Each year millions of tons of toxic chemicals pour into our environment – some unintentionally, such as smog, and some intentionally, such as plastic additives and pesticides. Each of us is immersed in this invisible toxic soup of chemicals that degrade our health and the health of every living thing. This article will raise your awareness of this toxic drama.
We begin with the simplest case: familiar ole SMOG. Consider what happens when you breathe ozone, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and soot. Ozone is one of the most potent chemicals known: it will react with virtually all materials – especially biological tissues – altering them, and itself being defanged into harmless oxygen and water. That is, ozone destroys tissues! Sulfur and nitrogen oxides are almost as potent; when they interact with water in moist tissues, where they form sulfuric acid and nitric acid, respectively – each capable of destroying living tissue. Bad news! Any of these smog chemicals, especially all three, cause hacking coughing when their concentration in the air is too high. Soot is more complex because it is composed of sub microscopic particles of carbon, coated with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are generally carcinogenic. Particles of soot stick on the cilia of the bronchial tubes and many find their way all the way down into the alveoli of the lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. PAHs are in direct contact with these most delicate tissues. If all goes well, the carbon soot particles are eventually ingested and destroyed by macrophages circulating in the blood.
Now the biggest bad stuff: PESTICIDES. I won’t bore you with figure for the zillions of pounds applied to crops, lawns, golf course, and road edges – it’s a lot! The first unwilling recipients of pesticides are farm-field workers and people living downwind of big agricultural plots. The high incidence of diseases in these two groups is well documented. Some of the applied pesticides miss the crop or weeds and land on the soil, where they can kill beneficial micro-organisms. That which does not bind to soil particles is carried by rain or irrigation water into nearby streams, where it sickens aquatic creatures at the base of the aquatic food chain, as well as directly affecting the health of the fish.
What happens to the pesticides that land on the crop plants? We ingest them – unless we buy organic produce. Pesticides do not simply remain on the surface; they penetrate into the fruit and vegetables, and into seeds such as soybeans. Pesticides are also found in the grains and oils of packaged foods. Into our mouth the pesticides pour, and begin their passage through our digestive system, where delicate tissues of the small intestines are directly exposed, and where the invasive pesticides are absorbed into the blood stream and carried to all organs. According to many studies, people are typically contaminated by a hundred or more foreign chemicals. It should be obvious that toxic chemicals circulating in the blood are bad news!
Now what is their fate in the body Most pesticides will be preferentially absorbed into fatty tissue, such as that of the breasts. Others may be preferentially absorbed in various organs, and some organs (e.g., endocrine glands) will be more sensitive to the damaging effects of specific toxics. While flowing in the blood stream, the toxic chemicals can damage sensitive hormones and disrupt their action at specific tissue sites. They may also directly damage circulating cells of the immunes system (e.g., neutrophils and T-cells).