Saturday, June 5, 2010

Body burden

On day47 of the unprecedented and unmitigated disaster that is the BP oil spill spoiling our Gulf of Mexico, let's have a depressing look at the toxic substances circulating inside our bodies. Our blood is likely to contain any or all of the following:
  • Bisphenol A (BPA): A synthetic estrogen used to harden plastics and resins.
  • Brominated dioxins: Created when plastics and waste are incinerated.
  • Haloacetic acids: Byproducts of water disinfection.
  • Methylmercury: A byproduct of coal-fired power plants and waste incinerators and an organic compound used in pesticides.
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs): Water, stain, and grease repellents.
  • Phthalates: Plasticizers used to make flexible products like food packaging.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Flame retardants used in foam furniture, TVs, and computer monitors.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment [banned in the U.S. in 1979].
  • Trihalomathanes (THMs): Byproducts formed when water is disinfected.

These are just a few of the estimated 80,000 chemicals in commercial use in the U.S., with an additional 2,000 or so newly synthesized chemicals registered by the government every year. We inhale them, swallow them, and absorb them through our skin - or as unborn babies, through our umbilical cords. Although the effect of some of these chemicals to cause cancer, birth defects, immune system damage, or hormone interference is well-documented, the potential health impact of others is unknown, although they are being studied. Researchers estimate that the body of everyone alive today contains an average of 700 contaminants. Which brings us to our new term for the day: "body burden." This refers to the total amount of these toxic chemicals - both those that occur naturally and those made by humans - that are present in a human body at any given time. "Body burden" may also be used to express the amount of a single specific chemical in our system. A particularly depressing post in a particularly depressing time...

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it is scary. I still have hope, however.
    I lived next to the Cuyohoga River in 1968 when it caught fire and couldn't be extinguished for days. It flowed into Lake Erie which was declared biologically dead. Both are greatly improved now. Remember the ozone hole, somehow the whole world acted together to reduce fluorocarbon usage to the point where it is no longer a problem. I'm not saying that everything is just fine. I am saying that as we learn about these problems, change is possible. I am often one of the most pessimistic people in the room, but as I age I realize that good change does happen.
    I guess the good news is that we are becoming increasingly aware of our "body burden" and are taking steps toward improvement. Sometimes you have to know how bad something is before you feel the urgency to fix it.


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