Environmental Chemicals and MCS
Chemicals in the environment are thought by many to be the silent but pervasive killer of modern society. Many byproducts of the technological age are released into the environment and can end up in the bloodstream. The plastics industry and the production of batteries are two of the main culprits today, but as anyone who has been stuck in city at rush hour will know, cars and trucks have a similarly great impact that is much more prominent in our consciences as it affects us in such a tangible way.
Chemicals have become a part of everyday life, with agriculture in particular relying heavily on them to ensure crops are free from infestations. Pesticides are a well known pollutant but fertilizers, that are used to attain maximum yield per acre, may also be harmful and the booming organics industry has done much to promote this. Unfortunately, pesticide and fertilizer chemicals rarely stay where they are meant to – on the surface of plants – and can often find their way into the human food chain. It is recently acknowledged that a proportion of sprayed pesticides actually penetrate the skin of growing fruit and vegetables and these cannot be washed off.
River fish are particularly susceptible to toxic chemical build up from pesticides and fertilizers washed away from fields. Creatures at the top of the food chain, like us humans, end up consuming all the toxic chemicals from everything that is below them on the food chain. There is a vast amount of research into this subject with eminent scientists such as Professor Richard Shore (Center for Ecology & Hydrology at Lancaster University) publishing a number of papers on the topic of chemicals in the environment.
Unfortunately, sources of chemicals in the environment are not just limited to farmers spraying their fields and the effect can be much more obvious to us in day to day life.
Check out this Kahn Academy Crash Course on Ecosystems.
The fast pace of the modern world demands a transport system to match, which currently means burning fossil fuels. The reality of this as we sit in traffic with the windows down is that we are exposing ourselves to numerous poisons chemicals including, but not limited to, Carbon Monoxide, Nitric Acid vapour, Sulphur Oxide, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Formaldehyde, Arsenic and 3-Nitrobenzanthrone. The list of toxins which can be found in diesel exhaust fumes is over fifty chemicals long and includes 3-Nitrobenzanthrone, which is one of the strongest carcinogens known, and Methyl Ethyl Ketone, which is thought to cause birth defects. Although exposure to these carcinogens and dangerous chemicals in the environment is sometimes unavoidable, it is possible to help your body to cope with the exposure by consuming organic foods, taking supplements rich in antioxidants, as well as using health and beauty products that are free from harmful chemicals.
So what do these harmful chemicals do? Unfortunately, as the many inner city asthma suffers will attest to, the problems do not disappear with the clearing of the morning smog. One of the most dramatic effects of chemicals in the environment can be seen in most cities in the industrialized world by looking at statues and historic buildings. Acid rain is not a new phenomenon and was first spotted by a British writer in the 17th century (just after the start of the industrial revolution). He noticed that marble statues had been deteriorating in quality. The term ‘acid rain’ was not coined until much later, by which time the problem had become far greater. Since 1998, many bronze and marble statues outside the Harvard University buildings have been sheathed in waterproof covers every winter to protect from acidic precipitation. Although it might be better for our skin, humans can’t keep themselves wrapped in plastic to protect from acid rain with our faces and hand being the worst affected areas. Regular skin care and grooming with appropriate rejuvenating products helps to remove the days build up with chemicals on the skin and prevent harmful damage.
Since the late 1980s, the U.S government has been trying to address the problem of chemicals in the environment by making changes to the Clean Air Act and setting targets for industry to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides being released into the atmosphere. Industry is largely to blame with coal fired power stations being a large contributor to air pollution. Most people have seen the large plumes of smoke rising out of a power station, drifting across the sky. As Isaac Newton observed, what goes up, must come down and toxic exhaust fumes from power stations are no exception. When it was realized that areas close to power stations were exposed to their toxic chemical releases, many power stations aimed to build much taller exhausts. However this does not solve the problem, as many of these toxins still end up being dissipated over the land.
We may not be able to control the power stations, but we can reduce the damage done to our skin and bodies by improving our daily grooming to remove pollutants from the surface of the skin, by using chemical free personal care products. We can make many changes in our daily routine with significant effect on our health, as a lot of the chemicals that end up in the environment come from household goods. Washing liquids and detergents are products that most of us have under our kitchen sinks, but have you ever thought about what is in them and the potential harm you are doing to your skin by handling them, or to your respiratory system by inhaling their fumes?
According to reports from the U.S. Poison Control Centers, in the year 2000 10% of all toxic exposures reported were due to cleaning products. That is around 20,000 incidents per year. Although many household products may pass basic safety requirements, when you combine chemical based products in your daily cleaning routine you can create what is known as a ‘toxic mix’. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) which are found in many “all in one” cleaners react with nitrates (often used as preservatives) to from nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogens which can be absorbed through the skin with ease… there are many other similarly dangerous examples of this toxic mix effect that occur with common household products. Don’t forget the chlorine in the pool (click here for our article on Chlorine). In addition, many folks use chemical laden air fresheners when they should be using chemical free air fresheners in their homes.
With chemicals in the environment around us coming from the fruits of the modern age such as agriculture, industry, transport, and even our kitchen cleaners, it is disheartening to discover that there is an additional factor: many personal care products such as face creams, hair sprays, shampoos and conditioners contain potentially harmful chemicals, whether they are top of the range, or the cheapest brand. We can try to limit the damage of environmental chemicals from power stations and acid rain through the use of appropriate skin care or grooming products. When it comes to the cleaning products and personal care products in our own home we have complete control and can avoid harmful chemicals completely!
Why That Wonderful Smell May Not Be So Wonderful…
Your sense of smell is often times a link to important memories and experiences from the past. The slightest whiff of a homemade dinner or the scent of a specific laundry detergent can instantly transport you to your childhood home, while the smell of cut grass may bring you back to your first job. Manufacturers of many household products – including soap – know that the sense of smell is incredibly powerful, and because of this they try to recreate these smells. However, instead of using natural ingredients, manufacturers use inexpensive chemicals that can harm the skin, eyes, and many other organs.
What Chemicals are Used in Synthetic Fragrances?
Soaps, perfumes, and other products with scents generally list their synthetic scents as ‘fragrance’ or ‘artificial fragrance.’ This can be an issue, because the public is ignorant to the exact chemicals that are used. Some chemicals masked with the label of ‘fragrance’ can be dangerous to humans, and these include:
- Acetone can be consumed by the body by inhalation, ingestion, and absorption through the skin. Exposure to acetone vapors can irritate the lungs and eyes, and it can damage the skin. Acetone can also lead to low blood pressure.
- Benzyl Acetate is frequently used in jasmine scents, and it can create irritation within the gastrointestinal tract. Common effects of benzyl acetate include vomiting and diarrhea, and it is also known to damage the skin, respiratory system, and eyes.
- Benzyl Alcohol, like many other chemicals, can harm the skin, and studies have shown that allergic reactions can occur when exposed. Some signs of exposure are shortness of breath, hypotension, skin irritation, and it may also harm the nervous system.
- Camphor exposure comes along with a lot of risks, including kidney dysfunction, depression, and poor nervous function. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and it is also irritating to the mucous membranes, eyes, and skin. Many that are exposed may experience convulsions and other signs of poor nervous function. Some studies have also shown that it could lead to flickering and darkening in vision. It may also harm fetal development.
- Ethanol has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies, and it can hinder healthy nervous function and harm the eyes. Extensive exposure to ethanol may lead to poor function within the kidneys, liver, and heart.
- Ethyl Acetate is used in fragrances, because it evaporates quickly and leaves behind nothing but scent. Ethyl acetate has negative effects on both short and long term health. In the short term, ethyl acetate can cause headaches, nausea, and even unconsciousness. Regular and long term exposure can cause harm to important organs, like the lungs, kidneys, heart, and eyes.
- Limonene may cause cancer, and it has been linked to irritation on the eyes and skin.
- Methylene Chloride can negatively affect the nervous system, and it may hinder motor function. Inhaling methylene chloride could lead to headaches, dizziness, and a loss of memory. The EPA has classified methylene chloride as a probable carcinogen.
The scents found in many products can include one or a couple of these chemicals, and reducing the body’s exposure to these chemicals is the first step towards avoiding these symptoms.
So Why Are These Chemicals Used?
There are a few reasons as to why these chemicals are used as fragrance, and the first is cost. These chemicals are inexpensive to produce, and they allow companies to make a seemingly high quality product at a low cost. These chemicals also effectively recreate the scent, and they spread the fragrance through the air and allow it to linger over longer periods of time. Manufacturers also consider their scent formulations to be secrets, and this is why the contents in synthetic fragrances aren’t put on the bottle. This means that the regulation of these scents is fairly lax, and companies can get away without disclosing what they put in their products.
Who Can Be Affected by the Chemicals in Soaps and Fragrance?
These chemicals are potentially dangerous to many people, but they are especially dangerous to those with asthma. Many people that suffer with asthma have noted that fragrances have triggered asthma attacks. This is of course very dangerous, because these fragrances cause swelling and inflammation in the respiratory system that can make breathing difficult.
Even if you don’t think that these chemicals are directly affecting you, they very well could be. Every day the body comes in contact with these chemicals, and even when you try to avoid them it is very difficult to completely cut them out of your life. Maybe the headache that you associate with stress or the light headedness that you believe to be caused by fatigue could actually be triggered by synthetic fragrances. Due to this, you may want to consider using natural soaps – and other natural products – that don’t utilize synthetic fragrances.
Check the labels of some of the bottles on the bathroom shelf and you will no doubt see a wide range of chemicals such as Aniline (Coal tar dye), which is toxic when the vapor is inhaled. Maybe you’ll find 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen and is banned from products in a number of countries worldwide. You’ll see SLS or sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens and more. Whatever you read, the chances are you will be healthier if you keep your environment chemical free with natural alternatives, such as a natural shampoo, natural conditioner and natural face wash.
Protecting yourself from the chemicals in the environment you can’t control and avoiding chemicals in products which you can control will keep you healthier on the inside and out.