Industrial Chemicals: Our bodily trespassers

Laura Raymond

Once upon a time, long before the post war chemical revolution, humans were free from the exposure of industrial chemicals. Friends of the Earth of England says that we are all contaminated due to the ability of more than 300 man made chemicals to accumulate in fatty tissues and their persistency in the environment. The environment is not the only one which is experiencing pollution. Neither one is free from the exposure nor excepted from containing these chemicals, including that of in the womb (placenta is no barrier to these chemicals). A very thought pops into our minds of how not one among us is born ‘organic’. Still, what worry us most is not the thought but the effects of carrying these cocktails of such chemicals in our body and what is it doing to the very survival of the surviving, including humans.

In 2000, a study looked at young men aged 18 – 20 in Denmark in commencement of their compulsory military services. More than 40 percent of them have low sperm counts, which is associated with decreased fertility. Apart from that, there have been increases of testicular cancer incidences by 55 percent between 1979 and 1991 in England and Wales. Researchers at Bristol University’s Institute of Child Health found that one in six girls in Britain is starting to show signs of puberty at the age of eight, compared to one in a hundred girls a century ago. These instances are not the only cases of hormone cum reproductive system associated illnesses. Many others thus involve the drop of population of many wildlife such as the polar bears in the Arctic, bald eagles in Florida, otters in England, minks in Lake Michigan and herring gulls in Lake Ontario.

Children face horrendous risks to exposure of chemicals on their brain development. There is already strong evidence of detrimental effects on the intelligence caused by exposure to the long-lasting pollutants PCB. Scientists have also gathered evidence that commonly used chemicals are causing contact allergies although no one really knows the reason for the increase in asthma and contact allergies.

The presence of these chemicals in pregnant women has in many occasions resulted in miscarriages, still birth and birth defects. Furthermore, the contaminants tend to accumulate in the adipose tissue (body fat) and found in the breast milk. These high concentrations of endocrine disruptors in the breast milk are easily passed down to infants through breast-feeding*. BBC Wildlife reported in July 2000 that mother seals in the Arctic builds up pollutants in their fat reserves and passes them onto the pups via her energy-rich milk. Polar bears prey on seals and thus are exposed to the highest concentrations of all, being on top of the food chain. This may have caused some female bears to have both male and female sex organs. Amusing? Horrifying actually. Imagine how these health implications represent the face of the future; infertility, deformed life beings and soon, death rates exceeds birth rate and eventually a total wipe out of the human race.

A product does not have to be a chemical formula to hurt you. Although pesticides are widely known endocrine disruptors (e.g. DDT), endocrine disruptor substances are also constantly found in our daily product such as food cans, baby feeding bottles, children toys, cosmetics, perfumes and detergents.
Risky chemicals
What in
Brominated flame retardents Circuit boards and some plastics in TVs, computers etc. In household fabrics e.g. sofas Some hormone disrupting, accumulate in breast milk* and blood
Artificial musks Fragrances added to perfumes, cosmetics and household products Accumulate in breast milk* and body fat, some hormone disrupting
Phthalates Plasticisers in many PVC products, e.g. toys, flooring. Also used as a solvent in cosmetics Hormone disrupting, contaminates breast milk*, found in urine.
Bisphenol A Linings of food cans [it’s a secret which ones], transparent (polycarbonate) baby bottles [Health advice: can leach out if bottle worn: replace worn bottles] Hormone disrupting, found as contaminant in umbilical cord, new research shows can rapidly go through placental ‘barrier’.
Alkyltin Antibacterial agent in some antibacterial duvets, insoles, also used as anti-fouling paint in boats (being phased out globally from this application). Used in manufacture of some plastics Powerful hormone disrupter in wildlife (makes female dogs whelks grow penises), can be absorbed through skin, toxic to immune system.
Alkylphenols Some paints, industrial detergents, additives to some plastics. Hormone disrupter.

* Friends of the Earth believes that it is always best to breast feed a baby; the advantages to the immune system and general health are substantial. It is vital that this point is made in any chemicals in breast milk.

Resource: Safer Chemical Campaign’s List of Target Chemicals of Friends of the Earth, England.

All listed products and many more are lacking safety data on the chemicals, which the industry has not bothered to generate, most probably is widely so because of no obligatory imposement by the authorities. Jan Hammer of the Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate said that most substances on the market are not covered by the current legislation.

The Royal Society reported in June 2000: -

"Humans are exposed daily to chemicals that have been shown, or suggested, to have hormone-disrupting properties". "Despite the uncertainty, it is prudent to minimise the exposure to humans, especially pregnant women, to endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals".

As consumers, we can reduce the risks by trying to avoid coming in to contact with (the listed) risky chemicals although the ultimate protection would be tighter laws. These chemicals should be phased out and replaced with safer alternatives. The sure way is to urge the authorities to: -

Realising what is not in this present situation would mean giving our future generation their rights to live in a toxics-free environment.