believed to be greatly underreported as there is no box to check, or code to enter for iatrogenic deaths.
The example of drug reactions can similarly be applied to the reaction, or interaction, of the hundreds of chemicals found in the human body. Chemicals that do not belong in the human body. Chemicals that we need to be actively working to eliminate from our daily routines, where possible, and removed utilizing the body’s innate detoxification properties.
In a series of posts, I will discuss what the EWG report found when studying and compiling the findings of independent research. The report is significant because it provides a peek into the thousands of chemicals that remain untested for safety despite their proven links to disease and cancer. Chemicals that are killing us but are allowed to be produced and sold for use in products we consume and use daily.
Iatrogenic causes of death are not part of the EWG report. I have included two links if you would like to read more about iatrogenic causes of death:
Yours in Wellness,
Next in the series: Our Chemical (Toxic) Burden, Part 2