The toxic world mess – hopeful trends to the future


Technical capabilities continue to increase, and new chemicals and materials (e.g., nanotubes) will continue to be developed. Whether the toxicity of these new chemicals and materials will be more rigorously evaluated before being released to the markets will depend upon the wisdom or greed of the manufacturers and the toughness of federal regulations. A new journal, Green Chemistry, dedicated to research and development of sustainable, safe chemical technologies, gives us hope.

People will always desire new products that enhance their lives; now more and more people are demanding that the new products are safe. Farmers will still want to control crop pests (weeds, fungi and insects); nevertheless, farmers are beginning to resist the pressures of big agro-chemical companies, and organic farming is continuing to increase.

Companies will naturally continue to sell products that can generate large revenues. Fortunately, many nonprofit organizations are scrutinizing new product offering that may pose health hazards.

Scientists in several organizations and universities are investigating the long-term health effects of many chemicals, including effects on the hormone and immune systems, the central nervous system, and reproduction, in addition to cancer. Federal science agencies such as the EPA Office of Children’s Health and the NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as independent organizations, such as Healthy Child, Healthy World, have active programs that are investigating chronic health hazards.

Proposed new regulations or better enforcement of existing regulations is always fought by congressmen (seldom by congress women, it seems) who are proxies for corporate lobbyists. Nevertheless, strong legislation for a safer environment was emerging, e.g., the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, sponsored by U.S. Senator F. Lautenberg (who unfortunately died this past week. See closing comments.)

The emergent field of epigenetics will provide new insights into how foreign (toxic) chemicals can alter the expression of genes, thus initiating cancers and/or affecting their propagation. This information could indicate which classes of chemicals are most carcinogenic and should be banned; it could also provide clues to the creation of highly specific anti cancer drugs. More basic research is required in order to understand how foreign chemicals disrupt the hormone system and suppress the immune system, and such research is active in several universities.

Lab-on-a-chip technologies, developed for genetics research, will almost certainly be adapted to screening tests for the rapid estimation of hazards from new and existing chemicals. This could take several years because any such new tests will have to be calibrated and certified with long-term animal tests.

There is presently no lack of analytical sensitivity; most chemicals can be detected in body fluids or fruits and vegetables at part-per-trillion levels. Currently these tests are expensive and only large organizations such as federal agencies can routinely afford them. There is a need for inexpensive tests that family physicians can prescribe to learn the extent to which a patient is contaminated with one or several known toxic chemicals. Judging by past developments, new lost-cost tests are likely to become available to medical test laboratories.

Yes, there is hope for an environment and people less polluted by toxic chemicals. There is hope for less debilitating illnesses and diseases. You can help make this possibility a reality by working with and financially supporting nonprofit organizations which are working for a healthy planet. For a partial list, see Blogroll on the lower right-hand side of this site. You can also take political action by sending email alerts prepared by nonprofits: It’s easy. Your congressman or congresswoman in Washington needs to hear from you about hazards from common toxic chemicals

As I was writing this article, I heard that the “Safe Chemicals Act” that Senator Lautenberg had been urging through congress for a decade, has been watered down in the now called “Chemical Safety Act of 2013.” The Environmental Working Group opposed this weakened act. David Andrews, senior scientist with the EWG, had this to say. “The Lautenberg-Vitter bill’s shortcomings are so profound that neither we, nor any other environmental or public health group that we know of, supports it as written, while the chemical lobby enthusiastically embraces the proposal.”

Well, not everything is hopeful, but that’s politics!


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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