Thursday, May 2, 2013

Toxic Nation: Maybe we Have Little Choice

I've blogged on the pervasive use of chemical toxins in this country before, and more recently how the more widespread use may be linked to everything from genetic damage to aggressive prostate, liver and breast cancers. For sure, the anomaly of American males in their 30s being diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer (Gleason score of 8 or higher) may be directly linked to their inhabiting a chemical toxic sea - most of whose components they know nothing about.

Right now, indeed, I am writing this amidst a toxic 'brew' in my own home, as a result of exposure to resins, acrylic acid (e.g. ) etc. from having a downstairs shower pan replaced and resurfaced. Yes, the thing looks fantastic after the replacement, but the toxins released - which we are now trying to expel using a high-powered fan, maybe not so much. (Don't blame me, btw, it was wifey's idea to refurbish the thing as it "looked too grungy". I guess maybe she figures we may have guests coming at some point to use it!) The point is, in this country there is almost no escaping the toxic stew, which accompanies everything from a simple bathroom shower floor redo, to pest and weed control and even handling DVDs (laden with bisphenol A).

Even oldish toxins can lay in wait and affect the most innocent among us, kids - who may have nothing to do with pesticide spraying or renovating showers. The CDC estimates that in at least  4 million households in the U.S. today children are still exposed to dangerous amounts of lead from old paint that produces dust every time a nail is driven into a wall to hang a picture, a new electric socket is installed, or a family renovates its kitchen. It estimates that more than 500,000 children ages one to five have “elevated” levels of lead in their blood. (No level is considered safe for children.) Studies have linked lost IQ points, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, dyslexia, and even possibly high incarceration rates to tiny amounts of lead in children’s bodies.

Sadly, when it came to the creation of America’s pervasive chemical stew, the lead industry was hardly alone. Asbestos is another classic example of an industrial toxin that found its way into people’s homes and bodies. For decades, insulation workers, brake mechanics, construction workers, and a host of others in hundreds of trades fell victim to the disabling and deadly lung diseases of asbestosis or to lung cancer and the fatal cancer called mesothelioma when they breathed in dust produced during the installation of boilers, the insulation of pipes, the fixing of cars that used asbestos brake linings, or the spraying of asbestos on girders.

Despite growing medical knowledge about its effects (and increasing industry attempts to downplay or suppress that knowledge), asbestos was soon introduced to the American home and incorporated into products ranging from insulation for boilers and piping in basements to floor tiles and joint compounds. It was used to make sheetrock walls, roof shingles, ironing boards, oven gloves, and hot plates. Soon an occupational hazard was transformed into a threat to all consumers.

What’s inside the new walls of your new home might be even more dangerous. While the flame retardants commonly used in sofas, chairs, carpets, love seats, curtains, baby products, and even TVs, sounded like a good idea when widely introduced in the 1970s, they turn out to pose hidden dangers that we’re only now beginning to grasp. Researchers have, for instance, linked one of the most common flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, to a wide variety of potentially undesirable health effects including thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, and the early onset of puberty. Other flame retardants like Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate have been linked to cancer. As the CDC has documented in an ongoing study of the accumulation of hazardous materials in our bodies, flame retardants can now be found in the blood of “nearly all” of us.

Is this the end of it? Dream on! Lurking in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, for instance, are window cleaners and spot removers that contain known or suspected cancer-causing agents. The same can be said of  any cosmetics (including lotions- linked to hypospadias in male infants) in your bathroom,  or of your plastic water bottle or microwavable food containers.

As for Bisphenol A (BPA), the synthetic chemical used in a variety of plastic consumer products, including your DVDs, some baby bottles, epoxy cements (now wafting through my home) Sarah Vogel of the Environmental Defense Fund has written: “New research on very-low-dose exposure to BPA suggests an association with adverse health effects, including breast and prostate cancer, obesity, neurobehavioral problems, and reproductive abnormalities.”

Do we care? Maybe we do, but inhabiting a techno-civilization where these chemicals are so abundant and  intimately woven into our lives means there's little we can do to control them. Toss out all your DVDs? Hardly likely! Tell my wife no more bathroom renovations like this last one, unless harmless chemicals are employed? Even less bloody likely! Demanding wifey use a newspaper to kill that large 6" diameter arthropod over there as opposed to spraying RAID? Even less probable!

So, in the end, we swim amidst all these toxins, use them - in so far as we have to - then cross fingers and just hope to hell we don't get to be the one stuck with liver, prostate, breast or kidney cancer.....or some awful respiratory disease.

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