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Environmental Poisons

The steady spread of pollutants — from pesticides to cosmetics — has virtually left no life untouched. Continual, low-level exposure appears to contribute to effects on the human populace that range from lowered cognitive functioning to impaired resistance to disease and declining fertility rates.

In the last decade, scientists have become increasingly concerned about chemical interference with the “messaging systems” that direct biological development.

A study published in 2001 in The Lancet conducted by scientists at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that in the heyday of its use, DDT may have caused up to 15 percent of American infant deaths.

Books like the landmark Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, and an increasing stream of research findings have revealed that even extremely low levels of scores of man-made chemicals may have lifelong effects on a developing fetus.

Chemicals in households — herbicides, pesticides, germicides, solvents in paints and cleaning products, chlorine compounds, dry cleaning substances, glues, leads in paints and plumbing, dioxin in bleached paper products, asbestos, radon, gases released from carpets and much more — have been linked to a five-fold increase in cancer, before which individuals typically suffer from headaches, allergies, respiratory problems, recurring infections, fatigue and multiple chemical sensitivities.

Today, the U.S. government has identified more than 700 foreign chemical compounds in human tissue. Every woman’s breast now harbors such pesticides as lindane, chlordane and dieldrin, as well as 65 isomers (variations) of PCBs and dioxins. The sperm of the average male is laced with 35 different forms of PCB.

The standards employed by industry and government to assess whether or not a toxin poses a threat to health rely upon an approach much like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Their conclusions depend on data collected about an epidemic disease or toxic contamination only after it has run its course.

While the challenge of reining in runaway chemical production seems overwhelming, the outlook is better for those who find themselves surrounded by toxins. (See “Victory Over Toxins”.)

And, although it would be as irresponsible to overstate the risks associated with toxic exposure as it has been to allow man-made poisons to accumulate in the environment with minimal oversight, two things are certain: First, these substances are not nutrients and do not belong in the body; second, something can be done about it.

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