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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. 

...continue reading "Study Finds An Average of 56 Suspect Chemicals In Pregnant Women"

A new report released by the non-profit environmental research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been measured in people (detected in urine, blood, hair, etc). Exposure to these carcinogens is not just from on-the-job contact with industrial chemicals, but from ordinary everyday exposure such as consumer products, food, water, air, and pesticides used in the home and lawns.

EWG compiled this inventory of known or likely carcinogens that have been measured in people by reviewing scientific literature and publicly available biomonitoring studies. Biomonitoring is the laboratory analysis of blood, urine, serum, saliva, and other body fluids to identify the amount and number of certain chemicals (such as pesticides, fire retardants, BPA, etc) present in the human body.  Thus it measures the extent to which chemical pollution is absorbed by our bodies. The CDC has a National Biomoniitoring Program. From Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Hundreds Of Cancer-Causing Chemicals Pollute Americans’ Bodies

Hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals are building up in the bodies of Americans, according to the first comprehensive inventory of the carcinogens that have been measured in people. EWG released the inventory today. EWG spent almost a year reviewing more than 1,000 biomonitoring studies and other research by leading government agencies and independent scientists in the U.S. and around the world. The nonprofit research group found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been detected in blood, urine, hair and other human samples.

Studies of the causes of cancer often focus on tobacco, alcohol and over-exposure to the sun. But the World Health Organization and many other scientists believe nearly 1 in 5 cancers are caused by chemicals and other environmental exposures––not only in the workplaces, but in consumer products, food, water and air.

EWG’s review bolsters the findings and ongoing research of the Halifax Project, a collaboration of more than 300 scientists from around the world who are investigating new ways in which combinations of toxic chemicals in our environment may cause cancer. While most cancer research focuses on treatment, the Halifax Project and EWG’s Rethinking Cancer initiative are looking at prevention by reducing people’s contact with cancer-causing chemicals.

“The presence of a toxic chemical in our bodies does not necessarily mean it will cause harm, but this report details the astounding number of carcinogens we are exposed to in almost every part of life that are building up in our systems,” said Curt DellaValle, author of the report and a senior scientist at EWG. “At any given time some people may harbor dozens or hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals. This troubling truth underscores the need for greater awareness of our everyday exposure to chemicals and how to avoid them.”

EWG estimated that a small subset of the chemicals inventoried in the report were measured at levels high enough to pose significant cancer risks in most Americans ––risks that generally exceed Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. But those estimates are only for individual chemicals and do not account for a question scientists and doctors are increasingly concerned about––how combined exposures to multiple chemicals may increase risk?

EWG’s inventory comes at an auspicious moment for the issue of cancer and chemicals. Last week Congress passed the first reform in 40 years of the nation’s woefully weak toxic chemical regulations, which President Obama is expected to sign soon....“Many of the carcinogens this study documents in people find their way into our bodies through food, air, water and consumer products every day. Dozens of them show up in human umbilical cord blood—which means Americans are exposed to carcinogens before they’ve left the womb,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “We should focus on preventing cancer by preventing human exposure to these chemicals.”