While modern life has its conveniences, it has also introduced potentially harmful chemicals into the environment that can affect our health. These chemicals are often found in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the walls of our environments and even the air we breathe. Environmental toxins not only threaten our health, they can also impact the health of future generations.
Manganese is a free element found in nature and also a metal with various industrial purposes. Manganese hardens aluminum and prevents corrosion, making it an important element in materials such as soda cans. Manganese concentrations in air and groundwater increase with the increase in industrial activity. Although manganese is an essential mineral (which means it is necessary for human survival), it can be toxic in high concentrations. Your water may contain manganese if it is discolored (brownish red), stains plumbing, and/or has an unusual taste or odor. If you suspect your water may contain manganese, get tested at a state-certified laboratory. If the levels are above the standard security levels, consider using a high quality filtering system.
Arsenic is a natural element that can be found in both organic and inorganic forms. Arsenic found in the soil, environment and groundwater is taken up by crops and enters the food supply. The inorganic compound is known as a human carcinogen and has been found in drinking water, rice-based food products, seaweed and certain brands of juice. Although certain types are banned or restricted in some regions of the world, arsenic can still be found in poultry feed and pesticides. Para evitar pesticidas contendo arsênico, opte por produtos orgânicos e escolha aves de produtores que não usam aditivos artificiais para rações.
Fluoride is commonly added to water sources and toothpaste to prevent tooth decay and increase bone growth. At high concentrations, it can have the exact opposite effect, so many caution against using it sparingly. Bottled water is often fluoridated, leading many people to opt for non-fluoridated options when possible. To find out if your water contains fluor, call your water supplier or use a home kit to test levels. High quality water filters can be installed on your faucets to filter out excessive levels of fluorine and other minerals in your water supply.
Chlorpyrifos is a commonly used insecticide, classified as “very highly toxic” to birds and most fish and “moderately toxic” to mammals. Despite its recognized toxicity, it remains a widely used pesticide for food and non-food crops. By choosing organic products, you reduce the risk of ingesting harmful pesticides.
DDT / DDE DDT / DDE
It is a commonly used pesticide that was banned in the United States in 1972. As a result of overuse before the ban, DDT can still be found remaining in the environment in the United States, while other regions of the world continue to use it. DDT breaks down into toxic by-products called DDE and DDD, which later accumulate in the environment and in the fat stores of the organisms that ingest it. Animals that eat other animals are more likely to develop levels of DDT. Many people choose to avoid or minimize the consumption of animal fat and buy organic products to avoid ingesting this toxic pesticide.
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC) is a chemical commonly used to dry clean clothes and degrease metals due to its excellent solvent properties. When the vaporized chemical is inhaled, various health problems can arise, leading the Environmental Protection Agency to classify this chemical as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. There are organic dry cleaning services available that do not use this chemical. If you think you might be exposed to PERC in your workplace, don’t be afraid to be proactive and ask to speak with someone who can discuss safety measures.
Lead is a natural metal found deep in the earth’s crust. Lead is found in the paintwork of many old homes, in drinking water flowing through old lead pipes and/or fittings, and in contaminated soil. When ingested, lead can build up in the body over time and become toxic. If your home was built before 1978, you can test for lead in paint and dust, as it was popular in construction in the 1970s. Useful safety measures can include staying away from paint chips or peeling and avoiding tap water in these older homes until it is tested.
Mercury is a chemical used in thermometers, barometers and laxatives. The low cost of mercury-containing dental fillings kept them on the market despite the high health cost. Don’t be afraid to order non-mercury fillings from your dentist or have old mercury fillings replaced. Another form of mercury that people are more exposed to is the organic compound methylmercury, found in fish and shellfish. Fish absorb this toxin in their aquatic environments and it builds up in their bodies over time. Certain fish and shellfish accumulate more mercury than others, resulting in varying levels of toxins between different types of seafood. Fish with the highest levels of mercury include mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, shark, swordfish and tuna and should be consumed in limited quantities.
Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid that acts as an important organic solvent. It can be found naturally at low levels in crude oil or prepared synthetically. It is added to gasoline to improve octane rating – the level to which it can be compressed before spontaneously igniting. It is also used to make nylon bottles and plastic sodas and added to paints, adhesives, cosmetics, perfumes and antifreeze. Frequent inhalation of large amounts of this toxin can be harmful. Exposure to toluene can be avoided by taking proper precautions, such as wearing a safety mask around wet paints, paint thinners or glues; refrain from breathing gasoline or car exhaust; and experiments with chemical-free cosmetics and non-toxic nail polishes.
Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is produced commercially by fermenting sugars (for beverages) or synthetically (for industrial needs). It’s used to make everything from perfumes to alcoholic beverages and explosives. Even though ethanol can be consumed in alcoholic beverages, it is toxic to the human body in large amounts. Alcohol is almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream and can be especially harmful to the developing fetus. It is not known if there is a safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. Currently, women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant are encouraged to avoid any alcohol intake.
POLYBROMATE DIPHENYL ETHERS (PBDES)
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are synthetic chemicals used as flame retardants in many plastic, foam and fabric consumer products. While they can be useful in making products such as furniture and other household items less flammable, the toxins are not chemically bound to the materials to which they are added, allowing them to easily infiltrate your surroundings. When buying new furniture, some people opt for less flammable fabrics and materials (such as leather, wool, and cotton) to avoid these chemicals.
POLYCHLORINE BIPHENILLS (PCBS)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic organic chemicals that were once popular in industrial and commercial applications due to their non-flammability and chemical stability. They were banned from being manufactured in 1979 because of their recognized toxicity. There are still products and materials that can contain PCBs, such as transformers, oil-based paints, plastics, carbon papers and floor finishes.v When released into the environment, PCBs can travel long distances from the contamination site and accumulate in plants, food crops and the organisms that ingest them. High concentrations have been found in farm-raised salmon and marine mammals. To avoid PCBs, opt for organic products and wash well before eating