Is Your Body a Toxic Dump for Corporations?

toxic industrial chemicals

Story at-a-glance -

  • More than 200 industrial chemicals, found in products like pesticides, jet fuel and flame retardants, are found in Americans’ blood and breast milk
  • Chemical companies spent $100,000 lobbying per member of Congress in 2015 to successfully block serious oversight
  • 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

By Dr. Mercola

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought the consequences of industrial dumping to the forefront of Americans’ minds.

There are at least two parties to blame in the Flint crisis — the industries that used the Flint River as their own industrial dumping ground and the city government that decided it would be a good idea to swap the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to save money.

Tragic as the Flint catastrophe is, it is, sadly, not an isolated event. Children in other states, from New York to Pennsylvania to Illinois, are also at risk of lead poisoning, some more so than the children in Flint.

For instance, nearly 5 percent of Flint children tested positive for elevated lead levels compared to 8.5 percent in Pennsylvania, 6.7 percent in parts of New York State, and 20 percent in Detroit.1 In the U.S. as a whole, more than half a million children between the ages of 1 and 5 still suffer from lead poisoning.

Meanwhile, lead is but one toxin in the environment that’s been implicated in poisoning both children and adults. As Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., an environmental health specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, told The New York Times, “Lead poisoning is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’”

U.S. in the Midst of a Toxic Crisis

It’s not a stretch to say that the entire U.S. is in the midst of a toxic crisis. More than 200 industrial chemicals, found in products like pesticides, jet fuel and flame retardants, are found in Americans’ blood and breast milk.

The President’s Cancer Panel even stated, “… To a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’”2 To the chemical companies, ignorance is bliss, or more aptly, feigning ignorance is bliss.

As the suspected and proven health risks tied to industrial chemicals rise, chemical companies put their money where it matters — not on safety testing or research to develop non-toxic products, but on lobbying to keep their toxic products in widespread use.

According to The New York Times, chemical companies spent $100,000 lobbying per member of Congress in 2015 and successfully blocked serious oversight.3 While Congress looks the other way, people continue to be poisoned.

Industrial Chemicals to Blame for Rising Rates of Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

In 2014, Drs. Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan published a review in The Lancet Neurology noting industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for rising rates of neurodevelopmental disabilities.4

This includes autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and other cognitive impairments. They explained:

“In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene.

Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants — manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy.

Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.”

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Lead Was Once Heavily Promoted as an Essential Product

Today, we know that just a tiny amount of lead dust can cause IQ loss, behavioral problems and hearing loss in children. Exposure to larger amounts (that are still small relatively speaking) can cause coma, convulsions and death. But it wasn’t always this way.

In the 1920s, the National Lead Company advertised, “Lead helps to guard your health” and recommended it be used for pipes and paint. As The New York Times reported, “what the lead companies did for decades, and the tobacco companies did, too, the chemical companies do today.”5

Industrial chemicals are often not tested for safety before they’re put on the market and unleashed on the public and the environment. More than 10,000 chemical additives with questionable safety — as most have never been tested in humans — are allowed in food and food packaging alone.

Toxic Substances Control Act Allows Untested High-Production Volume Chemicals

Roughly 13,000 chemicals are used in cosmetics, of which only 10 percent have been evaluated for safety.

It's thought that 1 in 5 cancers may be caused by exposure to environmental chemicals, and according to a study published in the journal Carcinogenesis, this includes chemicals deemed "safe" on their own.6

The analysis found that by acting on various pathways, organs and organ systems, cells, and tissues, the cumulative effects of non-carcinogenic chemicals can act in concert to synergistically produce carcinogenic activity, turning conventional testing for carcinogens on its ear.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which took effect in 1976, 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 U.S. 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."

Tyson Foods Dumps More Toxins Into Waterways Than Exxon and Dow Chemical

It’s not only chemical companies that are poisoning Americans and the environment. Industrial agriculture is another top polluter that, in many cases, is actually worse than the chemical industry.

An analysis by Environment America revealed that poultry giant Tyson Foods and its subsidiaries released 104 million pounds of pollution to surface waters from 2010 to 2014.

This is nearly seven times the volume of surface water discharged by Exxon during that period, according to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

Tyson dumped 20 million pounds of pollution into U.S. waterways in 2014 alone, and this does not include pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) raising livestock for Tyson. According to the analysis:8

A substantial portion of Tyson’s discharges are nitrate compounds. Nitrates can contribute to algal blooms and dead zones, and also pose threats to human health, including “blue baby syndrome” for infants.

For example, the city of Des Moines is currently treating its drinking water to remove excess nitrates from agribusiness pollution.

… [A]n accounting of Tyson’s pollution footprint must consider the manure from billions of livestock raised for the company each year. The company claims to process an average of 41 million chickens, 133,000 cows, and 383,000 hogs per week.

While manure runoff has been implicated in the pollution of waterways and even drinking water across the nation nowhere does Tyson disclose whether or how much manure from the operations of its contract growers winds up in America’s waters.”

Consequences of Industrial Dumping Often Last for Generations

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, a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology9 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.

U.S. Has ‘Scores of Flints Awaiting Their Moments’

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 And as reported by Mother Jones, it’s likely that “Flint-like disasters” could occur on an ongoing basis on a national scale:11

“Over the course of the past century, tens of millions of children have been poisoned by lead and millions more remain in danger of it today. Add to this the risks these same children face from industrial toxins like mercury, asbestos, and polychlorinated biphenyls (better known as PCBs) and you have an ongoing recipe for a Flint-like disaster but on a national scale.

In truth, the United States has scores of ‘Flints’ awaiting their moments. Think of them as ticking toxic time bombs — just an austerity scheme or some official's poor decision away from a public health disaster.

Given this, it's remarkable, even in the wake of Flint, how little attention or publicity such threats receive. Not surprisingly, then, there seems to be virtually no political will to ensure that future generations of children will not suffer the same fate as those in Flint.”

Your Body Is Not a Toxin Dumping Ground

Considering all the potential sources of toxic chemicals, it’s virtually impossible to avoid all of them, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit silently by while corporations use your home, your water, your air and your body as a convenient toxin dumping ground. Until change occurs on a global scale, you can significantly limit your exposure by keeping a number of key principles in mind.

  • Eat a diet focused on locally grown, fresh, and ideally organic whole foods. Processed and packaged foods are a common source of chemicals, both in the food itself and the packaging. Wash fresh produce well, especially if it’s not organically grown.
  • Choose pastured, sustainably raised meats and dairy to reduce your exposure to hormones, pesticides and fertilizers. Avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
  • Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and at little risk of contamination, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, anchovies and sardines.
  • Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans, as chemicals can leach out of plastics (and plastic can linings), into the contents; be aware that even “BPA-free” plastics typically leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad for you as bisphenol-A (BPA).
  • Store your food and beverages in glass, rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
  • Use glass baby bottles.
  • Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  • Filter your tap water for both drinking and bathing. If you can only afford to do one, filtering your bathing water may be more important, as your skin readily absorbs contaminants. Most tap water toxins, including fluoride, can be filtered out using a reverse osmosis filter.
  • Look for products made by companies that are Earth-friendly, animal-friendly, sustainable, certified organic, and GMO-free. This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, furniture, mattresses, and others.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove contaminated house dust. This is one of the major routes of exposure to flame-retardant chemicals.
  • When buying new products such as furniture, mattresses or carpet padding, consider buying chemical-free varieties containing naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool, cotton, silk and Kevlar.
  • Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
  • Make sure your baby's toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings and anything your child may be prone to suck or chew on — even books, which are often plasticized. It’s advisable to avoid all plastic, especially flexible varieties.
  • Use natural cleaning products or make your own. Avoid those containing 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME) — two toxic glycol ethers that can compromise your fertility and cause fetal harm.
  • Switch over to organic toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. EWG’s Skin Deep database can help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.12
  • Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one or use glass doors.
  • Replace feminine hygiene products (tampons and sanitary pads) with safer alternatives.
  • Look for fragrance-free products. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds — even thousands — of potentially toxic chemicals. Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which contain a mishmash of synthetic chemicals and fragrances.