Opinion: What poisons are in your body?

Before I tell you about my urine, let me stress that it should have been clean.

Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity, and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip.

Believe me, the scariest horror stories are found in urology journals.

So I’ve tried for years now to limit my exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Following the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel, I eat organic to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in pesticides. I try to store leftover meals in glass containers, not plastic. I avoid handling ATM and gas station receipts.

Those are all common sources of toxic endocrine disruptors, so I figured that my urine would test pristine.

Silent Spring Institute near Boston, which studies chemical safety, offers a “Detox Me Action Kit” to help consumers determine what harmful substances are in their bodies. Following instructions, I froze two urine samples and Fed-Exed them off for analysis.

By the way, the testing is for women, too. Men may wince as they read about miniaturized alligator penises, but endocrine disruptors have also been linked to breast cancer and gynecological cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns women that endocrine disruptors can also cause miscarriages, fetal defects and much more.

Sure enough, I had a low level of BPA, best known because plastic bottles now often boast “BPA Free.”

But even a diligent student like me failed the test. Badly. I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful. BPF is similar to that substance that made those mice do back flips.

My urine had an average level of an endocrine disruptor called triclosan, possibly from soap or toothpaste. Like most people, I also had chlorinated phenols (perhaps from mothballs in my closet).

I had a high level of a flame retardant called triphenyl phosphate, possibly from a floor finish, which may be “neurotoxic.”

Will these endocrine disruptors give me cancer? Make me obese? Make my genitals fall off? Nobody really knows.

The steps I took did help, and I recommend that others consult consumer guides at ewg.org to reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals.

Yet my takeaway is also that chemical-industry lobbyists have rigged the system so that we consumers just can’t protect ourselves adequately.

The Trump administration has magnified the problem by relaxing regulation of substances like chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical’s nerve gas pesticide. The swamp has won.

So the saddest lesson is that even if you understand the peril and try to protect yourself and your family — as I strongly suggest you do — your body may still be tainted. The chemical companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying and have gotten the lightest regulation that money can buy.

They are running the show, and we consumers are their lab mice.

Writes for The New York Times.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Podcast much more than economics

There are so many things to lament about the modern world — fracturing families, the rise of authoritarianism, the rage for torn jeans — but there is also much to celebrate and savor. One is the abundance of great conversation available through podcasts. There’s my own, of course, “Need to Know,” and then there is the...
Opinion: Springtime for sycophants

When Donald Trump came to office, many feared that he would break up our close economic relations with Mexico and/or start a trade war with China. So far, neither has happened. It’s true that our free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada is still under threat, and Trump has placed tariffs on some Chinese goods. But his trade ire seems increasingly...
Opinion: Good leaders make good schools

The solutions to the nation’s problems already exist somewhere out in the country; we just do a terrible job of circulating them. For example, if you want to learn how to improve city schools, look how Washington, New Orleans and Chicago are already doing it. Since 2011 the graduation rate at Chicago public schools has increased at nearly four...
Opinion: The real Down syndrome ‘problem’

Iceland must be pleased that it is close to success in its program of genocide, but before congratulating that nation on its final solution to the Down syndrome problem, perhaps it might answer a question: What is this problem? To help understand why some people might ask this question, keep in mind two children while reading today’s column....
Opinion: In defense of cultural appropriation

I’m here to defend cultural appropriation. “Cross-cultural influence,” would be the less pejorative phrase. But the term above, with its connotations of grand-theft culture, is the one favored by some African-American activists who’ve had it up to here with nonblack performers borrowing the soul and style of Michael, Marvin...
More Stories