Chemicals Pervade Our Lives


“Unacceptable levels is powerful. It tells the story of toxic chemicals in just every aspect of our lives, and the egregious lack of regulation. Our ability to protect our families is a at stake” – Joan Blades


Chemicals Pervade Our Life

EWG (Environmental Working Group) a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment with a mission to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Body burden of chemicals: Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York collaborated with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal for a study and researchers at two major laboratories found 167 chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in the blood and urine of nine adult Americans. Study results appear in a published edition of the journal Public Health Reports (Thornton, et al. 2002) – the first publicly available, comprehensive look at the chemical burden we carry in our bodies. None of the nine volunteers work with chemicals on the job. All lead healthy lives. Yet the subjects contained an average of 91 compounds – most of which did not exist 75 years ago.

Below is the list of chemicals found and are linked to serious health problems

Health Effect or Body System Affected Number of chemicals found in 9 people tested that are linked to the listed health impact
Average number found in 9 people Total found in all 9 people Range
(lowest and highest number found in all 9 people)
cancer [1] 53 76 [2] 36 to 65
birth defects / developmental delays 55 79 [3] 37 to 68
vision 5 11 [4] 4 to 7
hormone system 58 86 [5] 40 to 71
stomach or intestines 59 84 [6] 41 to 72
kidney 54 80 [7] 37 to 67
brain, nervous system 62 94 [8] 46 to 73
reproductive system 55 77 [9] 37 to 68
lungs/breathing 55 82 [10] 38 to 67
skin 56 84 [11] 37 to 70
liver 42 69 [12] 26 to 54
cardiovascular system or blood 55 82 [13] 37 to 68
hearing 34 50 [14] 16 to 47
immune system 53 77 [15] 35 to 65
male reproductive system 47 70 [16] 28 to 60
female reproductive system 42 61 [17] 24 to 56

Source: Environmental Working Group compilation
References: Health Effects

Read the full alarming report here

The chemicals found are linked with cancer, immune system, brain, nervous system, reproductive system and hormone system.

Scientists refer to the chemical exposure documented here as an individual’s “body burden” – the consequence of lifelong exposure to industrial chemicals that are used in thousands of consumer products and linger as contaminants in air, water, food, and soil.

KEMI is a Swedish chemicals agency and a supervisory authority under the Ministry of the Environment in Sweden and work in the EU and internationally to develop legislation and other initiatives to promote good health and improved environment.

In 2014, KEMI did a screening study with the aim to identify hazardous substances/groups of substances posing a potential risk to human health and the environment and below is (part of) the results they found:

  • Approximately 3500 textile-related substances were identified; More than 2000 of these substances have not been fully registered under REACH (a regulation of the European Union, adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals) About 1000 substances are expected to be confidential in REACH registrations.
  • Approximately ten percent of the textile-related substances analyzed here are identified to be of high potential concern for human health.
  • Five percent of the number of textile related substances to be of high potential concern for the environment.
  • Substances of high potential concern for human health mainly include direct and acid type azo dyes and fragrances.
  • Many flame retardants and plasticizers were identified as having concern for human health due to exposure via fiber loss/ dust.
  • Acid and direct type azo dyes were also identified as substances of high potential concern for the environment.

Click on the picture to learn more

It is important to note here that the majority, approximately 80%, of the textile articles consumed in the EU are imported from a non- EU country. Similar is the case in United States.

Textiles expels lots of effluent into our water system too. The 40,000 to 50,000 tons of synthetic dyestuffs expelled into our rivers are complex chemical formulations containing some things that are very toxic to us, such as heavy metals (like lead, mercury, chromium, zinc, cobalt and copper), benzene and formaldehyde. 

Chemicals used in the production of textiles can remain in the final clothing product as minor contaminant amounts, and clothing may also contain substances formed by degradation. Other chemicals are intentionally added to textile articles in order to provide a specified function, such as color or easy-care. Chemicals in textile materials may be released from clothing and expose humans and the environment. Textile articles are used in a way that both consumers and the environment can be exposed to chemicals released from the clothing.

Below are some heavy metals found in toxic dyes, and the harms they cause to human body:

Chromium:

Necessary for insulin activity and an essential trace metal; at toxic levels it causes squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.

 

 

 

Cadmium: 

Extremely toxic to humans because of its inhibition of various enzyme systems; primary target organ is the kidney; but also causes lung cancer; also causes testicular damage and male sterility. Plants readily absorb cadmium from the soil so it easily enters food chain. Chronic exposure is associated with renal disease.

Sodium chloride (salt):

Not toxic in small doses but the industry uses this in such high volumes it becomes an environmental hazard

 

 

Toluene: 

Affects the central nervous system; symptoms range from slight drowsiness, fatigue and headaches, to irritation of the respiratory tract, mental confusion and incoordination; higher concentrations can result in unconsciousness and death.  Prolonged contact can cause dermatitis.  Teratogenic, embryo toxic.

Mercury:

Easily absorbed through skin or inhalation of dust which contains residue; affects the immune system alerts genetic systems, damages the nervous system. Particularly damaging to developing embryos. Which are 5 to 10 times more sensitive than adults.

Lead:

Easily absorbed through skin or inhalation of dust which contains residue. Impacts nervous system. Even low level of lead can reduce IQ, stunt growth and cause behavior problems.

Copper:

Fatigue, insomnia, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, migraine headaches, seizures. Mental disorders include depression, anxiety, mood swings, phobias, panic attacks and attention deficit disorders.

 

 

 

 

 

Benzene: 
Highly carcinogenic, linked to all types of leukemia but believed to cause the rarer forms (acute myelogenous leukemis (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL); effects the bone marrow and decrease of red blood cells, leading to anemia, excessive bleeding and/or immune system dysfunction. Low levels cause rapid heart rate, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion.  Easily absorbed by skin.

Many consumers might think that chemicals used in the daily products they use as shampoo, detergents etc. are tested but they are wrong.  Unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market.

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, introduced a bill called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, which would require the chemical industry to demonstrate that a chemical is safe in order for it to be sold. Later that year Senator Frank passed away. A bipartisan group of senators, lead by Senator Cory Booker, picked up where the late U.S. senator left off. Legislation will require all the chemicals in use to be examined to make sure they are safe for public use and prohibit the new chemicals from reaching the market until they are proven to be non-toxic.  .

In 2016, Congress finally took action to better protect our health by adopting far-reaching reforms of TSCA. After years of debate and inaction, on June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – a new law that fixes the biggest problems with the old law.

The Lautenberg Act gives EPA the tools necessary to ensure the safety of chemicals and significantly strengthen health protections for American families. Notably, the law:

  • Mandates safety reviews for chemicals in active commerce.
  • Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
  • Replaces TSCA’s burdensome cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard.
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
  • Gives EPA enhanced authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals.
  • Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for EPA decisions.
  • Makes more information about chemicals available, by limiting companies’ ability to claim information as confidential, and by giving states and health and environmental professionals access to confidential information they need to do their jobs

See here for a detailed analysis of the law. 

This is good news for public health and safety, if the system works well and fast. Let’s hope this law helps consumers to have safer daily use products.

Good Riddance of Bad Chemicals.

Resources:

https://www.edf.org/health/policy/chemicals-policy-reformhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html?_r=1
http://www.ewg.org/sites/bodyburden1/findings.php

http://www.ewg.org/sites/bodyburden1/findings.php

image: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/adidas-needs-to-earn-its-stripes-by-championi/blog/36451/

Image: Pixabay

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