Protecting Our Bodies from Pollution

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There is perhaps no better illustration of the adage that “what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves” than Environmental Working Group’s “Body Burden” project. The project brought to light to the fact that every person living on the planet bears the burden of industrial activities. Shockingly, scientists have said each person alive carries at least 700 contaminants in their body, most of them unstudied.

Ivy Main, Virginia Sierra Club vice chair and a self-professed “ordinary suburban mom”, was shocked to discover unsafe levels of mercury in her blood when she had tests done 10 years ago. The likely culprit? Coal-fired power plants in her region. Mercury can cause all kinds of brain development issues in unborn children.

In fact, Environmental Working Group found “an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals.” Even before they are born, babies are burdened with the pollution we put in our environment.

Sometimes the dangerous chemicals in our bodies get there because we allow them into our home, often unknowingly. Over 400 lipsticks and hair dyes contain lead. There’s formaldehyde in many shampoos and soaps and endocrine-disrupting phthalates in many plastics.

In 2012, Environmental Health Fund Board Member Carolyn Fine Friedman “gave blood (and a few other bodily fluids)” to the Body Burden project and was disturbed to discover that her body was riddled with “a toxic soup of substances known to cause cancer, birth defects, thyroid problems and more -- low perchlorate and PFCs, high phthalates, moderate PBDEs, an immeasurable amount of triclosan, and high levels of lead, mercury, and methyl mercury”. It’s likely that your own body contains the very same substances.

Despite the prevalence of toxic chemical exposure, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act hasn’t been updated since 1976. Many new chemicals have entered the market and our lives in the past four decades, so this inaction a serious problem. States are beginning to pick up the slack. In 2013, 26 states are considering legislation to address various kinds of chemical exposure from BPA in receipts to toxic cleaning products used in schools.

You can support these new laws and also read our tips on avoiding toxics in the home. With vigilance we can make sure future generations don’t bear the same chemical burden that we face today.


More information:

We Won't Prevent Cancer Until We Prevent Exposure to Cancer-Causing Chemicals, Natural Resources Defense Council

The Sweet Smell of … Cardiovascular Hazards?, Environmental Defense Fund

EPA Rules Would Give Teeth To TSCA Law, Earthjustice

PVC: The Poison Plastic, Center for Health, Environment, and Justice



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