Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Age of Chemistry and Our Bodies

2D structure of antibacterial / antifungal age...Image via WikipediaMan-made chemicals now found in human tissue samples now stands at 287, including bisphenol A, found in many plastics; triclosan, found in antibacterial soap; a dozen perfluorinated chemicals, such as PFOA used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware; and 29 volatile chemicals, such as the gasoline additive MTBE.
About The Chemicals In Our Bodies

We are in the Age of Chemistry for sure.  According to the Environmental Working Group, "There are currently more than 80,000 chemicals in consumer goods, with little or no safety information about their impact on human health."  I don't think the EPA has the ability, or the funding to test all the chemicals and all the appliances that we are now manufacturing.  When you add to the decrease in oversight caused by the globalization of manufacturing, you can also include that there are now known safety risks that are conveniently being ignored for the sake of profit as more goods are manufactured in countries with lax regulations.

 Why is this important for someone like me who is very interested in neuroscience?  There is a very active interest in how environmental toxins trigger autistic responses.  No one from the main stream community will come out and give definitive guidance but there is a certain gathering together of the medical herd that is running in this direction; but there is a lot of hemming and hawing about the link between genes and the environment. 
  Doctors looking at all sorts of things  from chelation to remove heavy metals (recently contraindicated by the FDA) to mitochondrial enzymes. 

A big problem with autism studies seems to be controlling for the heterogeneity of the disease.  Autism is a spectrum disorder so how do you construct proper controls for the studies so that you are comparing like to like?

It would be nice if someone did this research and regulation for you. Last year, Congress tried to pass the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make it easier for EPA to take dangerous chemicals off the market and ensure that the substitutes are safe. But this was shot down by industry lobbying.

So what to do?  Avoid every good produced by a factory and go back to nature?  Produce, weave, spin, or grow your own?  Hardly a solution for modern life today.   Bone up on Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Environemental Chemistry and learn about manufacturing processes for every product in your house?  Rather overwelming, don't you think so?  

New chemicals are being discovered and introduced into industrial processes at a dizzying rate.  We are on the verge of a singularity, a point where everything changes, brought on by the convergence of new discoveries in nanotechnology, biotechnology, green chemistry, information technology and cognitive science.  Establishing studies and risk assessment in each of these domains in a timely manner will be hard enough to manage-- never mind the cross cutting impacts of the convergence of each field.  It will be hard enough to catch up with the impact of what current products are doing to us -- never mind, future products.

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