Monday, May 27, 2013

Aerotoxic Syndrome

It's vacation season, which for some people means air travel. Hopping on a plane can certainly save travel time, but is not without its challenges. Some of the challenges (like weather delays and security-related issues) are well-known, but others, which are potentially much more problematic, are rarely discussed.

A potentially serious problem related to airplane travel is something unofficially called aerotoxic syndrome. Aerotoxic syndrome results when people experience negative health effects from breathing toxins that often circulate in commercial airline cabins. An article in Natural News explains that airplanes were originally supplied with mechanical compressors that produced breathable cabin air for passengers. Currently, however, most planes, for cost-cutting reasons, provide cabin air that has been drawn from from the engines. Unfortunately, this air, called "bleed air,"  is often contaminated with problematic compounds. These include chemicals from engine oil and particles of heavy metals such as  nickel, beryllium and cadmium.

An article entitled Toxic Hazard Threatens Airline Passengers notes that one of the compounds often found in bleed air is an organophosphate known as tricresyl phosphate, or TCP. Organophosphates are nerve agents, often used in pesticides, which have been banned by many countries. The article notes that a group of journalists tested 31 commercial aircraft cabins and found TCP in 28 of them.

The air inside most airline cabins is noted to contain about 60 percent bleed air. Unfortunately for pilots, the air they breathe is generally 100% bleed air. Earlier this year, a British publication reported on the deaths of two British Airways pilots who died within a week of each other. Both believed they had been made ill by toxic airplane air. Lawyers quoted in the article note that aerotoxic syndrome may one day be seen as "the new asbestos."

Other than choosing not to fly, there are no easy answers for passengers who wish to protect themselves from toxins in airplane air. It's not as if opening a window is an option. There are, however, a few things that may be of help:

  • Wear a mask. Masks have their problems (as noted in a previous post), but they can provide a degree of protection.

  • Keep your total body load of chemicals as low as possible. If you use nontoxic personal care and cleaning products, you may be better able to handle the exposures you can't control.

  • Consider taking protective supplements. Many people find that taking antioxidants like Vitamin C helps their body process toxins more efficiently.

  • Consider flying with one of the airlines that are primary users of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been designed to avoid the problem of bleed air. Currently, the primary users of the plane are Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, and Air India.

If you're headed out for vacation soon, I wish you an enjoyable trip and lots of clean, fresh air.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chemicals and Conception

Celebrating Mother's Day yesterday reminded me again of what a blessing it is to be the mother of two amazing young men. As I ponder the gift of motherhood, I can't help but think of a number of people I know who would very much like to be parents, but have found that goal difficult to achieve. There are many possible reasons for infertility, but a factor that may be overlooked, and that can be controlled to an extent, is exposure to chemical toxins. (How did you know I was going to say that?)

Earlier this year, the journal Environmental  Health Perspectives published a study that examined "persistent pollutants" and the time to pregnancy of couples wishing to conceive. The study and a report of it published in E Magazine noted the following:

  • Couples exposed to toxins known as persistent organic pollutants took longer to become pregnant.

  • Men’s chemical exposures were more important to the equation than their partners'.

  • The concentration of chemicals found to delay conception was lower than the average found in the U.S. population.

An online article entitled "Toxins and Fertilitynotes that only about 5 percent of the almost 80,000 chemicals used in the US today have been tested for their reproductive effects. Despite that, we do know that certain chemicals may cause problems for couples wishing to become parents. The article and a fact sheet produced by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families list the following chemicals that may affect reproduction:

  • Phthalates, which are widely used and may be found in nail polish, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, antiperspirant, sunscreen, gum, candy, medications, and many other places

  • Parabens, added to a wide range of household products, including bath products and cosmetics

  • Bisphenol A (BPA), which can be found in polycarbonate plastic and some food and beverage can linings

  • Cadmium, a metal used in pigments, metal coatings, plastics, and batteries

  • Fluoride, added to many municipal water supplies

  • Common pesticides and fungicides, including Vinclozolinis, Kepone, DBCP, ethylene dibromide, and  Methoxychlor (MCX)

  • Triclosan (Microban),found in anti-bacterial soaps, dental products, cosmetics, deodorant, first aid products, kitchenware, appliances, toys, and more

The chemicals listed are linked to a wide range of other health effects as well. Avoiding them benefits us all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Take a Stand, Part Two

Last week I wrote about the Safe Chemicals Act and a simple way for us all to take a stand for a healthier world.  This week I have another effort to report. A coalition of groups is calling on major retailers to phase out use of more than 100 problematic chemicals, and they could use our help.

The effort is known as the Mind the Store campaign. In a USA Today articlean individual associated with the group Safer Chemicals: Healthy Families explains that since the federal government isn’t minding the store, the retailers need to act independently. He praises former, positive actions, but notes that the efforts have been inadequate because of the sheer magnitude of the chemical problem.

The Safer Chemicals: Healthy Families website explains that the coalition working on the effort joined forces because of a shared  frustration with the government's failure to protect its citizens from the dangers of toxic chemicals. The site further notes that "most importantly we came together with a shared moral urgency to reduce the suffering caused by chronic diseases like cancer, disabilities and autism that are linked to chemical exposure. It is that moral urgency that drove the campaign's steering committee to launch Mind the Store."

Recently, I heard a speaker on a Christian radio program state that he didn't believe a certain environmental issue was a Christian or moral issue at all. I was frankly stunned by that statement. The environment, including the environment inside our homes and churches, directly affects the health of human beings, who are the crown of God's creation. If our lack of concern for the air we share (as well as for land, water, and food.) hurts ourselves and others, how can that not be considered a moral issue? I strongly believe that Christians should not only be part of efforts to make the world a healthier place, but should lead the charge.

To learn more about the effort to influence retailers and the chemicals being targeted, visit the Mind the Store website. The site provides an easy way to join the cause and send a letter in support of the initiative. The issue matters, and when we make our voices heard, that can matter, too.