The reality is that we are exposed to thousands of industrial chemicals in our daily lives - in our foods, products, even in dust. Chemicals can get into us through ingestion (food and contaminated water), through inhalation (in dust and contaminated air), and can even be absorbed through the skin. Blood and urine tests can measure the chemicals that we have been exposed to - this is called biomonitoring. Of course, each of us has different levels of these unwanted chemicals - but yes, even those living off the grid and eating all organic foods will have some unwanted chemicals in their bodies. Studies are finding that these chemicals have negative health effects - some effects we know about, but many, many are still unknown.
Of big concern is a pregnant woman's exposure to chemicals because they can have health effects on the developing baby, including life-long effects (e.g. neurological effects, endocrine disrupting effects, immunological effects). Yes, this is scary stuff, especially because we know so little about their effects.
A group of University of California researchers figured out a new way to measure these chemicals in the blood (it's called liquid chromatography-quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry), and looked for the presence of 696 chemicals in a group of 75 pregnant women in California. They found an average of 56 chemicals in each woman (the number of chemicals ranged from 32 to 73 chemicals per woman), and also found a number of chemicals never monitored before. Yikes.
What to do? We can't totally avoid unwanted chemical exposure, but we can lower our exposure to some chemicals. Look at the last post for ideas on how to minimize exposures in our foods. Try to avoid pesticides - both in your home, yard, and in food (eat organic food as much as possible). Avoid fragrances and products containing fragrances. Avoid dryer sheets, air fresheners, and scented candles. Read labels and avoid products with fragrances, parabens, stain protectors, flame retardants, and antibacterials , anti-odor, or anti-mildew products. Avoid non-stick or Teflon cookware. Avoid BPA and also the replacement chemicals (yes, they're as bad). Don't microwave plastic containers (glass dishes are OK). Glass & stainless steel for foods is fine. Wash hands before eating. Yes, it's a lifestyle change, but one worth doing.
From Medical Xpress: Study finds 56 suspect chemicals in average pregnant woman
Each year, tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured in or imported into the United States—more than 30,000 pounds of industrial chemicals for every American—yet experts know very little about which chemicals may enter people's bodies, or how these substances affect human health. Now, scientists at UC San Francisco have found a way to screen people's blood for hundreds of chemicals at once, a method that will improve our ability to better assess chemical exposures in pregnant women, and to identify those exposures that may pose a health risk.
The scientists used a technique known as high-resolution mass spectrometry, which identifies chemicals by their molecular weight, to screen blood samples taken from pregnant women in San Francisco. This enabled them to scan a much larger number of chemicals at once than previous methods, which typically target about a dozen chemicals at a time. They scanned about 700 chemicals in the current study, finding, on average, 56 different suspect chemicals in the women's blood.
"As we suspected, more chemicals are present in pregnant women than previously identified, some of which may be hazardous to the developing fetus and to adults," said Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., the senior author of the study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
UCSF's work contributes to the broader scientific initiative to measure the "exposome," or the totality of human environmental exposures from conception, so researchers and policy makers can determine which chemicals or combinations of chemicals are contributing to health problems.
After the initial screening of the women's blood, which revealed between 32 and 73 suspect chemicals per woman, the researchers used a more refined method to confirm the presence of a subset of these chemicals. They found six chemicals that had not been previously documented in pregnant women's blood, two of which—2,4-Dinitrophenol and pyrocatechol—may cause genetic defects, harm fertility or damage the fetus, or have carcinogenic effects.
Another chemical found in the study, 2,4-Di-tert-butylphenol, is a widely detected estrogenic compound. It is used in food-related plastic products, as well as plastic pipes and water bottles. In Europe, it has been found to migrate from water bottles and electric kettles made from chemical substitutes for bisphenol-A, an estrogen mimic that is being phased out.
A few excerpts from the actual journal article (by Wang et al) in Environmental Health News: A Suspect Screening Method for Characterizing Multiple Chemical Exposures among a Demographically Diverse Population of Pregnant Women in San Francisco
Scientific evidence demonstrates that in utero exposure to multiple environmental chemicals can adversely impact pregnancy outcomes and lead to adverse health effects throughout the lifespan (Diamanti-Kandarakis et al. 2009; National Cancer Institute 2010; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 2013; Wang et al. 2016). Over 30,000 pounds of industrial chemicals were produced for every American in 2012 alone (Di Renzo et al. 2015; U.S. EPA 2013).... The ubiquitous use of industrial chemicals results in measurable levels found in pregnant women as a result of their contact with contaminated food, water, air, soil, dust, and consumer products.
We used a suspect screening approach to characterize the presence of EOAs in pregnant women’s serum. We detected an average of 56 (range: 32–73) suspect features with mass matched to EOAs in maternal serum. Twelve highly detected suspect features were matched to 21 candidate chemicals in our EOA database; two-thirds of these 21 candidates have not been previously biomonitored. Thirteen suspect features differed in detection frequency by demographic characteristics. After confirmation, via comparison with reference standards, of 20 suspect candidates, we confirmed the presence of six novel EOAs in our sample, two of which ― 2,4-DTBP and pyrocatechol ― are of high production volume in the United States, with national aggregation of production volumes of 10 million to 50 million pounds per year (U.S. EPA 2017).
Five out of six confirmed novel EOAs have product-use information in the U.S. EPA’s Chemical and Product Categories (CPCat) database (Dionisio et al. 2015; U.S. EPA 2014), and they have been used in manufacturing (e.g., chemicals and chemical products), pharmaceuticals, consumer products (e.g., cosmetics), and pesticides (Table 4). People can be exposed through eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or breathing contaminated air. For example, 2,4-DTBP is an antioxidant widely used in food-related plastic products (Paquette 2004) and is found to be the most widely detected estrogenic compound (measured by estrogen equivalence concentration) leaching into drinking water from plastic pipes (Kelley et al. 2014; Liu et al. 2017; Löschner et al. 2011; Lund et al. 2011). European researchers also found 2,4-DTBP to be a major migrant in water from bottles or electric kettles made of polyolefin, polypropylene, Tritan™, or silicone, the latter three of which are substitutions for the polycarbonate baby bottles that contained the polycarbonate monomer BPA (Onghena et al. 2014; Skjevrak et al. 2005).
We note that our EOA database consists of a fraction of the environmental chemicals that can be detected in a LC-QTOF/MS platform with a negative ionization mode and is an incomplete list of all environmental contaminants with anticipated exposures in pregnant women. For example, there are about 8,000 chemicals in commerce whose production and use are in large quantities (U.S. EPA 2016a), which could result in human exposures to these various chemicals.