Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 9, No. 2, 2010
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Sylvain Richard
Nancy Snipper
David Solway
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
David Solway
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somverville
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

a report on



As part of a study of pollutant loads in the human body sponsored by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, samples of Bill Moyers' blood and urine were analyzed. Eighty four distinct chemicals were found.

His test results -- much like a chemical fingerprint – revealed evidence of hazardous chemicals in common use -- as well as compounds banned for more than a quarter century -- and others so obscure that almost no public information is available to identify what products might have resulted in Moyers' exposure.

The results are not unusual. Each of us has some load of industrial chemicals stored in or passing through our bodies. These chemical residues -- termed the ‘chemical body burden’ -- can be detected in blood, urine and breast milk. Most people are unaware that they carry chemical compounds in their bodies.

The health effects of chronic exposure to low levels of chemicals are only beginning to be studied. In addition, scientists have never assessed the effects of exposures to the endless combinations of chemicals found in people. The potential health effects discussed are based on persuasive evidence from studies of laboratory animals and wildlife, as well as some evidence from human studies.

Much of our scientific knowledge about the health effects of chemicals comes from laboratory studies of animals. While humans are not necessarily susceptible to all of the diseases that chemicals cause in test animals, there are many similarities between the way humans and other species respond to toxic exposures. Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General David Rall noted that every chemical known to cause cancer in humans also causes cancer in experimental animals. While some species are more sensitive to toxic effects than others, Rall wrote, laboratory studies have proved to be good predictors of health effects in humans.

Fundamental biological systems are remarkably similar in all mammals, and -- at the cellular and biochemical level -- most species respond to toxic substances in similar ways. Based on years of comparative studies, biologists believe that many of the health problems observed in animals could also occur in people at some exposure level. However, conclusive proof is often elusive. Since researchers cannot ethically dose humans with suspected toxicants, they must rely on studies of people accidentally poisoned or exposed in the workplace. The normal variables of human life make such studies less than scientifically ideal. For instance, workers may be exposed to multiple chemicals, or poisoning victims may have smoked cigarettes, confounding efforts to assess the damage done by a single chemical. But combined with animal studies, this epidemiological research has provided enough evidence to raise concerns about many chemicals in common use.

Sorting out the health effects of low level exposures may be the most difficult task of all. Because most toxicity studies look at people exposed in the workplace, where exposure levels are much higher than what most of the world's population would see, the health effects of the average levels of chemicals found in people are largely unknown. However, according to Dr. Michael McCally of Mt. Sinai, the study's lead doctor, "Current 'normal' body burdens of dioxin and several other organochlorines in humans are at or near the range at which toxic effects occur in laboratory animals."

Research has made one thing clear -- there is tremendous variability between individuals in their responses to toxic substances. Even the highest level exposures will not make everyone sick. Among workers with similar exposures to vinyl chloride, for example, one might be stricken with a brain tumor, another with liver cancer, and a third with bone disease -- but no cancer at all. Still others may remain completely healthy. On the other hand, people with far lower exposures may also suffer health problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that some groups of people are far more susceptible to toxic effects than others. Children are among the most vulnerable. It is known that women pass some of their body burdens to their children during pregnancy. Most scientists concur that exposures in uterus and in early childhood pose far greater risks than exposures later in life.


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Teflon and Your Toxicity
Omnivore's Dilemma
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Steroid Hysteria
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