The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its latest assessment of the chemicals people are carrying around in their bodies.
The biomonitoring study is the most comprehensive in the world, measuring 212 chemicals in the blood and urine of 8,000 Americans.
The CDC highlighted a few chemicals because they are both widespread — found in all or most people tested — and potentially harmful.
Here’s a look at what they are and how you can try to avoid them:
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
Better known as “flame retardants”, PBDEs are used widely in all sorts of goods to reduce fire risk. They also accumulate in human fat, and some studies suggest they may harm your liver and kidneys as well as your neurological system. Some states have restricted the use of certain PBDEs, but short of such bans, avoiding them is difficult because the chemicals are integrated into so many products.
BPA, which is found in many plastics, in the lining of cans, and even coating many sales receipts, was found in more than 90 percent of Americans tested. The health concerns about BPA are many and growing. While BPA-free products are available, it can be difficult to find them unless you do research ahead of time.
PFOA and other perfluorinated chemicals are used to create heat-resistant and non-stick coatings on cookware, as well as grease-resistant food packaging and stain-resistant clothing. Studies have linked these chemicals to a range of health problems, including infertility in women, and to developmental and reproductive problems in lab animals. Avoiding products that contain them is a first step towards avoiding them.
Formed when carbohydrates are cooked at high temperatures, acrylamide and its metabolites are extremely common in Americans. High-level exposure has caused cancer and neurological problems in lab animals and workers, respectively. Avoiding it in food comes down to food choice, storage and preparation.
The main source of mercury — a potent neurotoxin that can lead to permanent brain damage if young children or fetuses are exposed — continues to be contaminated fish. I do not recommend eating most fish for this reason.
This gasoline additive has been phased out of use in the U.S. in favor of ethanol, but it still can be detected widely in American’s bodies; it has contaminated many drinking water supplies. Studies have linked it to a variety of potential problems, including neurological and reproductive damage.