Daily chemicals disrupt lives

July 16th, 2003

To the Editor,

It is always fascinating to read physicians who casually write about specialty areas such as toxicology when surveys have shown that the average doctor receives around six hours of instruction in this field during the entire course of their educations. That is why the field of environmental medicine (formerly known as clinical ecology) is emerging. Far from being considered unconventional, this area of medicine is endorsed at the highest levels of science. New grant programs from Harvard in conjunction with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine were created so that pediatricians can now get the training to recognize the poisoning of our youth.

Our country’s greatest natural resources, its citizens, are being damaged by the misuse of toxic chemicals in the name of profits. Companies are content to make a “quick killing” before such items are banned. This may seem an extreme view but the case is proven by our government’s resistance to truth in labelling.

Why omit the sign that says our plywood and particle board construction materials are really bits of wood held together with adhesives and formaldehyde resins? Fumes leach into our residential air spaces well above the levels a factory would be allowed to have under OSHA rules.

Why omit from labels those warnings from MSDS sheets (material safety data sheets) that dryer sheets are respiratory irritants? Most households have asthmatic members these days and need such information. Has anyone noticed that the box of BOUNCE sheets warn you not to dry children’s garments with the sheets as it makes clothing more flammable? It must leave residues of petrochemical products on them which are known to be harmful to lungs.

Why can manufacturers take the hundreds of chemicals that go into synthetic perfumes and simply call it “fragrance”. Some contain toluene, formaldehyde and alcohol esters which are all known to be harmful. Are they afraid we will manufacture them in our bathtubs? The competition already knows the formulas so it must be to protect us from…knowledge?

Why object to noting if foods contain bioengineered ingredients? Our officials have begged the WTO to punish Europe for insisting upon such labels. Why does the FDA warn domestic companies that label items “NO GMO’s” to cease lest they suggest to consumers that GMOs are not desirable? Monsanto is suing a manufacturer for this heinous offense. The FDA also makes the frightening point that it is nearly impossible to ensure purity of food products anymore. A sad commentary if the “free marketplace” is supposed to offer consumers real choices. Has anyone looked at the MSDS sheets for pesticides? Permethrin and malathion note that they cause hypersensitivity in certain people. Dursban did too but was not banned until over 17,000 complaints had been registered at the EPA, representing only a fraction of problems with this chemical. Most pesticide poisoning goes unreported by ignorant physicians, mistaken for flu, pneumonia, asthma, kidney or liver dysfunction etc. Formaldehyde, in all our building materials (banned in those made in Europe by the way) is also termed to be a sensitizer.

In some persons, this is shown by development of antibodies much as a true allergic reaction would develop. For others, perhaps most victims, the sensitivity reveals itself in the provocation of full blown toxicity reactions to very small quantities of the chemical. This develops after a large scale initial exposure or more slowly, with chronic, low-dose exposures. The CDC collects data on adverse effects of such chemicals (ATSDR) as does the United Nations group, WHO with their international safety cards. They are there for all to read while doctors continue to negate such symptoms or even to explore the possibility of environmentally induced illnesses with their patients. This too has its political side as doctors are justifiably wary of dealing with workers compensation boards and fear involvement in law suits.

This country has an extremely high rate of illness, unknown to our society in the years before the chemical revolution took place. The census bureau reports nearly 20% of adults (between 16 and 64 years of age) have a chronic illness or disability. This does not include high numbers of developmentally disabled children, institutionalized adults, injured military personnel or the infirm elderly. The Social Security Administration tells us that three of ten workers will become disabled before reaching retirement! The entire strata of society responsible for our productivity (and consumerism) is being decimated by ill health. Health care is the number one growth industry which is a sure sign of a failing GNP.

Dr. Kaye Kilburn, professor of medicine at USC, has had a distinguished career in researching occupational asthma and other ailment related to solvent exposures. In testing “normal control” subjects around the country, he found casual contacts with our cleaning products and construction materials combined with inadequate ventilation (due to energy conservation policies), have caused measurable central nervous system damage to a majority of persons in the U.S. Chemicals in certain combinations penetrate the blood brain barrier, helped by use of certain medications, other physical conditions and genetic diversity. I am one of 15% of adults with an enzyme deficiency which makes me prone to pesticide poisoning. In ill health much of my adulthood from this phenomenon, I became brain damaged and permanently disabled by pesticides in 1999/2000 when they were used without my knowledge in both occupational and residential settings. The story is made even more disgusting by the fact that I had accommodation agreements with all parties that I would not be exposed to pesticides without warning.

Toxicological studies of sick Gulf War veterans showed that a huge number of our healthiest citizens serving in the armed forces demonstrate signs of toxic effects of chemicals. Much of this research was privately funded in its initial stages due to the concerted efforts of industry, paired with government, to deny the nature of chemicals while the labels tell us exactly what they can do to us.

While MCS may be a lay acronym for injuries incurred by poisons, the mainstream medical community recognizes chemical injury in the various pages of its’ code books. These are enumerated in a variety of toxic effects from petrochemicals, pesticides and medications as well as “unspecified” etiologies. Toxic encephalopathy is brain injury from known exposures. The under-reporting of such ailments reflects upon diagnostic limitations rather than the fantasies of sick patients. It also reflects the influence of the pharmaceutical industry which sponsors much research and resists ailments it cannot treat with more chemicals. Avoidance of toxins is the main prescription for those sensitized by toxic exposures.

We should be asking the question, “Why are our internal resources, responsible for removing naturally produced toxins from our bodies (e.g. by-products of digestion, respiration etc), being put into the service of industry instead of allowing us to age gracefully?”

Categories: Akron Beacon-Journal

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  1. Melva Smith

    For people with MCS, COPD, and Asthma as well as a few other disabilities, scented products are major disability barriers. The following link is to a petition asking the Olympics to go scent free along with their affiliated organizations. If this passes, it will open doors for so many.
    To view and sign, click on the link below. Please pass it on once you get to the page so that we can lift some of the barriers.


  2. agasaya

    Hi Melva,

    Thank you for this link. Please note that choir directors have often banned the use of scents due to the constrictions it causes in the respiratory system, affecting the quality of vocal performances for singers. Bronchial constriction has been known as a common side effect of some synthetic fragrance ingredients and athletes should certainly avoid using products unless all the ingredients are known. Full disclosure is of the utmost importance in consumer safety – everyone ought to have the right to choose the best products for their needs and with consideration of their neighbors needs as well.

    Barb Rubin

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