September 28, 2006
National Geographic Looks at Toxics
The October 2006 issue of National Geographic deals with a personal view of chemical exposure in everyday life. In an article titled The Pollution Within, the author, David Ewing Duncan, chronicles the comprehensive survey of his daily interaction with (mostly) man-made chemicals in a wide range of venues, including air travel. He was tested for 320 chemicals that he might have picked up from food, drink and air, as well as products that touch the skin. The results give one pause for thought, and complicate the perception that while health statistics have been improving for decades, the rates of occurrence of some illnesses have been rising significantly.
In the article, particular mention is made of the fact that until recently, no one had even measured average levels of exposure among large numbers of Americans because no regulations required it and the technology needed to measure the "tiniest" levels didn't exist.
The article did acknowledge that the realm in which many of these analytes were being detected was extraordinarily low. One toxicologist was quoted as saying: "In toxicology, dose is everything, and these doses are too low to be dangerous." One part per billion, considered the standard unit for measuring most chemicals inside the body, is like putting half a teaspoon of red dye into an Olympic-size swimming pool. In addition, some of the most feared substances, such as mercury, dissipate within days or weeks if the body weren't constantly re-exposed.
Many chemical species were not included in the test regimen for various reasons including practicality. For inquiring minds who have been tuned into the mission of the VanishingZero site, these omissions included various solvents, plastics, and "a rocket-fuel ingredient called perchlorate," exposure to which has been defined by informed toxicologists as safe for the U.S. population to levels of at least 200 ppb.
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