A Wake-Up Call to Save the Planet
We are reaching a critical threshold of toxins on Earth and our air, soil and water are making us sick: 12.6 million global death a year are now due to environmental toxins, according to the World Health Organization reports. People worry about the recent COVID pandemic, but what many do not realize is that we are living in a pandemic of chronic illnesses. These include autoimmune disease, allergies, eczema, asthma, diabetes, obesity, hormonally-related conditions such as thyroid disease, fibroids, enlarged prostate, infertility, cancers, degenerative brain diseases including Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson. This dramatic increase in chronic health conditions is directly related to our environment.
Over the past two decades, deaths caused by modern indoor and ambient air pollution have increased by 66 percent, driven by industrialization, urbanization, population growth and fossil fuels. Air pollutants (112,000 chemical toxicants present in our environment with 250 pounds produced daily) are linked directly to heart and lung disease, stroke and lung cancer. These pollutants include particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead. Recent studies show higher levels of exposure to particulate matter are associated with risk of developing long COVID, especially for people with asthma.
Microplastics are now ubiquitous and ingested daily. Some studies have determined that a typical person may ingest as much as five grams per week of microplastics, which is equivalent to a plastic credit card. Plastics comprise two main groups: bisphenols and phthalates. The bisphenols family, consisting of BPA, BPF, BPAF and BPS, are present in 95 percent of Americans. These are industrial chemicals found in in store receipts and food contact materials, polycarbonate products and epoxy resins. Bisphenol A and its metabolites cross the placenta. Fetuses and newborns have a limited ability to metabolize bisphenols and exposures have been found to affect neurodevelopment and brain function.
Phthalates, known as plasticizers, are used to make polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, and are found in plastic wrap, fragrances, plug-ins and personal care products. PVC can be found in vinyl flooring, adhesives, medical IV bags and tubing, automotive plastics, shower curtains, raincoats, rubber duckies, soft plastic toys, mini-blinds, mattresses, furniture and building materials.
Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a plastic derivative, are in flame retardants, stain repellents used in furniture, artificial fragrances, carpeting and non-stick cookware. They are called “forever chemicals” as they do not break down in the environment. PFAS are associated with low sperm quality, low birth weight, cancer and kidney disease.
All these chemicals are known as endocrine disrupters, because they interfere with hormone receptors in the body, including insulin, estrogen and thyroid hormones. They have been called “obesogens” as they increase fat in the body and also called “xenoestrogens” due to mimicking estrogen.
To stop this pandemic of pollutant contamination and chronic illness, the most important step is deciding where we spend our dollars. What we buy creates the demand. Start by using stainless steel containers and glass for food and water storage, never heating food in plastic bags or cartons; avoid flexible plastic water bottles, nonstick cookware and flame- and water-resistant coatings on carpets, furniture and clothes. Stop using artificial plug-ins and artificial scents. Start using natural forms of fragrance from flowers, citrus,or pure organic essential oils. Use carbon air filters in the home and car and change them regularly.
The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has information on water quality, PFAS in the community and chemical-free alternatives, plus lists of foods to avoid with the highest pesticide content. Safe organic lawn and bug control helps lower use of herbicides and pesticides. DirtDoctor.com is a resource. Chemical-free building materials can be used in the home: websites for information include GreenBuildingSupply.com and the GreenDesignCenter.com.
Stephanie McCarter, M.D., practices at the Kotsanis Institute. in Grapevine.