The Chemical Threat: 9 Alarming Facts You Must Know

Summarizing a 240-page report(1) in a few paragraphs isn’t possible, but one thing is clear. We simply do not know enough about the health effects of the tens of thousands of chemicals in widespread use today. Here’s why:

  • Over 80,000 synthetic chemicals are approved for use in the US. Examples include pesticides, fertilizers, plastics, paints, coatings, fire retardants, and even oil dispersants (Gulf oil spill, anyone?).

  • Only a few hundred of these 80,000+ chemicals have been tested for safety.

  • Many chemicals in use today are known and suspected carcinogens. Carcinogen means cancer causing.

  • Despite this known toxicity, the majority of chemicals remain unregulated.

  • Chemicals typically are studied for safety one at a time. This tells us nothing about the damage to health that may result from exposure to multiple chemicals at once.

  • Further, single chemical testing doesn’t reflect reality. All of us are exposed to dozens, and even hundreds, of chemicals at a time.

  • What little regulatory oversight that does exist for these chemicals uses the framework that chemicals are safe unless proven otherwise. This is one time when “innocent until proven guilty” is not a wise approach.

  • Exposure to chemicals during pregnancy and childhood is particularly damaging to health.

  • Sadly, more than 300 chemicals can be found in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. We are all “pre-contaminated.”

Simple Steps, Big Payoff

So the cat is out of the bag. We are all exposed to thousands of potentially toxic chemicals from the day we are conceived to the day we die. There is some good news in this otherwise grim picture. According to the PCP report(1), several simple, but effective steps can significantly reduce our exposure to synthetic chemicals and other environmental hazards.

  • If possible, eat foods grown without fertilizers, pesticides, and growth hormones the majority of the time.

  • Store drinking water in stainless steel or bisphenol-A (BPA) free containers.

  • Microwave foods only in ceramic or glass containers, not plastic. Do not put very hot foods into plastic containers.

  • Choose foods, home and garden products, and toys in a way that minimizes your child’s exposure to potentially toxic substances.

  • Filter your drinking water. Use bottled water only if tap water is known to be contaminated with substances or microbes that cannot be filtered out.

  • Avoid secondhand tobacco smoke in the home, car, restaurants, bars, stores, and other public places.

  • Avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens when trying to get pregnant and throughout pregnancy. This includes BPA, a known endocrine disruptor.

  • Properly dispose of household chemicals, paints, cleaning supplies and other materials.

  • Make informed decisions about products you buy and use. Check out the Household Products Database, a service of the National Institutes of Health, and the Environmental Working Group’s Health and Toxics Database. These resources offer a wealth of information to help you make healthier choices in your every day life.

  • If a job exposes you to chemicals, remove shoes before entering your house. Wash your work clothes separately from the family’s regular laundry to minimize kids’ exposure.

  • Check radon levels in the home. Radon is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless gas that can accumulate in confined spaces, such as basements. Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer-related deaths in non-smokers.

  • Make sure your health care provider keeps accurate records of medical tests that may result in harmful exposures, such as radiation from x-rays or scans. If these records aren’t being kept, keep them yourself. With this information, you can make better decisions about the benefits and risks of medical tests.

  • Wear a headset when using a cell phone, text instead of calling, and keep calls brief.

  • Avoid ultraviolet light by using sunscreen and proper sun-protective clothing. Never use tanning beds.

Courting Controversy

Despite what seems like a slam dunk on environmental hazards and cancer, this report is not without controversy. Michael Thun, MD, a respected physician and epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society points out that there is no doubt that environmental pollution is of profound importance to human health and the health of the planet. But he fears that the report may minimize the focus on other known, modifiable causes of cancer that currently offer the best opportunity for cancer prevention.(2)

The scientific evidence most solidly supports the major causes of cancer as being tobacco use, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones, and sunlight. According to Thun, the report implies that pollutants are the major cause of cancer, but this is far from a settled issue.(2)

Go the extra mile

The best approach is to hedge your bets in all areas of cancer prevention. It makes sense to take the precautions (detailed above) presented by the PCP. But it also makes a whole lot of sense to tackle the things we can control in our daily lives.

There is no doubt that obesity is a leading cause of cancer and other chronic diseases in this country. Make your body a priority and make sure you’re not among the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight and obese. Exercising regularly is another known cancer prevention technique, so lace up those sneakers and get moving. Always avoid tobacco in any form.

And don’t forget about food. Simply put, the right foods can be used to your advantage to “cancer-proof” your lifestyle. Plant foods are your ticket to detoxifying from a toxic lifestyle. By plant foods we meant the vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds that we’ve discussed so frequently in these newsletters. From the anti-cancer antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, to the nutrients known to aid with detoxification, plant foods are a must.

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Suzanne Dixon

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is an internationally recognized expert in nutrition, chronic disease, cancer, health and wellness as well as the Executive Editor of Nutrition Intelligence Report, a free natural health and nutrition newsletter. 

Suzanne Dixon

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  1. Anonymous says

    Have to disagree with your advice to “avoid ultraviolet light by using sunscreen”. The sun is our biggest natural source of Vitamin D (D3) the wonder vitamin. I am not a doctor but because of all the benefits of “moderate” sun exposure I have learned online, it would be prudent to get at least 20 minutes of sun on a daily basis if you are able. If you are unable to especially during the winter months take a daily Vitamin D3 supplement. There are far too many benefits, and to my knowledge no side effects, to ignore this miracle vitamin. Be advised, I am not advocating “long-term” sun exposure without proper sun protection.

  2. Anonymous#2 says

    Agree with Anonymous—probably 50% + of the population is Vitamin D deficient; and vitamin D3 is one of the most important nutrients that we all need.

  3. says

    Agree with the comments regarding vitamin D and the delivery by the sun and the requirements of the body. Too much emphasis has and is being placed on the ‘danger’ of the sun and not enough emphasis on the need of the human body of vitamin D and the portion of people that are deficient.

  4. JosephCampisi says

    I concur that moderate exposure to sunshine in the less intensity early or later part of the day without sunscreen is a beneficial way to increase vitamin D naturally. Furthermore, a few minutes in a tanning booth (not a tanning bed) has been shown to raise vitamin D levels. The key here is avoiding any intensity that would cause any sunburn. There are many nutrients as well that protect skin integrity from EM radiation.
    When a blood panel is done both forms of vitamin D3 should be tested for to give a full picture (25D3 and 125D3).
    Liver support herbs (milk thistle, astragalus, rooibos, Acanthus ilicifolius, green tea, mandarin orange), detox agents (pectasol, chlorella, cilantro, chlorophyllin), and supplements (vitamin K2, l-carnitine, phosphatidylcholine, silymarin, branched chain amino acids) should be considered due to the chemicals in our environment. Supplements such as iodine/iodide (Iodoral) to address toxicity from fluorine, bromine, and chlorine; and selenium to allay toxicity from mercury should be considered as well. The book, The Body Toxic written by Nena Baker is a good read. Joseph Campisi

  5. Drhank says

    Why is it that Multi-national pharmaceutical corporations are allowed to buy/own the FDA ? Are our representatives whores who are for sale to the highest bidders? We need ‘clean election’ regulations so we know who is compromised. As it is only millionaires can afford to campaign. Millionaires know nothing about us poor folk, how can they represent the rest of us us? Yet we bail them out when their gambling with our money causes widespread disaster.

  6. says

    I have a lot of resources on my website regarding chemical-free products, including a directory with 1000+ websites where you can buy nontoxic products, a Q&A where you can ask your questions, a book Home Safe Home that identifies the major toxic chemical exposures in your home and gives safe alternatives, and more. has links to everything.

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