The pollution in people
May 26, 2003 1:04 PM   Subscribe

BodyBurden: the pollution in people. "Researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility. Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied." This was also the subject of a PBS program by Bill Moyers, Trade Secrets. Moyers himself was found to have 84 chemicals in his blood and urine. [Via This Modern World.]
posted by homunculus (17 comments total)
I suppose it could be worse: in Afghanistan, some Afghan civilians have been found to have uranium in their urine.
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2003

Scary nevertheless excellent post.
posted by 111 at 1:21 PM on May 26, 2003

I've been waiting for someone to do this. The trouble with focusing on single chemicals is that they just can't give you enough of the complete picture to make a reasoned guess as to danger unless they are strongly toxic or in high dosages.
Hopefully now someone will develop a matrix, whereby with a blood test people can be warned to avoid certain reactive agents. In other words: "Because of your current blood chemistry, you should avoid exposure to 'x', until such time as your levels of 'w', 'y', and 'z' are reduced to normal levels."
posted by kablam at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2003

*calls lawyer, makes retirement plans*
posted by quonsar at 2:32 PM on May 26, 2003

Excellent post homunculus - you always find the most terrific things, albeit scary ones. Thanks. This is very well done.

It's been posted here before, but I thought the Chemical Scorecard rather fits as a companion to this post.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:34 PM on May 26, 2003

That BBC story conveniently neglects to mention the Pakistani nuclear test site just over the border.
posted by darukaru at 3:04 PM on May 26, 2003

Thanks for the links, darukaru. That's a pretty big oversight.
posted by homunculus at 3:35 PM on May 26, 2003

This test only looked for 200 chemicals or so we know there exists 10s of thousands in the environment so the number we carry could be much greater. No one knows what these chemicals do, but we do know there are marked increases in cancer, mental disease, physical disease, birth defects, etc.. etc..
posted by stbalbach at 5:10 PM on May 26, 2003

I find it interesting that Moyers had such a high body burden, given he must have enough loot to keep his ingestibles relatively clean, his house lead-free, etc. I would like to see a broader study that organized its subjects into economic brackets. This one throws my trusty privilege proximity-personal toxicity formula into doubt. Hmm. Maybe this tax cut really will help America's working people after all.
posted by squirrel at 5:50 PM on May 26, 2003

Say it with me kids:

"Subsistence farming." It's the wave of the future.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:30 PM on May 26, 2003

Nope - it was the wave of the past.
posted by Irontom at 5:57 AM on May 27, 2003

One of my best friends from college has dedicated himself to the pursuit of exactly this topic. While he has focused specifically on the role the chlorine and chlorine manufacturing has played, he's always insisted that it needs to be approached more holistically, as part of a much larger issue of what's going on.

While his level of advocacy goes much farther than mine does personally, it's always sobering to hear him speak, especially when he talks about the impact on the food chain. As he points out that successive ranks of predators tend to show higher and higher concentrations of these external chemicals, he points out that humans, as a general class, are not at the highest point on the food chain--human infants are, especially those that are breast-fed. As the global toxic burden increases, we're successively handicapping each generation of children with a greater and greater burden, where 5-year olds today have concentrations of many chemicals that rival 70-year olds.

Much of this stuff is clearly debatable, and there's always been a healthy counter-point to Joe's claims, but it is definitely something that merits serious attention--much more than it's gotten to date, I think.
posted by LairBob at 6:15 AM on May 27, 2003

All these chemicals in our bodies must be good for us, since Americans are living longer, healthier lives today than at any time in our history. Our biggest health problem is not the secret presence of industrial chemicals in our bodies, but the overt presence of fat around our organs. Some people link chemicals to cancer, but the evidence is not strong. I wouldn't worry about it if I were you people.
posted by Faze at 7:33 AM on May 27, 2003

All these chemicals in our bodies must be good for us, since Americans are living longer, healthier lives today than at any time in our history.

Yup, but we're not reproducing. Declining fertility is the real worry, quite dramatic in Europe and although controversial there is some consensus that, particularly in men, environmental pollutants may be responsible.

Can't find a link, but early atomic bomb researchers set up their own club, called IPPU, since they all passed Plutonium in their urine.
posted by grahamwell at 11:35 AM on May 27, 2003

Right you are faze. I'll take a double dose of any one of the 167 over the pre-industrial Yersinia pestis (137 million dead) or the post industrial 1918 flu virus (25 million dead) anyday.
posted by quercus at 12:29 PM on May 27, 2003

environmental pollutants may be responsible.

Give it a few years and it’ll be good corporate citizenship - giving away free birth control like that.

“Trojan PCB”
“Durex Dioxin”
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:58 PM on May 27, 2003

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