Currently, an astonishing 84,000 synthetic chemicals are manufactured or processed in the United States, and about 1,000 new ones are introduced each year.1
Most people assume these chemicals have undergone extensive safety testing before being released to the market. Sadly, that’s not the case. Consider this stunner. There are six internationally agreed upon tests for screening the toxicity of high-production volume (HPV) chemicals: acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, reproductive toxicity, mutagenicity, ecotoxicity, and environmental fate. Unfortunately, according to a 2010 Environmental Protection Agency report, only 7 percent
of the 3,000 HPV chemicals that the United States makes or imports have undergone all six safety tests. And 43 percent
— nearly half — have not been subjected to a single one.2
How can this be? Because our laws have it backward. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act only requires that a new chemical be tested for toxicity before being introduced to the market if there is evidence that it may be harmful.3
And once it’s on the market, it’s very difficult to remove. Talk about a Catch-22! How will evidence surface that a new chemical is toxic if it’s not required to be tested? As a result of our lax laws, American industry releases 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment annually — 72 million pounds of which are now known to cause cancer.4
Humans have never been exposed to such a deluge of disease-causing chemicals in our history.
Toxic Chemicals Inside You
Sure, you feel healthy, but if you were to take samples of your blood and urine and have them analyzed for toxin content, you might be surprised at what you’d find. Without a doubt, DDT, the long-banned pesticide and “probable human carcinogen,” would show up. According to a report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,
the pesticide is so stable that “there is now not a single living organism on the planet that does not contain DDT.”5
A chemical known as PFOA, used to manufacture Teflon and to coat the linings of microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, would also very likely be present. This chemical, a “likely human carcinogen” that is linked with heart disease and stroke, is present in the blood of over 98% of Americans.6
You could also expect to see the toxic chemical BPA in your test results, as a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) discovered it in 90 percent of those studied.7
BPA mimics the effects of human hormones and has been linked to prostate and breast cancer. If you’ve ever eaten food out of a can, had dental sealants or drank water that came out of a hard plastic bottle, you’ve been exposed to BPA. And don’t forget BDE-47, the fire retardant that American couches, chairs, and mattresses are regularly doused with. This suspected carcinogen is so widely applied to items we sit and lie down on that it appeared in nearly all of the participants the CDC tested.8
A benchmark study led by the Environmental Working Group identified 287 different industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies born in 2004. On average, each infant had been exposed to about 200 different chemicals before even leaving the womb.9
Toxins, Oxidative Stress, and Disease
So why is all this toxic exposure bad for you? What exactly do toxins do to your body? A vast majority of toxic chemicals increase oxidative stress — in other words, the stress that is put on your body from being constantly bombarded by free radicals. Also known as oxidants, free radicals are oxygen compounds that are unstable because they’re missing an electron. Since their ultimate goal in life is to become stable, free radicals will use any means necessary to achieve it, including stealing electrons from other molecules. This stripping of electrons can damage healthy cells. The problem is free radicals multiply. In fact, they’re a lot like vampires. Once a free radical takes an electron from another molecule, that molecule then becomes a free radical. The newly initiated free radical then goes looking for another molecule to pillage, continuing a vicious cycle of cellular damage. Your body produces some free radicals during normal metabolism, and others come from the environment. Cigarette smoke, pollution, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals are all huge generators of free radicals. As with a lot of things, it’s a case of balance. You want to have a certain level of free radicals in your body because they destroy viruses and bacteria. But if you have too many, you’re looking at cellular destruction, aging, and disease. In fact, most scientists today agree that nearly all chronic diseases — from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease — involve oxidative stress.
Reduce Your Toxic Burden — Eat Organic
Conventional produce is routinely sprayed with pesticides. Make no mistake: Pesticides are poisons meant to kill living things. The idea that humans are somehow immune to their effects is false. And since a recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study found that 64 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables tested had detectable pesticide residues, it just makes sense to choose organic.10
- Look for certified organic produce, which is grown without pesticides
- If you can’t afford to buy exclusively organic fruits and vegetables, at least avoid the “dirty dozen” — those with the highest levels of pesticide residue. They are apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries (domestic), and potatoes.11
- Wash conventional produce before eating. It turns out that washing food with plain water is just as effective at getting rid of pesticides as produce wash solutions are. You can also peel the skins off some types of produce to lower pesticide levels. But the downside of that is that the peel contains fiber and important nutrients.
Reduce Your Toxic Burden — Say No to Teflon
Non-stick pans are convenient, but they’re not worth the price tag of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. They contain PFOA, and so do other non-sticky things, like fast food containers, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags. DuPont, makers of Teflon, has committed to phasing PFOA out by 2015. Luckily, you don’t have to wait until then to limit your exposure:
- Get rid of your non-stick pans — today! Cook with stainless steel instead.
- Make your own popcorn at home, sans microwave.
- Don’t eat fast food. It’s not just the food that’s bad for you — it’s the packaging too!
What You Need to Know
Avoid toxins as much as you can and take supplements known to detoxify the body — supplements like cruciferous vegetable extracts.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. TSCA at Twenty. Chemicals in the Environment. Fall 1996.
- HPV Chemical Hazard Data Availability Study. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. August 2, 2010.
- Duncan, David Ewing. Chemicals within us. National Geographic Oct. 2006
- Good Guide. Pollution Locator: Toxic Chemical Releases. Scorecard: The Pollution Information Site.
Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Feb;110(2):125–8.
- Doheny, Kathleen. Household chemicals linked to heart disease. WebMD.com. Sept. 4, 2012.
- Executive Summary. 2009:3.
- Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.
- Environmental Working Group. Body Burden: The pollution in newborns. Executive Summary. July 14, 2005
- USDA. Pesticide data program. Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2006
- Environmental Working Group. EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. EWG.org. June 19, 2012.