Thirteen years ago, because of a serious illness, I started researching chemical body burden and the effects chemicals present in my body could be having on my mental and physical health. When I first started doing research the information was limited, but in the last few years it seems to have gone mainstream.
What is Chemical Body Burden?
Toxic chemicals, both naturally occurring and man-made, often get into the human body. We may inhale them, swallow them in contaminated food or water, or in some cases, absorb them through skin. The term body burden refers to the total amount of these chemicals that are present in the human body at a given point in time. These chemicals are often stored in our fat cells for years if not our entire lives. Researches still do not know the potential health risks of the combined affect that multiple carcinogenic chemicals have on our bodies. To learn more go to chemicalbodyburden.org.
Every person alive today, whether living in industrial centers or remote areas, carries a chemical body burden of over 300 chemicals, most of which did not exist before World War II. The health effects of some of these chemicals are documented, but many others have undergone little or no testing. How these chemicals might interact with each other to affect human health is rarely tested and poorly understood.
National Geographic sponsored and published an article by David Ewing Duncan called The Pollution Within. The author decided to use himself as a guinea pig and get his body tested for toxic chemicals and boy, was he surprised! As he describes it, Im engaged in a journey of chemical self-discovery. Last fall I had myself tested for 320 chemicals I might have picked up from food, drink, the air I breathe, and the products that touch my skin-my own secret stash of compounds acquired by merely living. It includes older chemicals that I might have been exposed to decades ago, such as DDT and PCBs; pollutants like lead, mercury, and dioxins; newer pesticides and plastic ingredients; and the near-miraculous compounds that lurk just beneath the surface of modern life, making shampoos fragrant, pans nonstick, and fabrics water-resistant and fire-safe. Read more about The Pollution Within.
One of the most disturbing things about the research is the lack of information on the synergistic effect the chemicals in our body have on our physical and mental wellbeing. Chemical companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to ensure that the general public feels safe using their products. Read Chemicals in Our Food and Toxic Brain to learn more about what is in the every day products you use and how they may be affecting your health.
After spending the first year of my illness researching the current data on chemical body burden, it led me to looking into what I may have been exposed to during my childhood. What I found was fascinating. After contacting several of the children that I grew up with, I found that there were a total of five of us with the same or similar disorder. And all of us played and swam in a small river behind our houses that was later found to be, as one toxicologist put it, a toxic stew.
After many emails and letters to the Florida state department and the EPA, we found that the river in question was in fact polluted and had recently been cleaned. We actually have a hard copy of the water analysis and fund that PCB levels were astronomical. There was even an article published in the Orlando Sentinel reporting the use of 2,4-D for weed control along the river over the last 50 years. Just a little background on this 2,4-D herbicide; it was one of the ingredients of Agent Orange and has been associated with various health problems including nervous system damage when the exposure has been at levels above the maximum contaminant level. And, of course, as a child we may have been more vulnerable to lower levels of 2,4-D because of our smaller size and possibly less efficient detoxification systems. All of this would explain the slew of dead fish we would run across from time to time while enjoying this wonderful little stream running through our back yard!
Bottom line is that the research is out there and we can no longer deny the dangers of the chemicals we are using in almost every product on the market. We are starting to see the affects that these chemicals are having on our children and ourselves.
The number of children and the total number of people with asthma in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1980. Experts agree that the increases in asthma are real and not just an increase in reporting due to increased awareness.
Exposures to chemicals early in life (before birth and during infancy) can be important in setting the stage for later development of asthma. For example, a recent study found that infants exposed to herbicides and pesticides before age one were much more likely to develop early persistent asthma. Some studies are also showing a correlation between the increase in ADHD and chemical exposure.
Living in a society where we are inundated on a daily basis with advertisements and media reports suggesting that the latest research showing the dangers of certain chemicals is false and unfounded makes it difficult to decide what your priorities should be to protect your health and the health of your family.
We have been programmed to distance ourselves from people that are concerned about the use of chemicals in products and label those people as extremists. For years, you were considered a health food nut or an environmental extremist if you made different choices than mainstream society. God forbid anybody criticize the health benefits of Wonder Bread!
We are just starting to delve into the risks associated with all the chemicals we put in everyday products and that we have dumped in our environment. Twenty years ago there was no such thing as chemical body burden so progress is being made. And the shift in the market and the general populations opinion about organic and chemical-free products is starting to change as well. When you start seeing articles in Newsweek and Time magazine about the Green movement, you know change is coming. And as far as I am concerned, it is about time!