Australian book Poisoned Planet by Julian Cribb reveals the chemicals that are slowly killing us
- 2 days ago May 28, 2014 11:32AM
Toxic chemicals are causing problems for our health. Picture: Kevin McElvaney Source: Supplied
EVERY day we are slowly being poisoned by familiar objects and products that we take for granted.
In his new book, Poisoned Planet, science writer Julian Cribb tracks how toxins are being spread around the world through food, water, air and consumer products.
Seemingly insignificant quantities of chemicals are now building up in humans from many different sources.
â€œEveryone is being affected by this right now,â€ Mr Cribb said, warning that â€œcleanâ€ countries like Australia were not safe from the impacts.
Chemicals are now in our food, water, furniture, drugs, cosmetics and many other products. Even more worrying is that they are increasingly being linked to cancer, autism and lower intelligence.
â€œIn the US they have evidence that industrial chemicals are even getting into babies before they are born,â€ Mr Cribb said.
For example, a pregnant woman living in a modern home surrounded by products treated with flame retardant chemicals, such as a sofa or carpet, would be inhaling cancer-causing vapours every day and passing these on to her unborn child through her bloodstream.
The fire retardant PBDE has been known to affect nerve development and hormone production.
Toxins are slowing killing us: Author Julian Cribb warns of consequences of constant exposure to chemicals. Source: News Limited
Mr Cribb, a former scientific editor for The Australian and director of national awareness for CSIRO, said constant exposure to man-made chemicals was putting people‘s lives at risk but research on the precise link was hard to define.
â€œModern humans are constantly assailed by hundreds and probably thousands of different man-made chemicals every day,â€ Mr Cribb writes in his book.
Over their lifetime each person is exposed to complex mixtures of chemicals, many from everyday products such as perfume or shampoo, but the extent to which this attacks or undermines their health, and the environment, remains unknown.
However, a World Health Organisation in 1996 estimated that 80 per cent of all cancers could be attributed to preventable or avoidable human interaction with chemicals, radiation and tobacco smoke.
â€œGenetic factors alone are thought by scientists to be responsible for no more than 5 per cent of cancers,â€ his book states.
A growing number of studies also link diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bone and joint disorders to man-made contaminants.
At the moment there is no practical way to contain the impact of chemical mixtures as these substances are released from many different sources.
But Mr Cribb said society had â€œsomehow forsaken our duty of careâ€ in not addressing the problem.
â€œThe millions of infants and children who will have their young lives affected by exposure to these noxious mixtures before even attaining an age where they can refuse, reject or seek to avoid them represent a grievous delinquency on the part of society.
â€œWe lust for the goods and benefits of modern consumerism. Yet we turn aside from the moral responsibility for its impact.â€
We need to take moral responsibility for the impact of consumerism. Source: Getty Images
Mr Cribb said consumers had to drive the change, do their homework, avoid products and businesses that polluted and support those doing the right thing.
â€œThe point is you would never fly in a plane if it hadn‘t been tested but the vast majority of chemicals humans are using have never been tested,â€ Mr Cribb said.
â€œUnfortunately regulation is lagging far behind the development of chemicals, only 19 chemicals have been banned out of 143,000,â€ Mr Cribb said.
â€œAt this rate it‘s going to take 50,000 years for regulations to catch up.â€
Mr Cribb said the human right to â€œnot be poisonedâ€ should also be recognised, like other human rights people take for granted such as the right to vote.
Here are 10 ways that toxins have secretly infiltrated our lives:
1. BEAUTY PRODUCTS
â€œMost people shower or bathe themselves in chemicals from head to foot, many of which are suspected or known to be toxic, carcinogenic or allergenic,â€ Mr Cribb‘s book states.
Today‘s shampoos, soaps, bath gels, cosmetics and lotions contain a mixture of contaminants.
This includes parabens, which are preservatives that mimic oestrogen, and has been found in breast cancer tumours of 19 of 20 women studied in the US.
Products such as sunscreens and cosmetics, also use nanoparticles, which are so small they can easily pass through human skin, but the health impacts are unknown at this stage.
Toxic: Shampoo could contain a mixture of contaminants from petrochemicals. Source: Supplied
2. FOOD SOURCED OVERSEAS
While there are regulations around the use of pesticides, more cheap food is finding its way on to supermarket shelves from developing countries where this not controlled as strictly.
Bulk-processed, manufactured, frozen and fast foods often feature cheap, anonymous ingredients.
â€œOwing to the globalisation of food and the unending quest by giant supermarket chains, fast food chains and food processing corporations for ever-cheaper sources â€” it is quite likely that the level of pesticides in the diet of ordinary consumers is rising,â€ Mr Cribb writes.
â€œEven people who hunt or grow their own food are not safe from chemical exposure: Wildlife and urban soils are both widely contaminated by industrial emissions.â€
Pesticides are used to kill pests on food but can cause skin irritation, or have more serious impacts on the nervous system, cause reproductive problems or cancer. Studies have linked it with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukaemia.
3. FRUIT AND VEGETABLES
It is almost impossible for people to completely avoid pesticides and other chemicals, even when eating mostly fresh organic produce.
â€œSome of these chemicals will sneak into the diet in chocolates, lollies and ices, snack foods and so on, all of which are hard to obtain in pesticide free forms.â€
Pesticides have been blamed for the rise in childhood cancer, autism, birth defects and asthma.
In the US the most contaminated fruits were found to be apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches and imported nectarines. The most contaminated vegetables were celery, spinach, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.
The cleanest produce was pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwifruit, rockmelon, grapefruit, corn, onion, avocado, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.
Think fruit and veges are healthy? Think again. Most contain pesticides. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Source: Getty Images
Meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter have been found to contain industrial dioxins that can cause cancer. Eating fewer animal products can cut down on your exposure.
5. PROCESSED FOODS
People who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be exposed to low levels of chemicals throughout their lives
â€œMuch industrially produced food today contains dyes and colourings, many of which have been scientifically linked to, or are suspected of causing, cancer and other health issues.â€
Additives are also now used in healthy foods such as bread, butter, yoghurt, juice or muesli bars and could be causing symptoms such as rashes, asthma, irritable bowel symptoms, diarrhoea, headaches and lethargy.
There is also evidence that children who consume a diet high in fat, sugar and processed food, may see a small reduction in IQ in later childhood.
Softdrinks have been linked to tooth decay, obesity, neurotoxicity, hyperactivity, kidney and gut problems, skin and eye diseases, cancers and gene damage.
Even coffee and tea have low levels of contaminants including arsenic, aluminium, copper, tin and nickel, mainly taken up from the soil during coffee bush growth and acrylamide, a byproduct of the roasting process. Researchers found the levels were too low to cause health issues but culminative impacts are unknown.
7. HOUSEHOLD GOODS
Many natural materials such as wood, natural fibres, glass, metal, clay and vegetable oils are being replaced with synthetic products. This includes furniture, tableware, toys, ornaments, clothing and footwear, bedding, shopping bags and building materials made from plastics.
The fire retardant PBDE, used in synthetic furniture and fabric, has been known to affect nerve development and hormone production.
A US study found this chemical in the blood of almost every American in its sample group of 2500 people.
The compound BPA, used in plastic drink bottles and food cartons, was also found in the urine of more than 90 per cent of those surveyed. BPA is thought to cause reproductive disorders and heart disease.
Measurable levels of cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid, which is used in non-stick cookware, were also found in 98 per cent of people.
Many plastic containers contain BPA which can cause reproductive disorders and heart disease. Source: News Limited
8. DRINKING WATER
The world‘s water supply, and through it the global food chain, has been contaminated.
Prescription drugs, contraceptives, illegal drugs, pesticides and industrial petrochemicals have made their way through groundwater and into food and household goods.
Toxins and heavy metals leaching from former industrial sites also get into air, water and food, hydrocarbons enter groundwater from former petrol stations or fuel dumps and poisonous substances from old urban landfills dissolve into drinking water.
Chemical substances contained within a corpse at the time of death are re-released into groundwater within 10 years of its burial, potentially exposing future generations to accumulated toxins.
Poisonous substances from landfill can find their way into drinking water. Picture: Kevin McElvaney Source: Supplied
Electronic waster, such as old mobile phones and computers, are especially hazardous as they contain heavy metals. A single device could have as many as 40 metals and 500 chemicals in its makeup, several of them linked to cancer, various diseases of the lung, kidney and nervous system, reproductive disorders and birth defects.
When they are discarded they can be reprocessed in ways that pollute air, soil and water. These contaminants find their way into food, which is then exported to other countries.
The problem is complicated by the fact that most devices are not designed for recycling, nor can they be easily disassembled.
10. ILLEGAL DRUGS
Amphetamines such as speed, ice and crystal meth, as well as synthetic marijuana, can harm people who don‘t take drugs as the chemicals can find their way into the environment. This can be via urine from users or the improper disposal of chemicals down drains and toilets during their manufacture. Homes and trailers used for â€œcookingâ€ drugs are permanently contaminated with carcinogens and other toxins and are uninhabitable.
Making illegal drugs puts others at risk, not just the â€˜cook‘. Source: Supplied