There is a lot of information out there about the risks of lead exposure, especially in children. This is a chemical that has been used in gasoline and paint for decades. It is a neurotoxin that damages the brains of children and causes learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and childhood developmental problems.

Environmental toxins are everywhere these days. Think about the food served at a restaurant, the chemicals used in everyday products, or even the air we breathe. These toxins can have a variety of effects, which are even more dangerous when they are combined with one another. Dangers of environmental toxins include cancers, infertility, hormonal disorders, neurological disorders, birth defects, and memory loss.

Environmental toxins are carcinogenic chemicals and endocrine disruptors of both human and natural origin, which can affect our health by disrupting delicate biological systems.

Here we look at what endocrine disruptors are, where they come from, and how you can minimize their effects to protect you and your family from their potentially harmful effects.

What are environmental toxins?

Environmental toxins include naturally occurring compounds such as. B. :

  • lead;
  • Mercury;
  • Radon;
  • Formaldehyde ;
  • Benzene; and
  • Cadmium.

This includes man-made chemicals such as :

  • GAP;
  • phthalates; and
  • Pesticides.

In toxic doses, all of these compounds can affect human health.  Many of them are well known:

  • cause cancer (radon, formaldehyde, benzene);
  • act as endocrine disruptors (BPA, pesticides, phthalates); and
  • cause organ failure or developmental abnormalities (lead, mercury, cadmium)

The toxicity of lead is a well-known example. People are often aware of potential sources of lead, such as. B. Old paint and piping.

Cadmium toxicity was first recognized in the 1950s and 1960s, and current policies limit industrial exposure.

Mercury is also a known poison. To learn more about the effects, visit the websites All About Nutrition and Mercury Toxicity.

Although these three environmental toxins are well known, this article focuses on compounds that are ubiquitous in the environment but less well regulated.  Suggestions are also made to reduce its effect.

Substances which disrupt the endocrine system

Endocrine disruptors include a wide range of natural and man-made substances that disrupt the body’s endocrine (hormonal and cell signaling) systems and can have adverse effects on development, reproduction, the neurological system, and the immune system.

The effects of endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors generally mimic estrogen and can be found in many products we use every day:

  • certain plastic bottles and containers;
  • Bags for cans ;
  • Detergent ;
  • Flame retardant ;
  • Toys;
  • cosmetic products, and
  • Pesticides.

In particular, industrially produced bisphenol A (BPA) compounds, pesticides and phthalates are among the most potentially harmful.

Studies show that endocrine disruptors pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development, when the organs and nervous system are formed. Pregnant women, nursing mothers and pregnant women planning to become pregnant should be very careful.

GAP: What is it, where is it and how can I reduce it?

Much of the concern about endocrine disruptors has focused on BPA, a compound widely used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins used in food and beverage containers, baby and water bottles, can lids, bottle caps and water pipes. In addition, BPA may be present in thermal receipts, although exposure to these products is considered minimal.

Exposure to low doses of BPA can cause a variety of physiological problems, including:

  • Obesity;
  • Infertility;
  • aggressive behavior;
  • early onset of puberty;
  • Hormone-dependent cancers, such as. B. Prostate and breast cancer; and
  • reduce testosterone levels and sperm production.

Exposure to BPA occurs when the chemical leaks into food and water, especially when plastic containers are washed, heated or loaded. The highest estimated daily intake of BPA is found in infants and children.

In fact, 93% of children age 6 and older have detectable levels of BPA in their urine, and a 2011 study found that 96% of American women also have detectable levels. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to label BPA a toxic substance. The European Union and Canada are now banning BPA in baby bottles.

The good news is that BPA is quickly eliminated from the body. A 2011 study found that BPA levels in participants’ urine dropped by 66% when they ate their regular food for three days, followed by canned and packaged foods.

To reduce exposure to BPA:

  • Minimize the use of plastic containers with #7 or #3 on the bottom.
  • Do not heat plastic food containers in the microwave or wash them in the dishwasher or with strong detergents.
  • Reduce your consumption of canned foods and eat mostly fresh or frozen foods.
  • Whenever possible, choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel cups, trays, water bottles and travel mugs.
  • Use BPA-free bottles (or better yet, glass bottles) and look for toys labeled BPA-free.

Pesticides What are they, where are they and how can I reduce their impact?

Pesticides are substances used to kill, repel or control certain harmful forms of plant or animal life. These include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, disinfectants and compounds used for rodent control. More than 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

Conventional food production mainly uses pesticides, so people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets. Although the effects of pesticide residues on human health are not entirely clear, studies by the National Institutes of Health have found that farmers who use agricultural insecticides suffer from headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, shaky hands and other neurological symptoms, and that licensed pesticide users have a 20 to 200 percent higher risk of developing diabetes.

Other data showed that people who reported being regularly exposed to pesticides were 70% more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than those who did not report such exposure.

Children have also been shown to be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of pesticide exposure, including neurodevelopmental disorders. This is probably due to the fact that children eat more food in proportion to their size. They also play in the soil and linger on the ground where pesticides can accumulate.

Limiting exposure to pesticides :

  • Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables, organic or not.
  • Buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, especially those with the highest pesticide content: apples, strawberries, celery, peaches and spinach. For more information, see the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.
  • Grow your own!

Phthalates: What are they, where are they and how can I reduce their impact?

Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics softer. They are found in a variety of products, including bottles, shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, nail polish and deodorants. Historically, most soft plastics contained large amounts of phthalates. Fortunately, they are being phased out in the United States and Europe as people become more aware of their risks.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has found that prenatal exposure to phthalates is associated with adverse development of the sex organs and can significantly reduce male behavior in boys. Women with high exposure to phthalates during pregnancy report significantly more aggressive behavior in their children, and other NIEHS studies have shown that phthalate exposure can cause thyroid abnormalities in adults.

Fortunately, phthalates, like BPA, are quickly eliminated from the body when exposure is reduced. The same study, which found a significant reduction in BPA levels just three days after participants stopped consuming canned and packaged foods, also showed that urinary phthalate levels dropped by 53-56% during the same period.

To reduce exposure to phthalates:

  • Minimize the use of plastic with recycling code #3.
  • Use PVC-free packaging. Buy cling film and plastic bags and use glass containers. If you are using plastic containers, do not microwave or reheat them.
  • Choose phthalate-free toys. Many major toy manufacturers have pledged to eliminate the use of phthalates. However, make sure the toy is made of polypropylene or polyethylene.
  • Buy cosmetics without phthalates. Avoid nail polish, perfume, cologne and other scented products that contain phthalates. Many flavored products simply list a perfume as an ingredient, which often contains a number of different chemicals, including phthalates. Try to keep the use of these products to a minimum. For more information on phthalate-free cosmetics and personal care products, visit the National Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a database of cosmetics and their ingredients.


Hundreds of chemicals can cause cancer in humans or animals after prolonged or excessive exposure. Chemical-induced cancers usually develop many years after exposure to a toxic substance. For example, mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer) can develop 30 years after exposure to asbestos.

In 2010, the U.S. President’s Commission on Cancer stated in a report:

The real burden of environmental cancers has been grossly underestimated….. This group of carcinogens has not been adequately addressed in the National Cancer Control Programme. The American people – even before they are born – are constantly bombarded with countless combinations of these dangerous influences.

According to the report, about 80,000 chemicals are used commercially in the United States, but only about 2% of them have been evaluated for safety.

The cancer panel report identifies radon, formaldehyde and benzene as the main environmental toxins that cause cancer.

Radon: What is it, where is it and how can I reduce it?

Radon is a colourless, odourless and radioactive gas. It is formed by the natural decay of uranium or thorium, which is present in almost all soils. It usually rises through the soil and enters the house through cracks in floors, walls and foundations.

The movement of radon from the ground into the house.

It can also be released from building materials or well water. Radon decays rapidly, releasing radioactive particles. Prolonged contact with these particles can lead to lung cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States, with 1 in 20 homes in the U.S. having high levels. Radon exposure is the second most common cause of lung cancer after smoking and the most common cause in non-smokers.

Many lung cancer deaths from radon can be prevented by testing for radon and taking steps to lower radon levels in homes where it is high. This process is called radon reduction.

To reduce radon exposure:

  • Check the air in your house. It is simple and not expensive.
  • If you use a well, check your water too.

Formaldehyde: What is it, where is it and how can I reduce it?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical used in building materials and in the manufacture of many household products. It also occurs naturally and is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes. Several government agencies have classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

Sources of formaldehyde in the home include pressed wood products such as particle board and plywood, glues and adhesives, permanent presses, cigarette smoke, and fuel-powered appliances. In addition, formaldehyde is widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.

Studies of formaldehyde-exposed workers have shown an association between formaldehyde exposure and certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. Rats exposed to formaldehyde fumes developed nasal cancer.

To reduce exposure to formaldehyde:

  • Use pressed wood products on the outside to reduce formaldehyde exposure on the inside.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation and moderate temperatures.
  • Reduce humidity with air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
  • Follow the natural path and grow plants in your home.

Benzene: What is it, where is it and how can I reduce it?

Benzene is a colourless liquid that evaporates quickly. It occurs naturally in crude oil and is an important petrochemical. Unfortunately, it is also a known human carcinogen.

Benzene is found in tobacco smoke, petrol (and therefore car exhaust), pesticides, synthetic fibres, plastics, printing ink, oils and detergents. Benzene has also been found in the fumes of flavored detergents and dryer sheets, as well as in soft drinks, although their composition has since changed to exclude it.

About 50% of benzene exposure in the United States comes from smoking or secondhand smoke.

There is considerable evidence that benzene may be associated with aplastic anemia, bone marrow abnormalities and leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia (ANL).

To reduce exposure to benzene:

  • Do not smoke and try to avoid passive smoking.
  • Make sure your home is adequately ventilated.
  • Use unscented detergents.
  • Keep the plants inside.


Environmental toxins can have serious health consequences when they accumulate, but it is important to remember that the poison is in the dose. Problems usually occur with prolonged exposure or overexposure; accidentally using a plastic cup probably won’t hurt!

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate exposure (and it might drive you crazy!), a few simple steps can help protect you and your family:

  • Reduce the use of plastic – opt for glass, stainless steel and porcelain containers, mugs and cups.
  • Wash all foods and buy organic options from the dirty dozen whenever possible.
  • Use fewer products with the word perfume.
  • Check the air and water in your home for radon.
  • No smoking.
  • Keep lots of plants in the house.

You don’t have to worry about accidental exposure to toxins in the environment. Find simple ways to reduce your daily stress. Make the changes slowly, one at a time and in an accessible way, and you will reduce your risk with minimal stress.


Click here to see the sources of information referenced in this article.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Rudel RA, et al. Food packaging and exposure to bisphenol A and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate: Results of a nutrition intervention. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul;119(7):914-20.

Smith, MT. Advances in the understanding of health effects and sensitivity to benzene. Ann Rev Pub Health. 2010;31:133-48.

Swan SH, et al. Prenatal exposure to phthalates and reduced male play in boys. Int J Androl. 2010 Apr;33(2):259-69.

Brown JM, et al. Effects of early childhood exposure to bisphenol A on behavior and executive functions in children. Pediatrics. 2011 ; 128(5):873-882

President’s cancer team report for 2010

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can you protect yourself from environmental toxins?

There are many ways to protect yourself from environmental toxins. Some of these include: -Wear a mask when you are around chemicals or pollutants. -Avoid eating foods that have been sprayed with pesticides. -Avoid using products that contain toxic chemicals, such as hairspray and nail polish remover.

What can Environmental toxins do to you?

Environmental toxins can cause a variety of health problems. Some examples are: -Cancer -Birth defects -Liver damage -Kidney damage -Brain damage -Neurological disorders -Immune system problems -Respiratory problems -Skin problems -Hearing loss -Vision loss -Hearing loss -Vision loss -Liver damage -Kidney damage -Brain damage -Neurological disorders -Immune system problems -Respiratory problems -Skin problems

What is an example of an environmental toxin?

A common example of an environmental toxin is lead.

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