Risky chemicals stored in your body

In the United States, many chemicals are used in commerce before rigorous safety testing is performed.

by Mary Budinger — 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released the most comprehensive study to date of the chemicals we harbor inside our bodies as a result of daily exposure. The CDC measured 8,000 Americans for 212 chemicals.

The results: All 212 chemicals were found in the blood and urine, meaning these chemicals transfer from our daily environment into our bodies.

The CDC’s report highlighted six chemicals that are both widespread — found in all or most people tested — and potentially harmful:

Bisphenol A (BPA) — found in many plastics, in the lining of cans and even the coating of many sales receipts. This chemical was found in more than 90 percent of the study participants. The health concerns about BPA are numerous and growing. It has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, liver-enzyme abnormalities and erectile dysfunction. Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles and utensils. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) missed its self-imposed November 30, 2009, deadline for making a safety evaluation. Indications are that the FDA may take another two years before it rules on the safety of BPA.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers — flame retardants used widely in all sorts of goods, from foam furniture to electronics. They accumulate in human fat, and some studies suggest they may harm the liver and kidneys, as well as the neurological system. Avoiding them is difficult because the chemicals are integrated into so many common products.

PFOA — perfluorinated chemicals used to create nonstick coatings on cookware, as well as grease-resistant lining in popcorn bags and french fry containers. Also used to make stain-resistant clothing and furniture. Studies have linked these chemicals to a range of health problems, including infertility in women, and to liver, immune system, developmental and reproductive problems in lab animals.

Acrylamide — byproduct of frying foods at high temperatures. Also a byproduct of tobacco smoke. Coffee also forms acrylamides in the roasting process. High-level exposure has caused cancer in lab animals and neurological problems in workers, respectively. Food manufacturers are bracing themselves for the possibility of regulations that could limit levels of the chemical or ban it outright. California actually sued french fry and chip makers over the issue, with several agreeing last year to reduce the volume of acrylamide in their goods.

Mercury — a potent neurotoxin that can lead to permanent brain damage if young children or fetuses are exposed. Sources include contaminated fish, coal-fired power plants, dental fillings, vaccines and high fructose corn syrup. The Phoenix metropolitan area routinely makes the top 20 list for smoggy cities. Coal-fired power plants and motor vehicles are our biggest sources of air pollutants according to the Arizona Public Interest Research Group. Mercury and lead are common pollutants from those two sources.

MTBE — gasoline additive phased out of use in the United States, but still widely detected in Americans’ bodies. MTBE has contaminated many drinking water supplies. Studies have linked it to a variety of potential problems, including neurological and reproductive damage.

In December, the Environmental Working Group released the results of their second study on umbilical cord blood:

  • BPA was found in 9 out of 10 samples.
  • All 10 samples contained lead, mercury, perfluorochemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated naphthalenes, polychlorinated biphenyls and chlorinated dioxin.

Brominated flame retardants, PCBs, the Teflon chemical PFOA, the Scotchgard chemical PFOS, BPA, lead, mercury, perchlorate, dioxins and furans are all considered either likely human carcinogens, serious neurotoxins or well-established hormone disrupters, according to government health authorities.

The finding of lead in all 10 umbilical cord samples is particularly disturbing. Lead was banned in gasoline and paint decades ago, yet many other uses remain. It is found in batteries, power supplies for computers and in drinking water. EWG says lead has been reported in lunch boxes, lipstick, jewelry, window blinds and imported candy.

There is no safe limit for lead. Lead is known to lower the IQ of the population. In fact, some historians say the downfall of the Roman Empire was in great part due to the extensive use of lead pipes for carrying water.

“The contaminants found in these children are from unintended exposures to some of the most problematic consumer product and commercial chemicals ever put on the market,” the report states. “Their presence in fetal cord blood represents a significant failure on the part of the Congress and government agencies charged with protecting human health.”

On December 2, 2009, California and 12 other states issued a joint statement saying that federal laws designed to protect the public from toxic chemicals are too weak. The statement asked for changes that would identify and regulate the chemicals in consumer products.

The cosmetic industry and petrochemical companies have fought efforts in Congress to reform cosmetic industry regulations, which were first drawn up in 1938 and have remained virtually unchanged.

In the United States, many chemicals are used in commerce before rigorous safety testing is performed. That means it is up to consumers to avoid the chemicals they deem risky.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about complementary and alternative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2010.

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