Chemical Exposure

Chemical exposure can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, skin problems, digestive problems, recurrent Candidiasis, allergies and even cancer. Some occupations that involve chemical exposure are farmers, hairdressers, photographers, refinery and factory workers, airline employees, truck drivers, auto mechanics, painters, doctors and x-ray technicians.

Just living on Earth gives us a fair amount of chemical exposure. How close do you live to a highway or airport? Air pollution is concentrated in the cities, but exists throughout the country. Farmers use liberal amounts of pesticides on their crops and liberal amounts of antibiotics in their animals. The amount of chemical exposure Americans get is unprecedented in history. Cancers of the liver, kidney and lymphatic system are on the rise. For people who are chronically ill, people who have multiple symptoms, who may be described as “just plain sick,” chemical toxicity is often one of their issues.

In the midst of this chemical bath we all are taking are people who suffer from many symptoms; they are like canaries. Coal miners used to take canaries into the mines; if the canary died, the miners knew that there were dangerous gasses present in the mine. In our society we have people who are exposed to the same chemical burden we all are. They, however, suffer with headaches, digestive problems, sensitivity to smoke and perfume, fatigue, muscle pains, joint pains, asthma, eczema, dizziness, back pain, neck pain, edema, PMS and any number of other symptoms because they have trouble handling the chemical burden that we are all exposed to. They are like the canaries in the coal mine; they suffer before anyone else.
The “body burden” of chemicals is tested by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every two years. It has found that the average American now has 116 synthetic compounds in his or her body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. These include dioxin (from burning plastic), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (from auto exhaust) and organochlorine pesticides. Of course there are about 75,000 different chemicals produced in the United States each year, 3,000 of which are produced in quantities greater than 50,000 tons each year. Chemicals that were banned decades ago persist in the soil, air and water. DDT, banned 34 years ago, still exists in detectable levels in many people. It would be interesting to see the CDC’s result if all of these chemicals were tested for.

Recent studies have detected these pesticides, plastics and polymers not only in umbilical cord blood, but in the placenta, in human milk and in the bloodstreams and body fat of infants. These substances may have far reaching effects on our health. One toxin threatening mothers and children is mercury. Mercury has been linked to breast cancer, autism and attention deficit disorder. In 2002, a study found that nearly 15% of American women of reproductive age have enough of this contaminant in her blood to endanger a developing fetus.

In 1993, Mary Wolff, an associate professor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, published a paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,  indicating that exposure to certain chemicals may indeed play a role in breast cancer. Women with high blood levels of DDE, a DDT breakdown product, had a much greater risk of developing breast cancer — four times higher than women with low levels of DDE. DDT, an insecticide banned in the US in the 1970s, can mimic the hormone estrogen and is a known endocrine disrupter. Scientists from the University of Liverpool published research in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine stating that exposure even to small amounts of certain chemicals can increase the risk of developing cancer – particularly for infants and young adults. A study on rats published in the Dec. 6, 2006 online edition of Reproductive Toxicology found that environmental exposure to biphenol A during fetal life may possibly cause breast cancer in adult women.

Cancer is on the rise. Statistics in the United Kingdom indicate that between the years 1971 and 1999 Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has risen 196% in men and 214% in women, the incidence of prostate cancer and testicular cancer have increased by 152% and 139% respectively, breast cancer has risen by 75%,  multiple myeloma has increased by 100%  in men and 86% in women. These figures are from the Office for National Statistics (UK). Since 1990 cancer incidence has increased by 19% worldwide (World Cancer Report 2003, Frankiish, 2003, Shibuya et al., 2002). The rate of cancer in children, adolescents and young adults is increasing by 1.5% each year.

The incidence of diabetes and obesity may be increased by toxins in the environment. Research appearing in the journal Diabetes Care (30:622-628, 2007) indicates that that OC pesticides and nondioxin-like PCBs may be associated with type 2 diabetes risk by increasing insulin resistance, and POPs may interact with obesity to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire found a connection between obesity and environmental pollution.

Research appearing in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (Vol. 92, No. 1 196-202) observed  declining levels of testosterone that does not seem to be attributed to health or lifestyle and the authors concluded that “These results indicate that recent years have seen a substantial, and as yet unrecognized, age-independent population-level decrease in T in American men, potentially attributable to birth cohort differences or to health or environmental effects not captured in observed data.” One possible explanation of the lower testosterone levels is chemicals in the environment. Studies have that found environmental impacts on testosterone levels. For example, testosterone levels were lower in US Air Force veterans exposed to dioxins (Environmental Health Perspectives, Nov. 2006, vol. 114, #11). Testosterone levels were also lower in men exposed to phthalates at work (Environmental Health Perspectives, Nov. 2006, vol. 114, #11). Infertility in women has also been linked to chemical exposure. Exposure to BPA (biphenol A) is linked to prostate cancer in men.

Individually we know that many of these chemicals are dangerous. Very little research is done on combinations of chemicals. An article appearing in the May 10, 2006 issue of Scientific American does look into the dangers some of these chemicals have in combination. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have tested four herbicides, two fungicides and three insecticides commonly used in American cornfields. Low concentrations (0.1 ppb) of the chemicals did not have much effect on developing tadpoles. When the tadpoles were exposed to all nine chemicals they developed endemic infection. The survivors ended up smaller than their counterparts raised in clean water–despite taking longer to mature into adults. So individually the chemicals did no harm, but in combination they were deadly. When you consider that there are about 100,000 different chemicals that we are exposed to, it may make you wonder what the long-term health effects are.