Hundreds of thousands of artificial chemicals have been unleashed. Of these approximately 75,000 are in common use around the world, of which more than 3,500 are used in food processing.
Every year, half a billion kilograms of pesticide are deposited into the environment. Man-made, synthetic, and artificial chemicals - whichever term we use - are technically labelled xenobiotic, which means: strange or foreign to life. They affect the energy production of every cell in the body and thereby affect every system, in particular the immune system. The consequences may be allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, infertility, birth defects, artery disease, stroke, cancer or other conditions.
An important affect of toxic chemicals is the production of free radicals, highly destructive molecules, which cause tissue damage that may finally result in degenerative diseases.
To get an idea how widespread the pesticide contamination is: DDT residues have been found in penguins at the South Pole, thousands of kilometers away from where the pesticide was applied.
DDT and its metabolites have been found in most of the samples of human and animal tissues that have been tested. Toxic chemicals have been found in wild animals, in the oceans, in our drinking water, in our homes, in soils and in women's breast milk.
According to Eve Hillarys, author of "Children of a Toxic Harvest": " It has been difficult or impossible for the government to regulate this industrial bonanza and we are now living in a world without meaningful controls over toxic chemicals". Nor do we have any idea about the combined effects of different chemicals - synergism - in which the combination may be far more toxic than any of the originals alone.
Considering that most of these chemicals accumulate in our fatty tissue and that the brain is high in fat, the potential for harm from prolonged exposure is very high.
Although none of us can avoid some degree of contamination, there is a lot of unnecessary usage of chemicals which can easily be avoided. Minimizing exposure to chemicals can make the difference between health and a nightmare of difficult to explain symptoms.
However, the good news is, according to the environmental medicos, that if we avoid the chemicals that we can avoid, our bodies can probably cope with those that we can't avoid.
What follows is some practical advise about how to avoid the chemicals we can avoid and also show that we can reshape our environment and ecology through micro to macro actions, depending on the amount of time and energy at our disposal.
Exposure to xenobiotic chemicals comes mainly from four sources:
1. Atmospheric pollution
2. The food we eat
3. The water we drink
4. Chemicals in our homes and workplaces.
Air pollution comes mainly from motor vehicles, industry and cigarette smoke. Chemicals in food are basically the contamination from pesticides and herbicides, and the intentional adulteration with food additives. The problem chemicals we face in drinking water boils down to three main ones: chlorine, fluorine and aluminum. In homes and workplaces the chemicals can be numerous and varied.
Some, such as pesticides, we put there deliberately, while others outgas from paints, sealers, glues, cleaning products and dry-cleaned clothes.
We will now look at these in detail and see whether we can find safer alternatives.
These include carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and of sulphur, and some very nasty ones, such as carcinogenic benzene.
Tests in Sydney in 1988 found that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons emitted from motor vehicles and industry could account for 31 lung cancer deaths each year.
This is probably the tip of the iceberg. We may never know how many asthma deaths could be attributed to air pollution. The best thing about air pollution is to forget and to stop worrying about it.
However, there are some things we can do to keep away from the worst air pollution:
1. Use trains in preference to roads where possible.
2. If living near a busy road, shut the windows in peak hours and open them in quiet times and during the night.
3. If moving home, choose a locality where the prevailing winds are from the sea, mountains or deserts and where there is no industry or agricultural spraying.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of both lung cancer and heart disease. Passive smoking - breathing in someone else's smoke - can be just as dangerous.
According to the NSW Quit Campaign, passive smoking causes more deaths than AIDS and heroin overdose together. There are over 2000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, and they are so harmful that in many countries the cigarette butt is classified as toxic waste.
Self-protection is somewhat obvious:
1. For smokers, make a determined effort to quit smoking.
There are Government run QUIT Campaigns in most states and numerous privately run programs that make it much easier to brake the powerful nicotine addiction.
2. If you can't give up, do your smoking outdoors so that you don't pollute your home or workplace.
3. To avoid passive smoking, declare your home and car smoke-free zones.
4. If necessary, install a high grade air filter.
Contamination of food is widespread. An apple may have been sprayed 14 times with pesticides and other chemicals before we buy it.
However, due to public reaction, there is now a movement in agriculture to use less toxic and less persistent chemicals and more integrated pest management.
To gain massive insect kills with small amounts of chemicals, a lot of the pesticides that have been developed are highly toxic - so much so that many are linked with cancer, including numerous organochlorines (the DDT group),such as chlordane and dichlorvos.
Dioxin, a by-product of pesticide manufacture, is the deadliest known chemical on Earth.
It is linked to soft-tissue cancers at the stunningly low concentration of around two parts per Quintillion - that's two parts per million million million.
Some pesticides, including DDT, PCB's and dioxins are believed to contribute to infertility in men. In contrast, men who eat organically grown food are twice as fertile as those who don't.
It is possible to avoid most of the chemical menace:
1. Purchase organically grown food.
2. Grow your own vegetables if possible and/or grow sprouts indoors from organic seeds.
3. To remove surface residues, either peel fruit and vegetables (unfortunately, good minerals are just under the skin) or wash them in a safe, low toxicity cleanser, such as Nutriclean, Herbon, Tri Nature Chamomile or GNLD Green Personal Care Cleaner.
4. Select only in season fruit and vegetables to avoid chemicals that delay ripening, etc.
Many food additives are synthetically derived and some have been shown to cause allergic reactions, most commonly skin rashes, headaches, migraine and asthma. Some additives have been implicated in hyperactivity and ADD.
How to avoid them:
1. Eat a varied diet and use as much fresh and whole food as possible, minimize processed food.
2. When buying packaged food, read the list of ingredients and select food that contain the least additives.
3. Carry a food additives guide to help you avoid the most hazardous. On request, Australian Government Bookshops in all capital cities will supply copies of Food Additives Shopper's Guide, cat. no.9938032.