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According to a report by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, chemical exposures from pesticides, air pollutants, and plastic chemicals represent a major threat to human health and reproduction
An Endocrine Society task force has issued a scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, noting that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them
Phthalates can be absorbed transdermally, through your skin, via ambient air. Phthalates in vinyl flooring can make pregnant women more susceptible to high blood pressure and heart disease
According to a newly released report1,2 by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics3 (FIGO), which represents OB-GYNs in 125 countries, chemical exposures represent a major threat to human health.
Toxic chemicals are all around us; in our food, water, air, and countless commonly used products and goods, and this onslaught is having a definitive effect — even when exposures are relatively low.
This is particularly true during pregnancy and early infancy. According to the report:
“Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.”
The report is being shared during this year’s global conference on women’s health issues in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The group warns that international trade agreements currently under negotiation lack protections against toxic chemicals, and they also urge health professionals in all countries to advocate for policies that help prevent toxic exposures and ensure a healthy food system.
Environmental Chemicals Threaten Human Health and Reproduction
The FIGO report homes in on a number of the most pervasive toxins, including:
- Air pollutants, such as diesel fumes
- Plastic chemicals, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates
Among the health outcomes linked to these toxic chemicals are:
- Reduced cognitive function
The Cost of Chemical Exposures Is Significant
The costs associated with these health outcomes are staggering. For example, in Europe, costs associated with exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals alone are estimated at 157 billion Euros (which is approximately $177.1 billion) per year.
In 2008, the cost associated with childhood diseases linked to toxic exposures in the US was estimated at nearly $77 billion.
To understand just how severe chemical exposures have become, consider this: each year a total of 9.5 trillion pounds of chemicals are manufactured or imported into the US, which translates into 30,000 pounds per American!
All of these chemicals “go” somewhere… They go into food production, building materials, household products, personal care items, furniture, clothing — you name it, it will probably have a variety of chemicals in it.
Chemical emissions and runoff also contaminate our soils, water, and air. As noted by Mother Jones:4
“Dr. Tracey Woodruff, an associate professor at the University of California-San Francisco, says while there are ways individuals can limit their exposure — including building better health practices overall and eating a pesticide-free, healthy diet — more needs to be done to protect everyone.
‘You can do some things to enhance your resiliency to disease or decrease chemical exposures,’ she says, ‘but there are a lot of things that are not in your control.’
That’s why FIGO… is calling on health professionals and legislators to support policies that prevent exposure and offering recommendations that could help mitigate health risks, including increasing access to healthy food and incorporating environmental health into health care.”
Absorption of Phthalates Via Ambient Air Has Been Confirmed
The idea that chemicals affect your health should come as no surprise. What may be surprising is the extent of your exposure. Most of us go about our day, touching, eating, drinking, and breathing with few concerns about what we’re actually coming into contact with.
Lo and behold, scientific investigations have revealed that even things like household dust, cashier’s receipts, and the floor beneath your feet may be contributing to your health problems.
Recent research5 even shows that when it comes to plasticizing chemicals like phthalates, you don’t even need to come into direct contact with the item in question.
Phthalates can be absorbed transdermally, meaning through your skin, via ambient air. In fact, this may be “a potentially important route of exposure,” the authors claim. Phthalates also accumulate in household dust, posing a risk for toddlers and pets that spend a lot of time crawling around in it on the floor.
As reported by Environmental Health Perspectives:6
“Only recently have scientists started to model dermal absorption of indoor air pollutants. ‘This study, as proof of concept, successfully confirms predictions about that pathway,’ says Gerald Kasting… [who] was not involved in the study.
DEP and DnBP are not the only indoor organic pollutants predicted to have meaningful uptake via dermal absorption directly from the air. More than 30 semi-volatile organic compounds commonly found indoors are predicted to have dermal uptakes similar to or greater than inhalation intake.
‘Our findings suggest that risk assessment models should not ignore the dermal pathway. There are other chemicals abundant in indoor air with the right physical properties… to move from air through skin to blood,’ [study author Charles] Weschler says.”
Vinyl Flooring Raises Risk of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension
Related research7,8,9 shows that phthalates in vinyl flooring can make pregnant women more susceptible to high blood pressure and heart disease. Pregnant women who had the highest levels of phthalate metabolites in their blood were nearly 300 percent more likely to experience pregnancy-induced high blood pressure compared to those with the lowest levels.
And again, even if you don’t walk barefoot on your vinyl floors, the phthalates can migrate out of the floors and contaminate the very air you breathe. The exact mechanisms behind phthalates’ association with heart disease are still under investigation, but it’s thought to be linked to its inflammatory activity.
Organic Diet During Pregnancy Reduces Risk of Birth Defects and Other Health Problems
Pesticide exposure is another great concern during pregnancy. A number of studies have linked pesticides to birth defects, and recent research10 shows that the risk of two common urogenital birth defects in male children can be decreased by eating organic foods during pregnancy. As reported by the Institute of Science in Society:11
“The study analyzed over 37,000 women and children pairs, finding that women who consume any organic food during pregnancy are 0.42 times as likely to give birth to a boy with hypospadias as those who report seldom or never eating organic food. This decrease is modest but significant, and builds on a growing list of studies linking pesticides and other endocrine disrupters to these types of defects.”
Hypospadias is a condition in which the urethra is located on the underside of the penis instead of at the tip. Prevalence of this birth defect has risen in many countries, and now affects about one in every 250 male children in the US. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, rates of hypospadias doubled between 1968 and 1993. Pesticides are not the only chemicals increasing the risk of these kinds of birth defects.
Phthalates have been found to play a role as well, which isn’t so surprising when you consider that hormonal abnormalities has been identified as the key causative factor in this condition. Besides phthalates, a number of other plastic chemicals are known to mimic and disrupt the balance of sex hormones, including bisphenol-A and bisphenol-S (BPA and BPS). Hormone-disrupting chemicals have also been implicated in a number of other health conditions, including:
Diabetes Obesity Heart disease Infertility Hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers Prostate cancer Thyroid disease Poor brain development and diminished cognitive function in children
Task Force Urges Everyone to Proactively Avoid Endocrine-Disrupting Hormones
Based on a review of more than 1,300 studies, an Endocrine Society task force recently issued a new scientific statement12,13 on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, noting that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals are such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them. The statement also calls for improved safety testing to determine which chemicals may cause problems.
The task force, which is made up of doctors who actually treat patients with hormone-related problems, warn that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can have an impact on subsequent generations, and they urge infertility doctors to advise their patients to avoid hormone disruptors to improve their odds of successful conception and a healthy baby. Doctors also need to warn pregnant women and parents of young children about the risks associated with common chemical exposures.
At present, there are some 85,000 chemicals in use in the US, and no one knows exactly how many may act as hormone disruptors as the vast majority of these chemicals have not undergone safety testing. As noted by one of the members of the task force, even if only 1 percent of these chemicals cause hormone disruption, that would equate to about 850 different chemicals, making avoidance difficult. That said, among the chemicals most well-known for their hormone disrupting potential, even at low doses, are:
- BPA/BPS, found in plastics, the lining of canned foods, and cash register receipts
- Phthalates, found in soft plastics, vinyl flooring, perfumes, soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics
- Certain pesticides
- Triclosan, found in a wide array of antimicrobial products, such as soaps and hand sanitizers
Monsanto Sued Over Carcinogenic Herbicide
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. An estimated one billion pounds a year is sprayed on our food crops, resulting in the average American eating several hundred pounds of glyphosate-contaminated food every year. In March, glyphosate was reclassified as a Class 2 A “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The California’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also issued a notice of intent14 to label glyphosate as “known to cause cancer.” Six months after the IARC’s report became public, Enrique Rubio, a farm worker, and Judi Fitzgerald, a horticultural assistant, sued Monsanto claiming Roundup caused their cancers, and that the company falsified safety data, intentionally misled regulators about Roundup’s dangers, and failed to properly warn users about its carcinogenic potential.
According to Reuters:15
“Attorney Robin Greenwald, one of the attorneys who brought Rubio’s case, said on Tuesday that she expects more lawsuits to follow because Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world and the WHO cancer classification gives credence to long-held concerns about the chemical. ‘I believe there will be hundreds of lawsuits brought over time,’ said Greenwald. Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord said that the claims are without merit and that glyphosate is safe for humans when used as labeled.”
More Legal Troubles for Monsanto
Monsanto’s legal troubles over its toxic products don’t end there. A French appeals court recently upheld a guilty ruling against Monsanto in the chemical poisoning case of a French farmer who used Roundup. The company is also tying up the courts in St. Louis, Missouri, where several residents have sued Monsanto claiming they developed lymphohematopoietic cancer as a result of PCB exposure.16
Monsanto was the primary manufacturer of PCBs in the US from 1929 until about 1977, and a number of lawsuits over PCB pollution have been brought since the ban on PCBs took effect. In 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of decades of “outrageous acts of pollution” in the town of Anniston, Alabama. Residents accused the company of dumping PCBs into the local river and a landfill. Court records showed Monsanto was aware of the toxic effects of PCB for at least three decades, but that the company refused to take corrective action due to cost.
All of Monsanto’s products are rooted in chemicals, and there’s nothing “green” about that. Earlier this year, San Diego sued Monsanto for polluting the Coronado Bay with PCBs. Monsanto always has been, and still is, a chemical company.
Moreover, Monsanto has made a habit out of marketing its chemicals as exceptionally safe and beneficial, only to decades later be revealed to be exceptionally toxic. In recent years, it has tried to greenwash its image, claiming it is now an agricultural company. But let’s face it, its main bread and butter are:
- Roundup, a carcinogen and promoter of antibiotic resistance
- Genetically engineered Roundup resistant seeds, which by their design end up being more heavily contaminated with this toxin
- Genetically engineered Bt plants, which are actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide,17 since the entire plant is designed to produce Bt toxin internally
Biggest Carmaker in the World Found to Corrupt Pollution Sensors on 11 Million Cars
FIGO’s report also discusses the hazards of air pollution, which brings us to the Volkswagen scandal. As reported by The New York Times18 in September, Volkswagen admitted equipping 11 million of its diesel cars with software used to cheat on emissions tests. According to the NYT report:
“The software sensed when the car was being tested and then activated equipment that reduced emissions… But the software turned the equipment off during regular driving, increasing emissions far above legal limits, possibly to save fuel or to improve the car’s torque and acceleration.”
In a follow up article19 bearing the headline, “How Many Deaths Did Volkswagen’s Deception Cause in the U.S.?”, The New York Times addresses the potential health ramifications of Volkswagen’s deception. “After consulting with several experts in modeling the health effects of air pollutants, we calculated a death toll in the United States that, at its upper range, isn’t far off from that caused by the G.M. defect,” the article states, referring to the General Motors ignition defect that caused at least 124 deaths. In Europe, where Volkswagen’s vehicles are far more common, the effect has likely been far greater.
Air pollution generated by car exhaust fumes is well known to cause both respiratory disease and heart problems, and as noted in a third New York Times article,20 there’s a clear connection between cleaner air and longer life:
“Numerous studies have found that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality and averted tens of thousands of premature deaths from heart and respiratory disease… Applying that formula to EPA particulate data from 1970 to 2012 yields striking results for American cities.
In Los Angeles, particulate pollution has declined by more than half since 1970. The average Angeleno lives about a year and eight months longer. Residents of New York and Chicago have gained about two years on average. With more than 42 million people currently living in these three metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy add up quickly.”
Tips to Help You Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Considering all the potential sources of toxic chemicals, it’s virtually impossible to avoid all of them. However, you CAN 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 such as BPA and phthalates. Wash fresh produce well, especially if it’s not organically grown.
- Choose grass-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 lab tested for purity, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon.
- 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 other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad for you as 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 absorbs contaminants. To remove the endocrine disrupting herbicide Atrazine, make sure your filter is certified to remove it. According to the EWG, perchlorate 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 flame retardant 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 database21 can help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one or 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.
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