HOW AND WHY TOXINS ARE IN YOUR BLOOD

ABSTRACT: The dozens of toxic chemicals we all have in our blood are there because they are in the clothes we wear; the toys, furniture, fabrics, paint, and construction materials in our homes; the cleaning and personal care products we use; and the containers for our food and beverages. They are in all these places because our government regulators are failing us and the corporations that produce and use these chemicals engage in extensive efforts to block regulation.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is the US law that regulates chemicals. Almost all of the 60,000 chemicals in use in 1976 when the law was passed were deemed safe without testing or review. Only a handful of chemicals have had their use restricted. For a new chemical, the EPA must act in just 90 days (!) and find an “unreasonable risk” or the chemical is deemed safe. In addition, the burden of proof lies on the EPA to show “unreasonable risk” rather than on the corporation to show that a chemical is safe.

There are numerous examples, historically and currently, of the difficulty of implementing regulations on chemicals, including lead, asbestos, pesticides, PCBs, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and BPA. Chemical exposure has been associated with a very wide range of health and developmental problems, including learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, developmental problems in children, cancer, obesity, and problems with the immune and reproductive systems, as well as with the brain and nervous system. The effects of long-term exposure to multiple chemicals and the impacts on fetuses and young children are unknown.

Our bodies are toxic dumps and we are the guinea pigs – without our consent and often without even our knowledge – in the largest, uncontrolled experiment that has ever occurred.

FULL POST: The dozens of toxic chemicals we all have in our blood are there because they are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. (See 5/22/13 post for more detail.) They get there from the clothes we wear; the toys, furniture, fabrics, paint, and construction materials in our homes; the cleaning and personal care products we use; and the containers for our food and beverages. They are in all these places because our government regulators are failing us and the corporations that produce and use these chemicals engage in extensive efforts to block regulation. Many of these chemicals are new, but some have been around for 100 years. [1]

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is the US law that regulates the introduction of new chemicals and the chemicals existing when it was enacted. Almost all of the 60,000 chemicals in use in 1976 when the law was passed were deemed safe without testing or review. The TSCA is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has tested only 200 of the more than 75,000 synthetic chemicals in use in the US. In the 37 year history of the TSCA, only a handful of chemicals have had their use restricted. This is partly because the Pre-Manufacturing Notice a corporation submits for a new chemical it wants to use has only limited information (e.g., no safety information is required). Then, the EPA must act in just 90 days (!) and find an “unreasonable risk to human health or the environment” or the chemical is deemed safe for use. Even the EPA’s own Office of the Inspector General has criticized the TSCA as weak and ineffective, noting that corporations’ assertions of trade secrets prevent effective testing and that the EPA process is predisposed to protecting industry information rather than providing the public with health and safety information. [2] The Natural Resources Defense Council says that under the TSCA “it is almost impossible for the EPA to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects.” One reason is that the burden of proof lies on the EPA to show “unreasonable risk” rather than on the corporation to show that a chemical is safe, as a drug company is required to do. [3]

Lead is a classic example of the difficulty of implementing regulation. The dangers of lead have been known for 100 years. Yet the lead industry engaged in a 60 year campaign to cover-up the effects of lead and to promote its use – in a campaign similar to that waged by the tobacco industry more recently. In wasn’t until 1971 that Congress passed a law to limit the use of lead paint in public housing and 1978 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead paint for consumer use. During the 1980’s, the EPA issued rules that eventually eliminated the use of lead in gasoline in 1995 (although it is still used in aviation fuel).

Even today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that children in 4 million US households are exposed to dangerous amounts of lead and that 500,000 children from birth to 5 have elevated levels of lead in their blood. No level of lead is considered safe and child exposure to lead is linked to attention and cognitive deficits, behavior problems, and learning disabilities – all of which risk putting a child on a trajectory for problems in school and later life. [4]

A similar pattern occurred with efforts to regulate asbestos. Chlorinated hydrocarbons, including pesticides such as DDT, were widely used until their detrimental effects became clear. Then they were successfully banned decades ago. However, these chemicals persist in the environment and have accumulated in our bodies. The same is true for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The non-stick coating for cookware, Teflon, is widely present in our blood and is linked to cancer.

Bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in plastics including baby bottles and water bottles, as well as the linings of food cans, has been found widely in our blood. At even very low doses, it has been shown to interact with our endocrine system and its hormones, with links to obesity, neurobehavioral problems, reproductive abnormalities, and breast and prostate cancers. Nonetheless, its regulation is being fought in the courts and elsewhere at this moment.

Currently, formaldehyde is used as a fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant in plywood and many materials used in building homes and furniture. However, as it ages it evaporates and the vapors we inhale accumulate in our bodies; it is known to cause cancer. Similarly, flame retardants are found in almost everyone’s blood and have been linked to thyroid, memory, learning, cognitive, and developmental problems, as well as early onset of puberty.

These are prominent examples of our widespread exposure to a large number of toxic chemicals. This exposure has been associated with a very wide range of health and developmental problems, including learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, developmental problems in children, cancer, obesity, and problems with the immune and reproductive systems, as well as the brain and nervous system. The effects of long-term exposure to multiple chemicals are unknown.

When the TSCA passed in 1976, the scientific understanding of biochemistry was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today. The ways chemicals affect our health, their potential to accumulate in and have subtle, long-term effects on our bodies and how they function, were unknown. Even today, the effects chemicals have on fetuses and young children are largely unstudied and unknown. [5] In 1976, it was generally believed that the placenta filtered a mother’s blood and prevented dangerous chemicals from reaching the fetus. We now know that this isn’t true.

Our bodies are toxic dumps and we are the guinea pigs – without our consent and often without even our knowledge – in the largest, uncontrolled experiment that has ever occurred. The large corporations that produce and use these chemicals are using every tactic at their disposal and their huge treasuries to fight regulation and stop laws that would require testing of chemicals. My next post on this topic will focus on this battle.


[1]       Rosner, D., & Markowitz, G., 4/29/13, “You and your family are guinea pigs for the chemical corporations,” TomDispatch.com

[2]       Wikipedia, retrieved 6/1/13, “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_Substances_Control_Act_of_1976

[3]       Natural Resources Defense Council, retrieved 6/1/12, “More than 80,000 chemicals permitted in the US have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment,” http://www.nrdc.org/health/toxics.asp?gclid=CPjZ66CLw7cCFYii4Aod6GwAWA

[4]       Rosner & Markowitz, 4/19/13, see above

[5]       Steingraber, S., 4/19/13, “Sandra Steingraber’s war on toxic trespassers,” Bill Moyers public TV show, available at BillMoyers.com

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