Thursday, May 1, 2008

What else is in our bodies? Or is this more unintended consequences?

In the wake of bisphenol (bpA) fear, I came across this National Geographic article "The Pollution Within". Writer David Ewing Duncan had himself tested at a price of $15,000 (paid for by NGS) for 320 chemicals and what he found surprised him.
My journalist-as-guinea-pig experiment is taking a disturbing turn. A Swedish chemist is on the phone, talking about flame retardants, chemicals added for safety to just about any product that can burn. Found in mattresses, carpets, the plastic casing of televisions, electronic circuit boards, and automobiles, flame retardants save hundreds of lives a year in the United States alone. These, however, are where they should not be: inside my body.
Where did this chemical (PBDE) could have come from? The writer thinks from airlines since he spends a lot of time flying and flame retardants are everywhere in planes for safety reasons.
I don't eat much fish, and the levels of mercury in my blood were modest. But I wondered what would happen if I gorged on large fish for a meal or two. So one afternoon I bought some halibut and swordfish at a fish market in the old Ferry Building on San Francisco Bay. Both were caught in the ocean just outside the Golden Gate, where they might have picked up mercury from the old mines. That night I ate the halibut with basil and a dash of soy sauce; I downed the swordfish for breakfast with eggs (cooked in my nonstick pan). Twenty-four hours later I had my blood drawn and retested. My level of mercury had more than doubled, from 5 micrograms per liter to a higher-than-recommended 12. ...

And that faint lavender scent as I shampoo my hair? Credit it to phthalates, molecules that dissolve fragrances, thicken lotions, and add flexibility to PVC, vinyl, and some intravenous tubes in hospitals. The dashboards of most cars are loaded with phthalates, and so is some plastic food wrap. Heat and wear can release phthalate molecules, and humans swallow them or absorb them through the skin. ...

As unsettling as my journey down chemical lane was, it left out thousands of compounds, among them pesticides, plastics, solvents, and a rocket-fuel ingredient called perchlorate that is polluting groundwater in many regions of the country. Nor was I tested for chemical cocktails—mixtures of chemicals that may do little harm on their own but act together to damage human cells. Mixed together, pesticides, PCBs, phthalates, and others "might have additive effects, or they might be antagonistic," says James Pirkle of the CDC, "or they may do nothing. We don't know."

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