Our behavior as a society suggests that we don’t recognize the inherent health risks that chemicals pose. Are we complacent because we feel helpless to alleviate such an overwhelming problem?
Are we addicted to the perceived lifestyle benefits that chemicals provide?
Is corporate America intent on reaping profits from lucrative chemical sales without regard for the cost to society, including human suffering?
Common sources of chronic chemical exposure include:
- Alcohols and glycols (such as antifreeze and ink/paint solvents)
- Aldehydes, ethers, esters, and ketones (formaldehyde being the most common)
- Aromatic compounds (most notably benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) found in groundwater, soil, and fuels
- Artificial detergents
- Drugs (therapeutic and recreational)
- Food additives (such as aspartame and sulfites)
- Gases (fumes and air pollutants such as industrial ventilation and smog)
- Halides; also called halogens (found in water supplies; these include chlorine, fluorine, bromine, and iodine)
- Nitrogen (petrochemical by-products)
- Paints and solvents
The Hobbyist: Neal came to me for help with reversing his chronic fatigue, depression, and poor mental function. I inquired about his work and home environments in an attempt to determine possible exposures to various chemicals and heavy metals. Although he didn’t report any chemical exposures that would suggest high levels of toxins, his lab tests revealed such evidence. When I called to discuss my findings with him, his wife answered the phone. She said her husband was shopping for supplies for his hobby—building and painting fiberglass boats. Neal hadn’t reported this hobby to me. I also discovered that he did his work in a barn and, because of the cold climate, the windows were closed most of the time.
Resins used in fiberglass construction and paint contain numerous toxins. Breathing these fumes is hazardous, especially when they are concentrated in a room with poor ventilation. Upon learning about his hobby, I contacted Neil and recommended that he immediately stop his boat project until we resolved his health problems.
About one year later, Neil regained his health. He was able to continue his hobby by keeping the windows open, using fans to exhaust dangerous fumes and by wearing protective gear. This case ended happily because we identified the cause of his health complaints and treated them before irreversible consequences developed.
Not Just for War Veterans: I have treated and have witnessed the disabilities of several Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. Dioxin, the active ingredient in Agent Orange, causes slow and severe damage to the brain and nervous system. One man couldn’t walk down a hallway without bumping into the walls. He would stumble and fall, and then, with great effort, would pick himself up, only to bounce off the walls and stumble and fall again. His was one of the saddest cases that I have ever witnessed.
You don’t have to fight a war in a third-world country to be exposed to dioxin. A by-product of industrial discharges, dioxin is one of the most potent carcinogens known to man. Environmental dioxin exposures are related to industrial discharges and the burning of wastes. Discharges from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and pesticide production plants—as well as the waste from garbage incinerators, pulp mills, and backyard burn barrels—release dioxin fumes into the atmosphere.
Dioxin was one of the toxic chemicals found at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York. On August 2, 1978, the New York State Department of Health declared a state of emergency at Love Canal when it became clear that the 20,000 tons of chemical waste disposed there from 1920 to 1953 were the cause of the startling increase in cancer, birth defect, and miscarriage rates among local residents.
We must all be aware of our surroundings to prevent or eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals. The Love Canal case, on the other hand, demonstrates how we are victims of the reckless poisoning of our planet by industrial powers. Both examples describe fairly obvious exposures. Unfortunately, most chemical exposures are not so obvious.