Toxicologist Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, a regular guest who is helping us understand the toxicity of common chemicals we may be frequently exposed to. Dr. Gilbert is Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology- The Health Effects of Common Chemicals.He received his Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology, and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. His research has focused on neurobehavioral effects of low-level exposure to lead and mercury on the developing nervous system. Dr. Gilbert has an extensive website about toxicology called Toxipedia, which includes a suite of sites that put scientific information in the context of history, society, and culture. www.toxipedia.org
LISTEN TO OTHER SHOWS WITH STEVEN G. GILBERT, PhD, DABT
- Toxics in the Air We Breathe—Indoors and Outdoors—and How it Affects Our Health
- Toxic Solvents and Vapors
- How Pesticides Can Harm Your Health
- Why Do People Doubt the Science Behind Toxics?
- There is No Safe Level for Lead Exposure
- Fewer Chemicals Make Healthier Babies
- Why We Shouldn’t Have Nuclear Power Plants
- How Mercury Affects Your Health
- How Endocrine Disruptors Disrupt Our Endocrine Systems
- The Dangers of Exposure to Radiation and How to Protect Yourself
- Toxics Throughout History—Exposure to Toxic Substances is Not New
- The Ethics of Toxics
- How to Determine Your Risk of Harm From an Exposure to a Toxic Chemical
- The Basic Principles of Toxicology
- Meet a Toxicologist
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxicants
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT
Date of Broadcast: June 26, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio, where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world, and live toxic-free.
Today, we’re going to be talking with toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert, who’s been on the show so many times. I appreciate it every time he comes because he’s a real, live toxicologist, and this is what he does all day long, is study what chemicals are toxic, how they’re toxic, where they are, what to do about them, and he’s written a wonderful called A Small Dose of Toxicology.
I had mentioned this book before, and I always say everybody listening should just go to his website and get a free copy of this book because it not only talks about some of the major chemicals that you should be concerned about, but it also talks about some basic things about toxicology, and it’s all written in a way that’s very easy to understand.
And so you will want to go to his website, which is Toxipedia.org, T-O-X-I-P-E-D-I-A, and get that sometime during a commercial or something, or after the show. But it’s certainly a book that should be, I don’t want to say on your shelf because it’s an e-book. It’s probably not going to sit on your shelf, but it should be in your home, and you should have that information as part of just general background for living in the toxic world that we live in.
Hi, Dr. Gilbert.
STEVEN GILBERT: Hi, Debra. It’s good to hear from you again.
DEBRA: Thank you. It’s nice to have you. Today, we’re going to be talking about persistent bioaccumulative toxicants. And this isn’t something really different than what we usually talk about because it’s not something that we generally find in consumer products on the label, although they definitely are in consumer products, but it’s something that governments are concerned about accumulating in the environment.
So tell us exactly what is persistent bioaccumulative toxicants. And I know it also goes by other names too. So tell us about those.
STEVEN GILBERT: It goes by other names. For example, PBT is persistent bioaccumulative toxicants […] from the USEPA.
And most of the states have chosen categories like that. The United Nations call them persistent organic pollutants or POPs.
And both agencies, they have developed a list of these chemicals.
And the primary reason is because they’re persistent in the environment, they do not break down. So they’re persistent in the environment. And they’re bioaccumulative in the sense that they move up the food chain, they accumulate in the animals or plants, or in human bodies. That’s where it becomes more serious.
And we’ve really learned to know from studying toxicology that very small amounts of some of these chemicals can produce the adverse effects.
So we’re concerned about chemicals that persist in the environment and do not break down. And a classic example of this is DDT.
It’s a well-known insecticide, widely-used after World War II. And it was really the foundation for Rachel Carson writing Silent Spring where she really laid out the key study, DDT, although it might not seem toxic to humans (at least when we were thinking about it then), it was very toxic to birds and to the wildlife.
So high predatory birds like eagles and hawks, it damages their ability to—their chicks could survive because of the eggs.
[They’ve got crusts]. And this was very serious. It caused a lot of damage to the bird population in the United States.
It really showed the importance of understanding ecological effects of the persistent chemicals, and how they survive in the environment, what the consequences to wildlife is.
DEBRA: I know most people have a lot of attention. I know I started out this way. I wasn’t thinking about the environment at all. I was thinking about these consumer products that are making me sick when I use them. And I know that a lot of people come into having interest in toxics by what the health effects are on themselves, or concern about their children, or women who are pregnant, who are concerned about their growing child in their womb.
But the environment is extremely important. It’s absolutely vital. We couldn’t be alive without the environment. Everything that keeps our own bodies alive all comes from the environment, all the natural resources that are used to make the products that we use every day, our food, the air we breathe, the water we drink, all of those things come from the environment.
And if we don’t have an environment, then we don’t have our own lives.
And I think that that’s one of the most important things for people to know, and yet, it’s so widely not known in our culture today. People just don’t have that awareness.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, it’s really true because we have contaminated the environment, which ultimately leads to the contamination of humans.
A really good example is lead and mercury. I’ll just focus on mercury for a moment.
Mercury moves up the food chain when it gets out into the environment. And mercury is in coals when you burn in these coal-fired utility plants. And the ETA has passed a recent regulation trying to control the mercury […] But the mercury comes out of the coal, off the smoke stacks, gets in the environment, and then it’s converted to methylmercury.
So the inorganic mercury that’s in coal is converted to organic mercury. That organic mercury gradually moves up the food chain and accumulates in fish. So the big fish eats the small fish, the small fish have eaten the bacteria, and the snails have accumulated the mercury, and it moves up the food chain.
So fish that are on the top of the food chain, there’s tuna, swordfish, shark, accumulate this mercury. And we now know that mercury has very serious consequences for neurological development in children or infants.
So we have contaminated a very important source of protein around the world. But we continue to do that with burning of coal.
So, it’s really a global issue. It comes down to thinking globally on these issues. And the coal that we ship to India and China come back to haunt us in some interesting ways because of the bioaccumulative nature of methylmercury.
So, we’re on one big closed-loop system here. We’ve got [continuity directly back to us].
DEBRA: You just talked about how inorganic mercury in the environment, they get changed to, what was it? Mercury or lead?
STEVEN GILBERT: Mercury, it changes from inorganic to organic mercury.
DEBRA: Could you just explain that in a little more detail? It’s the changing of the form by us using it that makes it more toxic.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, that’s true. And many people have probably placed little […] of mercury because it’s widely used in thermometers and thermostats. My old house used to have a thermostat with mercury in it. When you go and pull the cover off that, you can see little mercury sloshing around in there.
And they use that because it conducts electricity. So mercury is a really interesting metal. It has a wide number of uses. It’s a catalyst and it’s used all over the place in many industries. And only in the last 20 years, we really tried to control the mercury effluence and the mercury use.
It’s used, for example, in gold mining because mercury attracts the gold. If you take your ring and put a little bit of mercury around it, it will turn silver because the mercury adheres to the gold. But when you evaporate the mercury—and that’s another important property. It evaporates in room temperate. If you heat it, the mercury is boiled away and you’re left with gold and the gold mining.
But just like with burning coal, when you heat that coal or burn the coal, the inorganic mercury goes up the smoke stack, and then into the environment.
And in the environment, in fact, it’s been used as a [fungicide]. For example, mercury was used in […] A form of mercury was used in vaccines. So it’s very bacteria- and fungicidal. It killed those unwanted organisms.
But these organisms also fought back, and they tried to convert it. To detoxify the mercury, they convert it into methylmercury. So they attach a methyl group to this mercury. And that’s where it starts bioaccumulating up the food chain.
Mercury interacts with protein, so it accumulates in the muscle of the fish. In a high predatory fish, it gradually accumulates more and more mercury. So the long, big, old tuna would likely have quite a bit of mercury in it.
Because we contaminate, we spread mercury throughout the environment from burning of coal and other uses. And also mercury is somewhat naturally occurring in the environment although at much lower levels.
So as mercury moves up the food chain, it contaminates the fish we want to eat. And that’s a serious problem for kids, fetuses, and women of child-bearing age. So you really want to limit the amount of mercury intake.
So the FDA just came out with an advisory on mercury where they advise women of child-bearing age and pregnant women to consume fish of low concentration of mercury. So fish that have little mercury, they’re recommending increased consumption of. They’re trying to avoid fish with high levels of mercury.
So, this is why I mentioned it’s really a global problem in a sense that we burn mercury and lead off into the environment.
The burning of coals, for example, will contaminate our waterways. We’ve got fish advisories all over the United States, and really, around the world, about trying to control the mercury in fish. And we continue to burn coal.
And we know how to sequester the mercury from these coal-fired plants, but we don’t do it because they’re expensive to do. Owners would rather generate electricity and make money than use pollutant control devices. So we’re all culpable in this mess.
DEBRA: We need to go to break now, but we’ll talk more about this when we come back because I have a question for you about tuna. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. And I’m talking with Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. And he’s also the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology, which you can get for free at Toxipedia.org. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. And we’ve been talking about persistent environmental bioaccumulative toxicants. It’s got so many names, just a couple of names, but it’s all the same thing.
So my question that I had about tuna is, of course, every child is fed tuna sandwiches. I didn’t eat a lot of tune because I didn’t like it. But so many people eat tuna. It’s a standard lunchtime thing. And a lot of people eat tuna as sushi.
Is there any tuna that is not contaminated?
STEVEN GILBERT: Well, there are some fish that have lower mercury levels in them—like salmon, for example, or shorter-lived fish. So they live for a couple of years. They’re not as high on the food chain as, for example, tuna. So salmon generally has less mercury in it.
Mercury is important because we eat the meat, the muscle of the fish where the mercury is. But for example, in salmon, they might accumulate some DDT, or PCBs, but they’re in the fat of the salmon, not in the muscle. So you have to know where the chemical is accumulating to be wise about what to eat.
So we try to choose fish that are low in mercury.
DEBRA: And the EPA has a list. I think there are several lists, but the EPA, as you said, just came out with one.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, there are several lists. The FDA just published a recent one. Most of the states have fish advisories. The Washington state does. It stirs you to the fish to consume that are lower in mercury.
DEBRA: So should somebody be looking for their local state list because it would have local fish on it?
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes. Most of us have local fish. There will be local fish advisories, and then you have to consult them and know what fish are for sports-fishing.
And I think the other thing, remember, is that this is also an environmental justice issue because people that are high fish consumers can be lower on the socioeconomic scale, and they’re using fish for subsistence living, in a sense.
And they eat more fish […] that they are exposed to other PCBs, DDTs, as well as mercury.
DEBRA: Every time you turn around, there’s another aspect of this. But I know for myself, I as a child, I just didn’t like fish from the first bite. There was something about it I didn’t like. I always refused to eat fish and seafood. And it’s still that way for me. I just put it in my mouth and I don’t want it at all.
Every once in a while, I try and bite a fish, but I think it might be just from the toxic chemicals that are in fish.
So I’m looking in your book, A Small Dose of Toxicology, and there’s a whole chapter on this. If you’re listening to this, and it seems like this is a lot of new information, you can just go to Toxipedia.org, and download A Small Dose of Toxicology. If you go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, there’s a picture of the book there with the description of this show. And if you click on it, it will take you right to the page where you can get this book for free.
STEVEN GILBERT: In the chapter (and also in the PowerPoint presentation that goes with that chapter), I list out a table that has different chemicals that had been declared persistent bioaccumulative or POPs. I think I listed the Washington state list too.
So there’s a range of chemicals and metals. Lead for example, is persistent in the environment. It bioaccumulates in the bones, for example.
But you can get a list of these chemicals. A lot of them are pesticides, you’ll notice in that. And that came out of post-World War II when we thought we had a handle all things chemical and knew how to manage the environment.
I just want to say, Rachel Carson had a great quote from Silent Springs. “As crude a weapon as a caveman’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life.”
And I really think that’s what we’ve done in a lot of ways. And these lists really demonstrate that, how we’ve taken the chemicals and really hurled them at the fabric of life to create a lot of hazard in our own lives now.
DEBRA: I was just going to mention these lists. And that’s why I […] But yes, these are good lists. And I think that the thing that strikes me when I look at them is that it contains not only the things bioaccumulate in the environment, but they also bioaccumulate the same chemicals and metals would bioaccumulate in our own bodies in the same way.
STEVEN GILBERT: I was going to say lead is a great example of that. If you’re exposed to lead while you’re growing up, the lead accumulates in the bone.
And then for example, there are certain periods of life—it might even be during pregnancy where the child […] zinc or calcium. Their bones are de-mineralized in the mom. And that led, along with the calcium that’s de-mineralized, goes into the child, the developing fetus.
So, persistent bioaccumulative toxicants are very serious. And you’ve got to remember that the child, the fetus, is very small, so a small amount of exposure represents a big dose to that developing fetus or developing child.
So there are many ways. And we have to be really careful with these compounds.
DEBRA: We’re about to go to break again. But I just want to finish saying what I was going to say, and then we’ll go to break, and then we’ll have a new question here. The things that really jump out of me that I didn’t understand before that were persistent are lead, as you said, mercury, and here’s another one, it’s tin.
I know that I did some research some years ago about tin because I bought a set of cookware that was lined with tin. So I was trying to find out if that was safe. And of course, there are tin cans, but they aren’t lined with tin anymore.
But at the time when I was doing that research, it didn’t come up that it was a persistent metal. And so I’m no longer using that cookware for other reasons, but that’s something that you do see in consumer products.
Let’s see what else is on the list. There are a lot of pesticides, PCBs, PBDEs. Tell us a little bit, really quick, about PBDEs.
STEVEN GILBERT: PDBE is a part of a category of flame retardants. They’re very persistent in the environment as it turns out. They are in the cushions and mattresses.
They’ve started becoming banned—California has moved to do that—because these chemicals would get out into the environment, they would be distributed all over the world, and show up […]
And it’s because they tend to accumulate in fat. So when a woman lactates, the fat is mobilized and the flame retardants come out into the milk.
And they’re actually shown not to be effective in mattresses and cushions. And the reason why these chemicals are used as a money-making product for the chemical industry because they are used to quench fires that might start from cigarettes.
And the cigarettes were manufactured to burn down, so they didn’t go out. Cigarettes will naturally go out if you’ve not puffed on them, if you just roll your own.
But initially, the tobacco industry made them, so it did not go out. And they added flame retardants in these mattresses and cushions because they thought that was the way to keep the cigarettes from burning.
DEBRA: We need to go to break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. And we’ll be right back with more about these persistent chemicals.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. And we’re talking about persistent chemicals in the environment. Of course, if a chemical is persistent, then it’s also going to be persistent in our bodies.
Dr. Gilbert, I understand that some of these chemicals, governments are tracking these chemicals because they’re considering phasing them out, some of them. Tell us where we are in the world, in different countries, about eliminating these chemicals because it’s not really a consumer question. This is more a regulatory question, isn’t it?
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, that’s true. A lot of these chemicals have been phased out, particularly the pesticides. And we’ve also tried to control, for example, mercury used in gold mining, and mercury products like thermometers and other things in schools and homes. They try to collect these back up. But pesticides are still widely out there, some of the old, banned pesticides. I’ll give you an example of that.
My wife’s father died in November. He was in his 90’s, mid-90’s. And in cleaning out the house, we found old containers of DDT and Aldrin, two banned pesticides.
So we took these to the hazardous waste disposal. This is an example of how these pesticides are still findable in home environments.
And agriculture communities use a lot of these too. And they still show up in hazardous waste collection sites and agricultural communities.
So despite the efforts to try to ban these things—in a sense, ban the sale of them—because they’re so much manufactured, they’re still accessible in everybody’s environment.
I think, in a sense, we’ve done a good job of trying to understand the consequences of these, and move towards pesticides, for example, that break down in the environment. So ultraviolet lights break down the modern pesticides, but you have to be careful with tracking these pesticides indoors because indoors, you don’t have the ultraviolet lights, so they’re more persistent inside.
So you really have to be taught about chemicals that you use, and where you’re using them, and how do they break down.
DEBRA: That’s a really good point. This comes back to one of the things that I mentioned in my book, Toxic Free, was about leaving your shoes at the door, and not wearing your shoes into the house. This is exactly a reason why you should do that because if your neighbor has DDT, and they’re spraying it on their lawn, and you walk by the sidewalk, or you’re walking your dog, and the dog runs on the law, or whatever, what would you do about that?
What if you were walking a dog, the dog goes running on the lawn, and the lawn service has just come. You could take off your shoes at the door, but what about pets? They can’t take off their shoes.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a good thing to raise. I think taking off your shoes is absolutely essential. The three most important things to do are eat well, have good nutrition, take off your shoes, and wash your hands.
The first thing I do with my granddaughters, as they come in the house, is wash their hands. It’s a chronic joke. Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.
But trying to reduce exposure is really important.
So with pets coming indoors, it’s really important to keep the house well-vacuumed, and to mop the floors, if it’s a hardwood floor. And also, encourage your neighbors about […] pest management.
Some provinces, specifically in Canada, have moved toward banning the cosmetic use of pesticides and herbicides.
So, we really are getting a little bit smarter in trying to control and reduce the use of these products because […] doing a little weeding is good exercise. And we need to do a little bit more of that and a lot less application of pesticides.
DEBRA: I totally agree.
STEVEN GILBERT: […] more about integrated pest management.
DEBRA: What else can I ask you about these chemicals?
STEVEN GILBERT: One thing is PCBs, polychlorinated byphenyl ethers, they’re usually compounds that were used in transformers. It’s still widely-distributed in the environment. For example, the orca whales in Washington state that travel in our waters out here, they’re the most contaminated creatures in the world.
So these PCBs would spread all over when they’re used. And they show up in women’s breast milk. That’s a serious product.
Washington State is just doing a chemical action plan for PCBs to know where they are. They show up in […] and also in some paint still.
So I think we still have a lot of work to do to try to corral these compounds. And PCBs are examples of compounds that go to fat.
So the big reservoirs for persistent bioaccumulative toxicants, are they in the muscle? So if they’re consumed, are they in the fat? So, you have to concern about lactation if they’re excreting the phthalate PCBs, DDTs, chlorinated compounds, and brominated compounds like TBDEs. And you also have to worry about bone compounds (those that are stored to the bone).
And the other thing I want to mention is persistent compounds, the radionucleotides and radioactive particles, they are very persistent in the environment. They have half-life hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of years.
Fukushima, the nuclear plants that just had all the problems in Japan, is still putting nuclear isotopes out into the environment. And these are taken up by plants, as well as fish.
So there are lots of persistent compounds out there that we need to be concerned about. And we, in general, need to control the use of these persistent compounds.
DEBRA: So I’m looking at this list, and I don’t see the radionuclides on here. Am I just missing it?
Here’s the question. I know that this list is you’re summarizing these different lists, and you have columns that show which chemicals are in which list that have been produced by governments. And so are there other ones that the governments haven’t identified?
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, I think so. It’s probably true. I think these are lists of some of the classic, older ones. And I think as we understand how these compounds work in the environment, we have a better appreciation for them.
But a lot of compounds do break down. A good example is caffeine, which many of us widely consume caffeine. But it’s widely metabolized in the body and excreted in the urine. So that’s a compound that is not persistent or bioaccumulative, thank goodness. But it does excrete into the environment, and it shows up in the waterways.
But the compounds I’ve listed in these lists are really the bad actors of the bad actors that we know have toxic, adverse effects, we know they’re persistent, and we know they bioaccumulate.
So there other compounds out there, they’re persistent, but don’t bioaccumulate as well, or they are not quite as toxic, so they don’t make this list.
And I think you make a really good point about not having radiological compounds in these lists. And when I revise this chapter, which is coming up soon, I’m definitely going to add that into this list.
DEBRA: Yes, because I’m looking at things here that I know we’re being exposed to, the radioactive ones, the tin, the mercury and the lead, and they’re in consumer products. This is what we’re going to talk about after the break, which is coming up. Actually, let’s go to the break, and then I’ll ask you the question.
This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, see the description of the show today, and click on the book cover of A Small Dose of Toxicology.
It will take you right to the page where you can get this book for free.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. His website is Toxipedia.org, but you can go to my website, ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and click on the cover of his book, A Small Dose of Toxicology, and you can get that book for free. And it also has a link to Toxipedia.org. Is it dot com or dot org? I don’t have it right in front of me, dot org, I think.
STEVEN GILBERT: It’s supposed to be .org, but .com works too.
DEBRA: Good. If you can’t figure out how to spell Toxipedia, then just go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and there’s a link right there.
So the question that I wanted to ask you is we talk a lot about reading labels, but these chemicals are in the environment, and they’re showing up in consumer products through the raw materials that are used to make the consumer products, and waters, and things that it just says water. It doesn’t say what is contaminating the water.
And so because these chemicals are so widespread, then they show up in many, if not all of our products, as contaminants.
And this isn’t on the label.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s really true because these things are technically contaminants, they’re not part of the product. For example, calcium supplements have lead in them because the animals that were used to get the calcium from were contaminated with lead.
So this is a problem. It’s on toys, for example. Lead is used in paint, so it shows on toys. And lead is a little bit sweet, so kids, they consume the lead chips off that product or it gets on to their hands. You see the lead.
So that’s the real issue. We don’t know sometimes which fish have the mercury in them, so we can’t really buy smart in that sense. And the Food and Drug Administration […] need to be more consistent about enforcing the mercury contamination in fish levels.
I also want to mention tin. You really have to know what form are in these products. Tin as a metal is not that toxic. But when tin becomes organic tin (these methyl groups attach to these tins), that’s when they become toxic. And these toxic materials are used as pate balance on boats.
So it’s used on boat holes to keep off barnacles and things like that because organotins are very toxic compounds. They tend to accumulate in ports and harbors.
And again, we’re just cavalier with very toxic compounds because we try to do things on the cheap. It’s cheaper to put these organotins on the holes of boats, so you don’t have to scrape the barnacles off. But we don’t account for the consequences of putting this material out into the environment.
So we need to be much wiser about, and really account for the costs of these materials. We’re not externalizing the costs onto the wildlife, and onto humans, which ultimately happens in many of these situations.
DEBRA: That’s such a good point. Another thing that I talk about a lot, but I think I need to keep saying it until it actually makes the change in the world, is that I know that for myself, as part of my own personal process, I started out just having the same ideas and viewpoint about things as most people in our current society.
But I went through a change where I realized that if I didn’t have some concern for, first, my own life and my own health, and then concern for all of life, if I didn’t make the first question that I asked, “Is this toxic,” or, “How does this support or harm life? How does this support or harm my body? How does it support or harm the ecosystems,” if I didn’t ask that as my first question, then I wouldn’t end up with the right answer.
And that to me is the missing question, is that people don’t ask themselves that question. For myself, I refuse to use toxics. I just refuse. If the only way to do something is a toxic way, I just don’t do it. I don’t wear fingernail polish.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a really important choice to be made with consumer products, in using personal care products and what toxins are in those things. It doesn’t have to be persistent bioaccumulative toxicant to be a hazard.
For example, Bisphenol A, BPA, is fairly, quickly metabolized, but we’re constantly exposed to it. So we have this background level of these materials. And in that sense, it is a toxic compound that we need to be paying attention to. Just because it’s not “persistent in the environment,” it doesn’t mean we’re not chronically exposed to it.
So, I think those are really important questions to ask. My neighbor, I refuse to use pesticides on our lawn and our driveway.
It gets weeds in it. So I got out there and weed the thing. Our neighbor tends to use pesticides, herbicides, to kill these materials. And I just think that’s the wrong way to go. We should not be doing that.
DEBRA: Well, do you have any suggestions? I get this question a lot what I’m about to ask you. How can I control what my neighbors do?
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a tough one. I think they just need more education about integrated pest management, and talk to them about if they really need to be using these fairly noxious chemicals that are potent […] herbicides.
My attitude is I just need to keep talking to people and try to educate people barring more regulatory approaches.
And the real approach, in my view, is regulation, where we just have to say to people, “These chemicals are no longer going to be for sale. You can’t use chemicals to beautify your lawn. You need to get out there and use other means to do that that are not as toxic, and not putting these materials on the environment because they get into the soil, and it eventually gets washed into the waterways.”
In our situation, it’s […] which is really unfortunate.
DEBRA: When I was in San Francisco, I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then moved to Florida.
But I went back to visit about seven or eight years ago. They have a very good Office of Environmental Affairs in the City of San Francisco. They do a lot of education of the people there.
And I have to say this. I have to say that they do allow backyard chickens in the City of San Francisco. And I have to say that because they’re not allowed in my little suburban town of Clearwater, Florida. And I keep saying this, but it’s just outrageous to me that the police came and took my chickens.
That is an example of bad regulation.
But what I wanted to say is that when I was there, they were doing big campaigns to educate people about mercury, and the disposal of mercury in thermometers and in fluorescent lights because there was so much mercury in San Francisco Bay.
STEVEN GILBERT: Mercury is a very serious pollutant. Some of the old gold mines are contaminated with mercury because mercury was widely used in gold mining operations.
In Washington State (and I think San Francisco too), we’ve had mercury take-back programs for schools, high schools and businesses. They’ve really tried to get mercury out of pressure measurement equipment, and out of thermometers used in almost all situations that have mercury in them.
So if anybody has a mercury thermometer, they should really take it to hazardous waste, and dispose of it properly because we do not want that mercury get out into the environment. It ends up in our fish that we consume.
So we really have to look at the loop that this is where the mercury goes. So I’m really glad to hear that San Francisco is trying to control its mercury. That’s great news.
DEBRA: Yes, me too, because San Francisco is known for its seafood. People go there and go to Fisherman’s Wharf, and the fresh catch comes in. And it’s really important not only to the health and the environment of San Francisco, but to the economical-being because you don’t want people to go to San Francisco and be poisoned by the mercury in the seafood they had, the tourists.
I don’t think that that’s ever happened, that somebody ate a crab or something, and then had to be rushed to the hospital. I don’t know. It may have, but I’ve never heard of it. And I haven’t heard of everything.
But it’s part of the overall load of chemicals, the body burden, that eventually makes people sick.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a really good point you bring out. We’re not exposed to just one of these chemicals. We’re exposed to all kinds of chemicals from PCBs, a little bit of DDTs, a little bit of mercury, a little bit of lead. So it’s an accumulative effect of all these chemicals we’re exposed to.
And mercury can be consumed. High consumers of mercury-laden fish, as adults, can have […] health consequences.
There have been several incidents of adult exposure. I just co-authored a paper about a year and a half ago documenting some of these cases. I’m trying to come up with better messaging for adults that are consuming mercury-laden fish.
So, we really got to be thinking about this. And the point that you raised about multiple chemical exposures, that’s a really good one. Small amounts of a whole bunch of chemicals equal a large dose of toxic properties.
DEBRA: That’s why I’m not so concerned anymore about how much am I being exposed to one chemical. People are often asking me, “Well, what’s the safe level for this? What’s the safe level for that chemical?” To me, my conclusion is we just need to be aware of as many chemical exposures as we can be, learn as much as we can, and we just lessen exposure as much as we can.
The reality is that we really don’t know what’s in the products. Even if we read labels, I think the best we can do is use that label reading to eliminate as many chemicals that are known. But we’re still not going to end up with having zero toxic exposure because of the environmental contamination.
We’ve only got about 30 seconds, so any final words?
STEVEN GILBERT: My final word would be on this chemical exposure. People need to work towards better chemical policy.
We need to reform TSCA and have a better chemical policy in the environmental chemicals and better knowledge about what the health effect potential of these chemicals are.
So, chemical policy reform is absolutely critical for our environment, for human health.
DEBRA: Thank you so much, Dr. Gilbert, for being with us. And I’m sure we’ll talk to you again.
STEVEN GILBERT: You’re very welcome, Debra.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com to find out more about the show, and what’s coming up, and listen to past shows, and even listen to this show again. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.