By Dr. Mercola
In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote the groundbreaking book Silent Spring, in which she warned of the devastating environmental impacts of DDT. It was among the first times the chemical industry had been openly criticized and brought the impacts of environmental pollution to the forefront of society.
Decades later, in 2002, the US Geological Survey conducted the first nationwide reconnaissance of the occurrence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other contaminants in wastewater.
After testing water samples from 139 streams across 30 states, they found contaminants in 80 percent of the streams sampled, and noted that most samples contained seven to 38 different toxins.1
"Little is known about the potential interactive effects… that may occur from complex mixtures of OWCs [organic wastewater contaminants] in the environment," the researchers noted, and this is still very much true today.
Now, a new study looked at the contaminants found lurking in our water, and what they revealed showed a growing chemical cocktail that shows no sign of stopping.
Prescription Drugs, Pesticides, Caffeine, and More
When researchers tested the water of the Zumbro River in Minnesota, they found a wide variety of contaminants:2
- Pesticides and insecticides
- Anti-convulsive medications
As was noted more than a decade ago, the researchers again stated, "we don't know what these background levels mean in terms of environmental or public health."3
Yet, the sheer number and variety of contaminants are raising concerns among scientists. At the US Geological Survey, for instance, studies have revealed sewage tainted with steroid hormones and the antibacterial triclosan. They've also found antidepressants in fish and even toxins like birth control pills and detergents in the slimy coverings on stones in streams.4
As written in Environmental Science & Technology, editor-in-chief Jerald Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, explains the seeming impossibility of keeping tabs on the 89 million organic and inorganic substances registered by the American Chemical Society.5
Most of these are not in commercial use… but still, 15,000 new chemicals and biological sequences are registered every day. There are about 84,000 chemicals that are registered for commercial use and of those 2,400 are high-production volume chemicals (meaning more than 1 million pounds are produced per year).
Even among this list, the vast majority have yet to be proven safe, including 267 that have yet to even be sponsored for testing (and this includes, as Schnoor noted, some "suspicious candidates" like coal tar, creosote, methyl chlorobenzene, and trichloracetaldehyde).
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 Has Yet to Be Updated…
There are complex problems with environmental chemicals, in part because you can't always predict how they will react in nature. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for instance, appear to become even more toxic when they're broken down by plants in the environment.
Even though they've been banned for decades they are still found contaminating the environment. So in addition to the potential threats of new chemicals on the market are the continued threat of those already on the market and even those that have long since been banned. As the New York Times reported:6
"…the development of new compounds and the increasing discovery of unexpected contaminants in the environment mean that the nation desperately needs a better system for assessing and prioritizing chemical exposures.
That includes revisiting the country's antiquated chemical regulation and assessment regulations. The Toxic Substances Control Act went into effect in 1976, almost 40 years ago, and has not been updated since."
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) allows high-production volume chemicals to be launched without their chemical identity or toxicity information being disclosed. It also makes it very difficult for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals. The National Resources Defense Council explained:7
"Under the law now, the EPA must prove a chemical poses an 'unreasonable risk' to public health or the environment before it can be regulated. Widely considered a failure, the law allowed 62,000 chemicals to remain on the market without testing when it first passed.
In more than 30 years, the EPA has only required testing for about 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated just five. The rest have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment.
For the 22,000 chemicals introduced since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts.
These chemicals are found in toys and other children's products, cleaning and personal care items, furniture, electronics, food and beverage containers, building materials, fabrics, and car interiors."
Health Risks of Environmental Chemicals Can No Longer Be Ignored
It's become clear that environmental chemicals, even at low doses, cause disturbances to hormonal, reproductive, and immune systems. Chemicals that have accumulated and persist in the environment – in our food, water, air, and household goods – have been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma, reproductive problems, and more.
It's difficult to quantify the damage potential of environmental chemicals, especially in utero. However the studies that have tried have yielded some disturbing results.
For instance, earlier this year a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology8 found that every 1-percent increase in genital malformations in newborn males within a particular county was associated with a 283 percent increased rate in autism.
According to the researchers, genital malformations such as micropenis, undescended testicles, and hypospadias (when the urethra forms on the underside of the penis) are signs of exposure to harmful toxins.
Other recent research has revealed that exposure while in the womb to DDT increases women's risk of high blood pressure decades later. The research revealed that women exposed to the most DDT before birth were 2.5 to 3.6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure before the age of 50 than those with the lowest prenatal exposure.9
This means health problems you're experiencing now could potentially be the result of chemical exposures before you were even born. What is perhaps even more shocking is that toxins you're exposed to while in your mother's womb can end up impacting the health of your great-grandchildren through inherited epigenetic changes.
So not only are environmental chemicals potentially jeopardizing the health of your children, they're jeopardizing the health of multiple future generations.10
Chemical Industry Lobbying for Federal Chemical Law to Take Away States' Regulatory Powers
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose 300-plus members include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, is pushing a Congressional bill called the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. The bill, dubbed the "DARK" (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, would actually preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws. What does this have to do with chemical regulations?
Everything… as the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical giants like Dow, DuPont, BASF Corp., and 3M, is trying to do the same thing in regard to chemicals. They know an overhaul of the existing law is coming… and they're trying to preempt states from being able to tighten up regulations (or take away those already enacted by "tougher" states like California). The American Chemistry Council has spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in the first half of 2014 alone.11
Water Filtration—A Must for Clean Pure Water…
For now, we're forced to deal with a world in which environmental chemicals exist all around us. For this reason, I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. To be absolutely certain you are getting the purest water you can, you'll want to filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink.
I currently use a whole house carbon-based water filtration system, in addition to a reverse osmosis (RO) filter to purify my drinking water. You can read more about water filtration to help you make a decision about what type of water filtration system will be best for you and your family. Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important.
Living Clean in a Contaminated World
Beyond pure water, organically grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat properly, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxicants your body encounters from other sources. From there, simply leading a healthy lifestyle will help you to have as minimal a chemical exposure as possible. This includes the following:
- As much as possible, purchase organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides, growth hormones, GMOs, and synthetic fertilizers.
- Rather than using conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and MSG. Freshly grown sprouts are particularly nutritious, especially watercress, sunflower, and pea sprouts.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA- and BPS-containing liners).
- As mentioned, have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a useful database to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.12 I also offer one of the highest-quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for "green", toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective, and natural alternatives out there.