How toxic is your body?
By ANGELA EPSTEIN http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
She's just a teenager and lives in the country - but Bethan already has 17 different gender-bending chemicals in her blood. As our disturbing tests reveal, many adults have TWICE that...and it's common household products that are to blame:
They seem innocuous but many everyday household products - from face creams to computers and even carpets - contain chemicals that could seriously damage our health. Several studies have recently linked gender-bending chemicals to genital malformation, infertility and cancer.
Last week a study for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggested that they could account for the rise in breast cancer - over the past 30 years the number of cases has risen by 81 per cent.
These chemicals are known as hormone disruptors or EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals). They upset the delicate hormonal development of an embryo, fooling targeted cells into behaving differently. Or they act as a blocker, preventing natural hormones such as the male sex hormone testosterone from functioning properly.
Both men and women can be affected by exposure to such chemicals, both inside the womb and later in life. The worry is that some chemicals can bio-accumulate (build up in body fat).
There may only be a small amount in the environment, but they accumulate through the food chain. They get into our water supply, are ingested by fish and are passed on to humans. With each step in the chain more chemicals are passed on. We are, therefore, potentially exposed to a huge amount.
EDCs also settle in fatty tissue such as breast tissue, which could explain the rise in breast cancer, says Dr Andreas Kortenkamp, director of the Centre of Toxicology at London University's School of Pharmacy, who produced the latest study for the WWF.
'It is well-known that natural hormones play a role in the development of breast cancer,' says Dr Kortenkamp. 'This raises the question whether chemicals that mimic hormonal activity could be a cause, too.'
He says that, in isolation, many EDCs may not pose a dramatic health risk. 'The concern is that there are so many of them in circulation in our environment and no one yet knows the long-term effect of this cocktail of chemicals.' The WWF is pushing for a precautionary approach and is campaigning for strong EU chemicals regulation.
In the meantime, experts suggest we limit our exposure. Some of the more worrying chemicals are:
• ORGANO-CHLORINE PESTICIDES (OCPs): many pesticides have been banned in the UK because of their toxic effects, but they can remain in the environment for up to 50 years.
Some pesticides have been linked to cancers, such as breast and ovarian. A study of 159 women in Occupational And Environmental Medicine found women with breast cancer were five times more likely to have the banned pesticide DDT in their blood.
• POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS (PCBs): once widely as coolants and lubricants. Now banned, they are still leaked into the environment from old building material, lighting and appliances. They also enter our food chain via small organisms and fish.
A Dutch study found girls exposed to higher levels of PCBs tended to engage in masculine play, and boys in feminine play. Other research suggests babies who ingested PCBs in their breast milk were more likely to show low levels of physical and mental development.
• BROMINATED FLAME RETARDANTS: used to make products fireproof, found in carpets, foam-filled cushions, TV and computer screens and plastics.
Linked to breast cancer and cause sterility in mussels and marine snails, as well as rats to miscarry. They are released into the atmosphere where they are inhaled, and also mingle with house dust and settle on food.
• PHTHALATES: found in plastics, perfumes and toiletries. A recent American study linked exposure to phthalates to a higher risk of genital abnormalities in baby boys. Some experts believe that women may also be vulnerable.
Children can be exposed by chewing older PVC toys as phthalates leak into saliva. Phthalates can also be transferred from plastic packaging into meat and dairy products.
• PERFLUORINATED CHEMICALS (PFCs): exposure to perfluo-rinated chemicals such as PFOS and PFOA may cause birth defects, damage the immune system and disrupt thyroid function, which can lead to develop-mental problems in pregnancy.
A 2005 Greenpeace study found PFCs in umbilical cord blood from newborn babies. PFCs are used in non-stick pans, stain removers, floor waxes, and fast food packaging.
The only way to assess your individual exposure is by having a special blood test, which will reveal if you have any of these gender-bending chemicals.
Here three people have their levels checked. Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Unit, comments on the results.
Although there is no set guideline as to what is a 'dangerous' level, Professor Sharpe explains: 'The problem is we don't know their long-term effect so you don't really want any in your system.'
BETHAN JONES, 14, lives on a farm in Welshpool, Wales, with her parents Enid, 53, and Arwel, 46, and her brother Alwyn, 11.
CHEMICAL TEST RESULTS OCPs: 2
Flame retardants: 3
BETHAN SAYS: I have always been a bit of a tomboy. I love playing football and doing sport and I don't bother with make-up. So I was shocked when I heard about a study which said that girls with high levels of PCBs in their blood preferred masculine-type games.
Eleven types were found in my blood. I've been told this is lower than the adult testers, but then I'm half their age and it's not the same as not having any there at all. It was weird to think these chemicals could influence the way I play.
I don't understand how all these chemicals could get into my bloodstream. I live a healthy outdoor life.
I'm always helping on my parents' farm and my mum cooks great home-made meals every night. We eat lots of meat such as lamb and beef, with vegetables from our farm or local markets.
My mum stopped using a microwave because she was worried about the possible effects on our health. She also stopped using nonstick pans, and instead of air fresheners we keep the windows open as much as we can.
Our farmhouse is quite old and the furnishings are very old-fashioned so I was surprised to find I had flame retardants in my blood.
The only toiletries I use are shampoo, conditioner and soap - nothing fancy, but it's scary to think that the phthlates could have come from such ordinary products.
Dad does use some kind of chemical spray on some of the fields but I'm never nearby when he does. Anyway, the pesticides found in my blood have been banned for many years - which shows how long they stay in the environment.
The fact that I had two pesticides in my blood when I noticed that one of the other testers Matt, who doesn't live on a farm, has three, suggests that living nearby has nothing to do with it. It seems these things are everywhere.
It's horrible to think that some of these chemicals could affect my health or the health of any children I have in the future. It's a long way off, but it is a worry just the same.
Bethan's results really brings home the effects of exposure to environmental chemicals. She's a young, growing girl but already has many chemicals in her blood.
Bethan is almost 30 years younger than Beth, yet had an equal number of phthlates. Phthlates can be risky for the developing foetus - they can get into breast milk and could be passed on to any children that Bethan may have.
Bethan should try to limit her exposure now. And especially when the time comes for her to plan a family. We don't know what role they will play in her future.
BETH WILLIAMS, 42, an ecology lecturer, lives in Stourport, Worcestershire, with her partner Andrew Sharkey, 43, an operations director and their children Shamus, 15, and Connie, 13.
CHEMICAL TEST RESULTS
OCPS (pesticides): 2
Flame retardants: 3
Beth says: In my late 20s I was diagnosed with cancer in the soft fatty tissue of my right leg. I had liposarcoma, which is extremely rare.
Although I was successfully treated with surgery and radiotherapy, it did make me think about what could have triggered the disease.
I then found out that there is a potential connection between lip-sarcoma and pesticides - the chemical residues can build up in fatty tissues.
I realised that ordinary fruit and vegetables could have put my health at risk - which is why for several years we have grown our own fruit and vegetables organically. That's why I couldn't believe that my blood contained two types of OCPs - or pesticides.
I imagine that some of the chemicals come from food packaging. I lead a busy life, juggling family and work life and we can eat ready-made or takeaway meals four times a week.
I also sit in front of a computer - which exposes me to brominated flame retardants in the dust coming from the machine - for a few hours every day. I'd never thought about this but now I'm terribly worried.
I was also surprised by the presence of flame retardants. We live in an old Victorian terrace with few modern appliances and around 50 per cent of the house is tiled.
Even more alarming was the discovery of a phthalate in my blood - I already knew that the ese had gender-bending properties and I deliberately don't use many cosmetics, so where did this come from?
The results of the blood tests shocked me. They made me realise how exposed we are on a daily basis to potentially hazardous che hemicals.
As a result, I'm now going to make some changes to my routine. If I needed to buy a new sofa I'd get one second-hand because the level of flame retardants would be much lower. I use chemical-free shampoos. But I still have no control over the gender-bending chemicals in the environment.
I'm particularly worried about the link between these chemicals and breast cancer. I have several friends in their 40s fighting the disease. As a child I don't remember any of my mother's friends having the disease at that age.
We are clearly doing something very wrong to ourselves, to our bodies and the environment.
OCPs and PCBs were banned many years ago so the fact they're in Beth's blood now is a potent illustration of how persistent these chemicals can be.
They accumulate in fat in the food chain - such as in milk and animal products - and build up over the years. That is a major worry for all of us, including Beth.
I am surprised that only one phthalate was found since they are absolutely everywhere.
The greatest threat they pose is to a developing foetus, so thankfully Beth isn't at the stage in life where she is planning to have a family.
Some of the other chemicals in Beth's blood may be connected to breast cancer, so Beth should carry out regular self-examinations.
MATT FARROW, 32, a website manager, lives in Goldaming, Surrey with his partner, Jackie Drennan, 32 and their 12-week-old daughter, Molly.
CHEMICAL TEST RESULTS
Flame retardants: 6
MATT SAYS: I've always strived to live a really healthy life. I don't smoke and I like to exercise regularly: I go running, use the gym, and cycle to work.
I'm a vegetarian and even with a new baby in the house, we always make sure that we eat freshly-cooked meals every evening. We also try to use environmentally-friendly household products such as Ecover as well as hypoallergenic soaps and shampoos.
So I was really angry when I received the results of my blood testing. It seems that despite my efforts to live a blameless life my body is still exposed to and absorbs potentially hazardous chemicals.
I seem to have a lot of flame retardants - I wonder if they come from the new mattress and sofa that I bought this year. It has certainly made me think twice about buying any new furnishings for the house.
I do sit in front of a computer for long periods of time - up to 12 hours a day - so maybe that has caused my exposure.
I was also surprised by the PCBs since I believe they often get into the body through contaminated fish — and I'm a vegetarian. I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, only around 50 per cent of which are organic. But this is now going to have to change as there were pesticides in my blood, too.
It took us six months to conceive our first child. Looking back, I wonder if chemicals could have played a part?
Now that I am a father I worry how much this could compromise my baby's health in the future. She is being breast fed at the moment but some chemicals can get into breast milk. At some point she will go onto formula milk, yet Bisphenol A has been found in babies' bottles. She is at such a vulnerable stage of her life.
While we do everything we can to limit her exposure it seems this chemicals are everywhere.
EXPERT'S VERDICT Matt can't directly transfer chemicals from his body to his daughter's in the same way as a breast-feeding mother. But his partner could have similar results and that is worrying.
Chemicals found in Matt's blood might have caused DNA damage to sperm - he mentioned that it took six months to conceive.
He also has a high level of PCBs which - because of the rising rates of testicular cancer and their potential link to chemicals - means he should regularly check himself.
It is the unknown of the effect of any of these chemicals in any amount in our blood that is troubling so even though Matt's results seem better than the those of the others, he may not be safe.
The lab tests were carried out by Scientific Analysis Laboratories Ltd.
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