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
- Persistant Bioaccumulative Toxicants
- How Endocrine Disruptors Disrupt Our Endocrine Systems
- The Dangers of Exposure to Radiation and How to Protect Yourself
- 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
Toxics Throughout History – Exposure to Toxic Substances is Not New
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT
Date of Broadcast: March 03, 2014
DEBRA: …Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic-free. It’s Monday, March 3rd 2014. I’m here in Clearwater, Florida. And today, we’re going to be talking about toxic chemicals throughout history.
My guest is Dr. Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT. He’s been on before. He’s our resident toxicologist. And we’ve been talking about all kinds of different things. He has a fascinating, fascinating website called Toxipedia at Toxipedia.org that looks at toxic exposures from all different angles.
One thing that I just discovered this morning—I periodically take a very intense look at his website—that I haven’t seen before is a section called This is My Health. And if you’re on his website, it’s over in the left-hand column.
And he invites people to write about your own personal experience sharing your opinions on environmental and public health topics. Like some of the titles are My Thoughts on Community Health, Garbage: Rethinking the Needs for Bags, Ingredient Disclosures Like a Fishnet Stocking. People are just saying what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing about toxic chemical exposures.
So, if you have something that you want to say, this is a place where you can say it. I’m even thinking about writing a story myself and see if Dr. Gilbert will accept it to be on the site.
Anyway, if you’re at Toxipedia.org, the part that we’re going to be talking about today is the History of Toxicology section. And as I’m looking through and reading different parts of it, I’m seeing that he talks about toxicology from the viewpoint of history, like “on this date in history, this happened about this related to toxicology.” But he’s looking at the history of single substances—one of them is BPA (and we’ll talk about that later because I’m interested in the history of BPA).
So, good morning, Dr. Gilbert. How are you?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Good, Debra, very good. Thanks for having me on again.
DEBRA: Thank you for being on again.
So, you’ve been on so many times, we all know your history. But some people don’t know how you got to being here, why you’re interested in toxicology. So, let’s start with that again so that everybody will know how you got into this. What’s your interest?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: My original interest in toxicology was concerned about the developing nervous system. I was concerned about the consequences of lead and mercury exposure to the developing nervous system. So I did a lot of research looking at very low levels of exposure to lead and mercury and its consequences to the developing nervous system.
I really believe that our children have a right to an environment where they can reach and maintain their fully potential. When we expose the developing nervous system to lead, mercury, alcohol, BPA even, flame retardants, the whole plethora of chemicals, we’re really robbing their developing nervous system of their potential and robbing our children of their potential.
DEBRA: That’s an excellent reason to be doing what you’re doing.
So, one of the things that really interested me about your website is that you’re looking at toxic chemicals not just from their toxicity, but all different aspects of it—the history, the social aspects, all these different things. How did you come to have such a variety of viewpoints?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, really, I came to the conclusion—I’ve actually stopped doing any research. I do very little researching because I think we have tremendous amounts of knowledge. The trick is trying to make the knowledge accessible and useful in today’s age. I tried to put the information on toxicology in the context of history, society and culture.
I don’t believe we can just throw science on the wall anymore. We need to put it in context. I think looking from a historical perspective on what we know, the mistakes we’ve made in the past and how to avoid them is really critical. So I tried to put together an interesting look at the history of toxicology and put it in perspective.
And it’s actually both enlightening. And I think it’s quite fun to look back and see some of these personalities, how toxicology was used in the past and how we need to be thoughtful about the future right now.
So, I’m trying to make it fun and put together resources that are interesting and give insight into the history of toxicology.
DEBRA: Good! So, for the listeners, if you go to the website Toxipedia.org, one of the things that is there is a poster called Milestones of Toxicology. Why don’t you tell us some of these milestones in toxicology?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, the poster, Milestones of Toxicology was built a few years ago partly in response to some interest at the Society of Toxicology.
The poster is an interactive poster. So, if you go to the right side of the Toxipedia website, you could see the poster there. If you open that poster up, it’s a PDF file. It’s clickable. It’s an interactive poster. There are mini-squares on the poster. They have different events in history related to toxicology. If you click on those squares, you’ll get more information about any subject.
For example, if you just start with the very first square, it’s about China. Shen Nung, at 3000 BCE, he experimented with herbs and other medicinal materials. He was concerned about being poisoned, toxic overdose.
So, he was the very first experimenter with poisons.
If you go across that row and look into different other pathological events, like Socrates, for example, he committed suicide in 399 BCE by taking hemlock.
If you look a little further along, you’ll see Sulla. He made some of the first regulation about trying to curb poisoning of people. Poisoning was wildly used throughout history, both arsenic and other poisons. So some of the first regulation was trying to contain poisoners.
So, there’s a variety of really fun things to look through.
DEBRA: Well, let’s talk about some of these in-depth because not everybody has the chart. They’re not all sitting in front of their computer right now. So let’s give them some idea of things that happened in history. You just gave us some ideas of antiquity. Why don’t you pick one from the Middle Ages and just give us more information about that one?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, the Middle Ages, let’s see. What would be a good one from the Middle Ages? Well, I think one of the interesting ones and sort of a fun part of history is actually looking at the Sorcerer’s Stone in alchemy.
DEBRA: Oh, yeah, let’s talk about that.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: So, Nicolas Flamel. People that are familiar with the Harry Potter books will know that the Sorcerer’s Stone was used to create the elixir of life. Long-lived Nicholas Flamel, he was the long-lived character in Harry Potter books. But it can also turn metals into gold. And that was the great effort of many alchemists. And really, the foundation of a lot of toxicology is to try and understand how to turn metals particularly into gold. And mercury was wildly used in that regard.
But Nicolas Flamel was quite a character in that period of time. He had a great reputation for working with the Elixir of Life and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s just one fun example of how the history of toxicology had turned up in our current literature.
DEBRA: What’s this association between the Knights Templar and toxicology?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: The Knights Templar, well, that’s sort of interesting. These were great poisoners. And they each had control over vast amounts of wealth. They controlled a lot of their enemies through different poisonings. So they were an interesting group of people that used arsenic and other chemicals to their advantage in controlling and dispatching their enemies through poisons.
DEBRA: Wow! As you’re talking about this—so, poisoning, I haven’t obviously done as much research as you’ve done in the past. But it occurred to me at a certain point that even though I had a lot of attention on these man-made chemicals in modern times, that in nature, there are poisons. We have Poison Control Centers, and we’ve talked about poisoning, poisoning, poisoning. And then, at a certain point, we started talking about toxic chemicals as if they were something different. But there’s this whole history. It’s still poison. Toxic chemicals are still poisoning us. And you’re giving us this whole social picture now of how poisons were used—that they were recognized, but they were also used intentionally as well as trying to prevent them from being used intentionally way back many, many centuries ago. This is not a new thing. It didn’t just start with the industrial revolution. It started way, way back.
We’re going to take a break. And we’re going to talk more about this when we come back. We’re talking about the history of toxics today. My guest is toxicologist Steven Gilbert. And his website is Toxipedia.org where there’s a lot of information about this subject. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is toxicologist Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT. And he publishes Toxipedia.org. He has a huge section on the history of toxicology.
Dr. Gilbert, during the break, I was just looking for the interactive (clickable) Milestones of Toxicology because the one I had clicked on before didn’t interact with me.
So, what we need to do is go to the Milestones of Toxicology page, right? And then, you “download the clickable Milestone poster in English, click here.” And then, I got it! I’m clicking on it, and it opens up in a whole new window, and it tells you a little story. This is very fun.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Is that fun?
DEBRA: It is fun! I’m reading about John Jones who was a Welsh cleric, inventor and physician. Dr. Jones extensively researched the medical effects of opium and wrote The Mysteries of Opium Revealed in 1701. So we’ve got the whole history of toxicology here.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, it’s quite an important document actually.
DEBRA: Yeah, yeah. This is good. So, tell us more stories here.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I also want to mention that the Milestones poster has been translated to about a dozen languages too…
DEBRA: I see that here.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: …to German, Italian, Korean, Persian, Portuguese. And we’re really proud of the fact that we had it translated into Spanish. And the Spanish version is also a clickable poster. So I’ll be underlying information on the posters and translating to Spanish too. So, we’re very proud of having taking that task on.
DEBRA: That’s great.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I just want to mention we have another thing called The Toxicology History Room. So, you go to the The Toxicology History Room and get little briefings on specific posters. They’re all free posters that we put up at different meetings about the history of toxicology. It goes into alchemy, Alexander the Great, bisphenol-A, all kinds of interesting details about a particular subject related to toxicology and its history. One of them is [inaudible 12:01].
DEBRA: I did see that. It’s where I saw the BPA poster. Let’s talk now about the history of BPA.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Oh, BPA, that’s fascinating history, BPA.
BPA was first actually discovered along with DES, diethylstilbestrol, in the 1930’s. So BPA was actually put aside because there were no medical uses of it at that time. They focused on diethylstilbestrol which was approved by the FDA to be used to prevent miscarriages.
But as a matter of fact, it turned out there was no real use. I was not applicatious in that regard. But the real tragedy was it was discovered in the ‘70s that women that consumed it, their daughters have had a form of cancer, vaginal cancer that was very serious and detrimental to their health. So, this is an example of an endocrine disruptor, a very potent endocrine disruptor that had pathological properties.
BPA is also an endocrine disruptor, but it was discovered to be useful in plastic. It was used as a plasticizer, a hardener of plastics, and many other uses.
So now, many […] excrete BPA in our urine. The question is what are the consequences of BPA over the vast majority with the widespread exposure? And the answer is it’s an endocrine disruptor.
So, this is a history of a compound that was studied, but not probably studied as well as it should’ve been, and then finally distributed in our environment.
DEBRA: And now, it’s virtually everywhere.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: It’s virtually everywhere. And I don’t think anybody ever gave their consent to be exposed to BPA and to actually be excreting it in their urine.
DEBRA: Yeah! I know I didn’t give permission to do that.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, I didn’t either.
DEBRA: I don’t think anybody gave any permission to be exposed to all the different toxic chemicals that we’re exposed to and how they interact with each other.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Right! They just came out, for example, that cash register receipts, so many cash register receipts have BPA as the chemical used for the transmission of the images onto cash register receipts.
Well, it’s finally distributed in the environment. And the question is: “What are the health consequences of low level exposure to BPA?”
DEBRA: Do we know?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, as an endocrine disruptor, there’s some subtle changes that might occur. For example, it had been affecting male reproductive organ and early menarche for females, these consequences that we’re just investigating, and there’s good data.
My view is to take a precautionary approach. You want to reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible.
DEBRA: You know, this is one of those situations where—like I’ve been writing for over 30 years about how people can make choices in their everyday life to avoid a chemical. But BPA is extremely difficult to avoid because especially when it’s in a public health kind of setting where people are passing around cash register receipts, they’re touching money, they’re touching credit cards, and it’s not stable, it comes off on your fingers, you can touch a cash register receipt, and then handle money, the BPA goes on the money and then somebody else handles the money, and then they eat their sandwich and touch their sandwich. Not only is it going in through their fingers, but then they’re eating it now.
This is where one, as a consumer, would have a very difficult time to eliminate their exposure to BPA, especially in cash register receipts. You would have to walk around wearing gloves all the time I think.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, I think the problem is we don’t know all the products it’s in because the industry has not been transparent about where it’s used. I think that’s a huge issue. We have a right to know what chemicals are in our products. And this has not been upheld by industry and not being required by the government.
DEBRA: I totally agree that that’s a huge problem. We’ve talked before about how every toxic chemical should be on the label of a product; and it isn’t. Even the ones that have warning labels on it, the toxic chemicals aren’t there listed, so that you can’t even know what it is.
But what I wanted to say about BPA and cash register receipts is this is where I think a regulation would be very much in order. There are cash register receipts that do not have BPA. And there’s no way for a consumer to tell if that cash register receipt contains it or not.
There is so much evidence of harm of BPA. This is where the government should be saying, “Well, let’s step in and say, ‘There are cash register receipts that don’t have BPA. Let’s only allow those in cash registers.’” That to me is an extremely rational and logical thing to do.
DEBRA: Yeah, we’ve moved the bad BPA from children’s sippy cups and bottles for milk for young kids. So we’ve made some efforts to reduce exposure, particularly to people that are most vulnerable, remembering our children eat more, drink more and breathe more than adults do. They’re consequently exposed to more. I mean, it’s a small amount of exposure, but it’s a bigger dose based on their body weight. They’re the more vulnerable, and we need to be taking better care of them.
So, we’ve actually made the efforts to ban BPA from certain consumer products for children, but we haven’t done the same thing for adults.
And we have to remember that, endocrine disruptors, there’s a variety of them—pthalates being another one, some of the flame retardants. So we’re exposed to a variety of chemicals that can be disruptive to the endocrine system. BPA is only one of them.
DEBRA: I need to interrupt you because we need to go to break. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. And today, we’re talking with toxicologist, Steven Gilbert. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, toxicologist. And his website is Toxipedia.org.
I’m just sitting here on the breaks clicking through on this chart. And there’s so many interesting things. They range from different chemicals being discovered to different people who had significant roles in the development of toxicology to different regulations that have come into play.
Would you tell us about Paracelsus? Did I pronounce that right?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, that’s correct. Paracelsus is a much more complicated German name. But he’s one of the granddaddies of toxicology. He came out with the saying that “dose makes the poison.” It’s dependent on how much of a substance. All substance are poisonous, it just depends on the dose. I think that’s been somewhat disproven now. This is for historical point. Paracelsus was around 1500 or 1520. This was at a time of great revolution in our understanding of our physical environment. And he noted that the dose makes the poison, that any substance is poison. It just depends on how much you consume.
And I really think that’s been somewhat disproven in the fact that we kind of take on individual sensitivity. For example, some people can be allergic to bee stings. It can be deadly to them, a very small microgram quantity of insect protein. But others, it’s just a nuisance. So, really, it’s individual sensitivity that’s critical.
He was a very important figure in toxicology.
DEBRA: Yes, I think he was called the ‘Father of Toxicology’ I think.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, there’s a couple of people that will qualify for that term including [inaudible 19:43] who wrote a great book on poisons in the 1813. So our understanding grew better.
Paracelsus was also an alchemist. He was sort of at the beginning of trying to understand chemicals in our environment.
DEBRA: Well, another person that you have on your chart is Leonardo De Vinci, famous artist.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Oh, yeah.
DEBRA: What does he have to do with toxicology?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: He did some experimentation with animals. He was an amazing individual. He did both great art as well as devices. But he also experimented with the bio-accumulation of chemicals in animals and how these chemicals would affect them acutely as well as chronically. So he experimented with trying to understand again how our body is interesting with the physical environment. He was an interesting character.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: That is interesting, that he was thinking about that so long ago.
DEBRA: Yeah, he was pretty amazing. He had a very wide-ranging intellect.
But if you look at other figures like Shakespeare, for example, some of his poetry, some of his plays, there’s one that said: “Here’s to my love! O, my true apothecary. Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.” If you look around, toxicology is almost every place. I see toxicology everywhere.
One of the things that I was thinking about the other day was that I tend to look at the world through what I was calling “toxic-free glasses.” It’s like you say look for somebody who’s wearing a red shirt, and then suddenly, you’re looking for a red shirt, and you see everybody is wearing a red shirt, whereas otherwise, you could walk down the street, and you just don’t see the red shirts at all.
And I really do! I’m looking for, very selectively, anything that’s toxic-free.
And I can see that you, with your toxicology background, you’re looking at the toxicology of things as your lens in life.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: You’re right. That’s a different twist on how you view the world, for sure, with toxic glasses on.
DEBRA: I suppose a chemist or a biologist would look at the world through chemistry or biology or whatever people’s individual interest in. But I do know that, for myself, I very selectively look for the things that are not toxic, and the rest of the world just is kind of grayed out for me.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, I think it’s actually an important perspective to have. You’re thinking about chemicals and materials that might do us harm and how we avoid them. I think it’s an important perspective to have given our current society and our dependency on chemicals.
DEBRA: Well, would you say that this is a unique time in history where we have more of a concern about toxic chemicals than in the past?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: In some ways, yes; in some ways, no. I think we have a better understanding of chemicals and their use in the environment. At the same time, we have not taken into account some historical lessons.
A really important lesson was around thalidomide. Francis [Kisley] stopped the wide distribution of thalidomide in the United States. Thalidomide causes birth defects. It was used in Europe and Australia. That really changed our regulatory approach. And the FDA was given a lot more authority to regulate drugs that go on the market. So, we have a very strong approach to regulating drugs.
We do not translate that over to regulating chemicals coming out in the environment that are used in products. For example, the Toxic Substance Control Act passed in 1976 is really broken. So we don’t have a good chemical policy. Although we have a lot of understanding about chemicals, we don’t have a good chemical policy.
And that’s how BPA gets out to our consumer products. We don’t know where it is. We don’t know what products have phthalates in them. We don’t know all about the pesticides we should know about.
DEBRA: I agree.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: So, I think we both are doing well and we’ve got a long way to go.
DEBRA: I agree. I agree with that. And since I’ve been doing this for so long, I can see how much progress we’ve made in 30 years. But there’s still so much more that we need to do. But there’s this huge increase in interest now that we’ve never had before. And so I see a lot of people wanting to make change and a lot of people being interested and a lot of manufacturers being willing to take a look and see what they can use that are not toxic chemicals. All kinds of things are happening.
So, another one, another square I clicked on, led me to a label for cocaine toothache drops.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Oh, right. Yeah, that was an interesting one. Cocaine, one of its uses is a drug. It was actually in Coca-Cola for awhile. It has very good reactions. As an anesthetic, you pick a little cocaine and put it on your lips, your mouth, it numbs it. It was a very popular drug that was very widely used.
And the same marijuana. Marijuana didn’t become illegal until the turn of the century—1915, that ballpark there.
So these drugs (including heroine) were all legal up until really the turn of the 19th century. The government started coming down on these drugs and started more restrictions on them. It sort of went along with alcohol, the prohibition of alcohol. There’s a lot of history around the prohibition of alcohol. And we still struggle with drug use.
And it’s interesting to see historically how two states, Washington and Colorado, now legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
There’s a lot of complicated history with drugs, both legal and declaring them illegal and moving forward.
DEBRA: We need to take another break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is toxicologist Dr. Steven Gilbert. We’re talking about the history of toxicology. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is toxicologist Steven Gilbert, PhD. And his website is Toxipedia.org which has all kinds of information. To me, it’s the most comprehensive website about toxicology, especially for lay people who are not scientists who just want to understand more about toxicology.
He has a great free ebook. You can get A Small Dose of Toxicology. That gives you all the basics about toxicology and tells you about some basic chemicals that everybody should know about. And he just makes everything easy to understand.
So, thank you for doing all these. It’s just very interesting. It really is very interesting to me.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: You’re very welcome, Debra. And the book, the free ebook, it’s got a chapter on the history of toxicology as well as the poster in a powerpoint presentation about the history of toxicology.
DEBRA: Well, good. Good. Well, let’s talk about the history of regulations. So, one of the squares I clicked on on the history poster was Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Right! So, the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 was really the first effort to try to control elixirs and other stuff that was getting onto the market.
It has a really interesting history. Harvey Washington Wiley, Harvey Wiley, is an MD. He was one of the first regulators in the FDA that really worked hard to get the Pure Food and Drug Act passed to try to remove adulterated and poisonous food, drugs and medicines. But prior to that, it was really sort of the wild west about what could be marketed. You could see that with all kinds of things, with cocaine and other drugs and pesticides in it.
For example, in 1929, there was the Ginger Drake incident where an organosphosphate was mixed with an alcoholic type beverage which really affected over 50,000. In 1929, 50,000 adults were harmed by this compound.
So, the Pure Food and Drug Act was a huge step forward in trying to protect human health.
DEBRA: So, we think that things are not regulated enough now because there are still toxic chemicals in all kinds of products. But it was even worse then.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, yeah, it was worse then. And we still have a lot of problems about governors of some states trying to reduce the EPA’s influence. The Environmental Protection Agency has got a strong role to play. But people are trying to roll back these regulations, de-fund the EPA and de-fund the FDA. But we really need them. We can’t have toxic chemicals showing up in our river and into our drinking water supply. When nobody was looking over the shoulder of industry, it was just taking advantage of the lax regulatory environment.
So, I think regulation is really important to protect human and environmental health.
DEBRA: I think it is too. I know that, before, I went through a situation in my own life where I discovered that I have been poisoned from toxic chemicals just from consumer products in my own home. Prior to that, I had no awareness of toxic chemicals in products, in the environment… none! Just absolutely none. It was not anything that I thought about.
And so, sometimes, I ask myself from my present level of awareness how come people don’t know these things, how come they don’t think about putting chemicals in the water or destroying the environment, or how come they don’t think about what we put in our bodies makes a difference to our health. And I think it’s because that they just don’t understand it yet. They just don’t have the information yet.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Right! I think that’s true. I think we don’t pay enough attention. On the other hand, there should be good enough regulations. We all don’t have to be experts in toxicology.
DEBRA: I agree.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: We need to be thoughtful about what we’re consuming, what we’re exposed to. But at the same time, I think our government regulation should be strong enough to protect us from a lot of these more egregious examples of toxicology.
And we really need more transparency. I think it’s critical for us to know what’s in our product and what we might be exposed to, particularly when it comes to our children.
DEBRA: I completely agree with that—completely, completely. And if there was one regulation that I would like to just have be put in place instantly, it’s simply to put everything on the label of every product.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, that would go a long way towards changing our approach to chemical, just knowing what’s in them and what we’re being exposed to.
DEBRA: Mm-hmmm… mm-hmmm…
So, what’s the latest about regulations with improving TSCA?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Well, that sort of got stalled out again. They changed the act in the House of Representatives at the federal level. I think it’s Chemicals and Commerce Act which really weakens TSCA even further. I think it’s a bad legislation that’s being moved forward in Congress right now.
I don’t see TSCA reforms coming up any time soon which is really unfortunate. That law is a really weak law and it really doesn’t protect us.
Europe is moving forward much better in this area. They have a program called REACH, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals. And Europe is taking a more precautionary approach to chemical exposure. The United States has been really slow and really not forthright in trying to use the regulatory process to protect us from chemical exposures and learning more about the health hazards of the chemicals we might be exposed to.
DEBRA: Is there some place? I know that I’ve been working on just taking a look at—I don’t even know how to say this. I’m trying to find out is there some central resource that has toxicological information that anybody could just go look up and see this is the health effects of anything?
What I’m finding is that there are a lot of places where you can look up some information (like your book has some information). And then there are some organizations that are working with a limited list of wanting to do something with this list of chemicals. But it seems like, for me, I need to just go haunt on the Internet at this point in time. I just need to type in formaldehyde, and then the studies will come up. But there isn’t a place where everybody can just go and say, “I can find this out now.”
DEBRA: Well, I think that for the common chemicals, you have data on them. The ATSDR, Toxic Substance Control Agency has got a pretty good website that has information on a lot of these chemicals.
But the problem is there are 3000 chemicals produced over a million pounds per year. And many of those chemicals, we don’t have a lot of data on. So a lot of times, there’s just not good information. The chemical that was released onto the river and contaminated people’s water supply, there’s very little toxic data or information about that chemical. And that’s really an egregious example of us not looking into the potential hazards of a chemical, and yet we’re producing large quantities of it, and we end up getting into the water supply.
So, I think you make a great point. There is really no one central source for toxicological information about chemicals. They’re sort of scattered around. That’s the one thing we try to do at Toxipedia, but it’s a huge daunting task. There’s just an enormous number of chemicals we use in commerce.
DEBRA: There are! There are just way too many.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: There are way too many.
DEBRA: It’s like you can’t even wrap your head around the number.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Right! And they keep showing up. Mercury, they’re in coal. So if you burn coal, mercury gets into the environment. Mercury shows up in fish. So that’s a huge problem. How do you deal with that issue?
What fish to consume? What fish to avoid? So it’s really complicated. Kids are more vulnerable than adults, and pregnant women. Women of child-bearing age are more vulnerable than others. It really is a complicated situation.
DEBRA: Mm-hmmm… what would you say is the thing that, if we look at history, what are some lessons that we should be learning about toxicology from history?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I think that we want to eliminate exposures as much as possible. I think of Rachel Carson, for example, with pesticides. She was the one who really brought out the fact that pesticide exposure can really be hazardous to the health. It’s got ecological consequences. It’s not just human health that we need to be concerned about, but ecological consequences.
I think the bottom line is for us to have a more health-based approach. The problem with industry is that they charge ahead trying to figure out how to do things quick and cheap, but they don’t have a health [inaudible 34:38] to what they have to do.
I think we need to have a more health-based precautionary approach with putting chemicals to the environment and using chemicals in commerce both from a human perspective as well as an ecological perspective.
So, I think we need to know more about the chemicals that we’re proposing to be used and having better data sets on these chemicals and look for the least toxic alternative at all times.
DEBRA: I agree.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I wish we’d move in that direction. And we need to have a chemical policy reform. I mean, just look at the list of disasters that occurred from Love Canal in 1978, the Bhopal disaster of 1984, to Chernobyl in April 26, 1986. We’ve had Fukushima. We’ve had the Three Mile Island. We read down the list of toxic events.
We need to be more thoughtful. We need to be looking at the future, thinking about the sustainability of our globe.
DEBRA: Yes, absolutely. Well, we’ve only got about a minute left. So is there any final thing you’d like to say?
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I think toxicology and the history of toxicology is a very fun subject. I encourage people just to poke around at the website, try out this poster, and just learn a little bit more about the history. There are some great books out there about toxicology history.
But I think just enjoy it. It’s sort of a fun subject. It puts information in perspective. It puts our chemical use in perspective. We need to be cautious about the chemicals we use in our environment.
DEBRA: We do! And I think, looking at your chart, that was really interesting for me to go through and click through. I didn’t click through on every single one obviously. But to just go through and see those different things, see the different aspects of what we need to be looking at, and what the history is.
We have so much attention on what’s going on today that we don’t look in the past and see that this whole issue of what’s toxic and what’s not toxic, and how do we use the things that are toxic, how do we protect ourselves from things that are toxic, these have been issues that have been growing back since the beginning of time.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yes.
DEBRA: And this is just what we’re going through today, just our modern version of it.
Thank you so much. We’re out of time.
DR. STEVEN GILBERT: You’re very welcome.
DEBRA: This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd.