by Sophia Ruan Gushée
From afar, over many years, I have felt deep gratitude for Dr. David Carpenter’s career and portfolio of work.
Dr. Carpenter serves many roles for the benefit of public health. A short list from Dr. Carpenter’s dedicated career include:
During my research for my book A to Z of D-Toxing, I was always grateful when I came across Dr. Carpenter’s work and could read his opinions, whether in testimonies to protect children from WiFi radiation in schools, or in one of his published works.
As a concerned mother who was trying to figure out a rational level of concern regarding my family’s avoidable toxic exposures, I found comfort in Dr. Carpenter’s informed perspectives because he is a public health physician (who also happens to be a graduate of Harvard Medical School), AND Dr. Carpenter is one of the few physicians who has expertise in how human health and development may be affected by the average person’s exposures to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields.
Even though I come from a family of physicians (my dad is a retired OBGYN and my brother is a radiologist), I had to ask Dr. Carpenter to explain what exactly is a public health physician. As a public health physician, Dr. Carpenter studies diseases in the population, looking for environmental contributors to diseases seen in the population.
Through my study of an average family’s toxic exposures and how to live a practical nontoxic lifestyle, I’ve accumulated questions that no one has answers to. But Dr. Carpenter’s perspectives are among the most informed and holistic ones to contribute towards figuring out responses to my questions. And that’s what you’ll be hearing more about in this podcast.
Dr. Carpenter has been on my wishlist of people to talk to for years because of his unique insights and experience. Once I had the chance, I couldn’t keep the conversation to an hour. I had so many questions that my conversation with him will be shared with you over two podcasts.
In this first podcast with Dr. Carpenter, I explore questions that can help you with practical choices. Topics covered include:
I hope you find this episode helpful! And I would love to hear your thoughts on it. You can visit my website at NontoxicLiving.tips to find the various ways you can reach out or follow my journey for practical nontoxic living.
In part 2, Dr. Carpenter and I talk about electromagnetic fields (he is co-editor of the pioneering Bioiniative Report, which resulted from an international collaboration of scientists to review the hundreds of studies that have examined how our daily exposures to EMFs may influence our health. And I ask Dr. Carpenter’s thoughts on grounding and various EMF protection products.
Sophia: I’m so excited to talk to you. I've been admiring your work for years.
David Carpenter: Well, thank you very much.
Sophia: And as a parent to three girls, I’m so grateful for what you do.
David: Well, it’s never enough. We don’t seem to make a lot of headway but we keep trying.
Sophia: Do you feel that we’re not making a lot of headway?
David: Yes, I do. There are a variety of issues I work with. Certainly the radiofrequency fields is a major one and we’re just rolling out more and more sources of exposure. I also do a lot of things with chemicals and it’s the same issue there that we keep bringing out new chemicals that haven't been adequately tested. And then we find that some we've been using for years are very dangerous and it’s closing the barn door after the horse is out.
Sophia: To begin with, I read you’re a public health physician. What does that mean? Do you still see patients or do you work more on public policies?
David: No, I’m not licensed to practice medicine. What a public health physician is it’s someone that has training as a medical doctor but they don’t see patients. Public health is a profession where we look at diseases in the population. So we don’t study individual people but we study lots and lots of people.
In my case, what I am focused on is environmental causes of human disease. We look in the population and see what exposures cause asthma, what causes cancer, what causes high blood pressure, what causes diabetes. That kind of thing. We try to, by using large populations, we can sort out greater exposure to this or greater exposure to that and how that relates to the diseases that we’re studying.
Sophia: Wonderful. You're also Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany. I read that that institute is a collaborating center of the World Health Organization. I’m just wondering, what does that mean that you're a collaborating center?
David: What it does mean is that the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t give us any money, which would be nice if they did. But it’s a reflection of the fact that I've been working with the WHO for many years in different countries, again, focused on these issues of what causes human disease, particularly with regard to children. Collaborating center is, in general, just called environmental health. But I work with a number of other people that have specifically children’s environmental health collaborating centers.
Part of the philosophy there is that children are the most vulnerable parts of our society. Their bodies are just growing and developing and if some environmental exposure messes things up when you're a child, you're likely to be left with problems the rest of your life.
Now, some of the things that I've been studying, a number of colleagues have been studying, are chemicals that people are exposed to including fetuses before birth through the mother’s body and how exposure to those chemicals alters IQ and attention span and ability to deal with frustration and all of these factors that determine how efficient one can be in human life on the basis of your brain function. We find just extraordinarily a large number of chemicals that alter intelligence, alter IQ, alter attention span, so this is particularly important to children.
Almost all of those same chemicals will affect memory and intelligence functions in adults as well but if you mess up with the brain of a child they're likely to be left their whole life with less than adequate nervous system function.
Sophia: Yes. I often say that since World War II there have been more than 84,000 chemicals introduced into American commerce. Every year, I've read that it’s anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 new chemicals introduced. I learned about this general topic while taking care of an infant and being pregnant with more children and breastfeeding and it was so overwhelmingly upsetting to feel like my children, whether in the womb or just postnatally, were exposed to so many chemicals that threaten their brain development and all parts of them.
What would you say, like what portion of a child’s exposure, whether prenatally or postnatally, can be reduced by what a mom chooses to do? Because there's a certain level that’s just in the air that we can’t control immediately. We can use water filters and that will help, but how much of a fetus’ exposure is from what a mother chooses to eat and have in her home and put on her skin and those sorts of things?
David: That’s a wonderful question and there, unfortunately, is not a simple answer. So let me talk about a few things.
One of the big concerns we have now are these products that are in deodorants and personal care products and shampoos. Women are exposed particularly even more than men because they tend to use more personal care products. Phthalates are one of the major compounds there and we know that these are what we call endocrine disruptors. In other words, these mimic the female’s sex hormone estrogen. If a woman is pregnant with a baby boy, that baby boy is going to be exposed to the phthalates in the mother’s body and that’s going to disrupt their sexual development because they activate estrogen receptors.
Now, males and females all have female sex hormones and male sex hormones. It’s just they're in different ratios. One of the concerns is the feminization of baby boys. I just this morning printed out a scientific paper that talked about play behavior of boys depending on whether their mothers were exposed to phthalates or not. Highly exposed baby boys preferred dolls to guns, which some mothers think is a good thing but it’s not normal.
Now, the answer there is that these phthalates don’t stay in the body very long. So if you stop exposure at the time you become pregnant or reduce your exposure - it’s almost impossible to stop it completely - but if you reduce your exposure and become pregnant, the phthalates disappear from your body.
I've done a lot of things with contaminants that are in fish and there are two major categories there. There's the methylmercury, the organic mercuries, and there are the PCBs and chlorinated pesticides like DDT. The issue there is they stay in the body much longer than phthalates do but they have different half lives.
For methylmercury, if you ate a contaminated fish with methylmercury last night for dinner, you'll have about half of that methylmercury in your body 70 days from now. Then a quarter of it will be in your body 140 days. So it slowly is taken out of the body, much more slowly than phthalates are.
But if you plan to have a baby and you're concerned about the effects of methylmercury on the baby’s IQ, which is an appropriate concern, if you stop eating contaminated fish a year before you get pregnant there won’t be any more methylmercury in your body.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for PCBs and DDT and all these organic chlorine compounds because it takes about 10 years for you to get half of those out of your body. So if you ate a contaminated fish with PCBs last night for dinner, you'll still have half of those PCBs in your body 10 years from now. So for a young girl, if she wants to reduce her content of PCBs, she should not be eating contaminated fish when she's 10 years old. Even then, if she had a contaminated meal when she's 10, she's still going to have half of those PCBs when she's 20 and a quarter of them when she's 30.
The point is that there are many chemicals and you really have to know about each one individually, which of course is almost impossible for the general public to do. That’s one of the reasons that I think we want to try to encourage people to become more aware of the different categories of chemicals, how long they stay in the environment, what they do, how they might affect your baby and what you can do to reduce the exposure.
Sophia: Great. It sounds like as soon as a woman starts cleaning up her life with this consideration of toxic chemicals in their diet and household products, there is a level of detoxing that will occur because those chemicals that can leave the body will, so the sooner she can do that before pregnancy the better.
Would you speak more about one’s body burden? Because, like you were saying about PCBs and other chemicals that stay in our body longer, when a woman does become pregnant, or even if we’re not talking about pregnancy, we all have a certain body burden. I've been wondering from my research how one’s body burden can create unintended cocktail effects with our continued exposures throughout life.
I read, for example, let me think if I can remember correctly. I believe it was lead. There's a chemical that could be stored in your body, maybe the bones. But if a woman during pregnancy, or any other time, doesn’t get enough calcium then… maybe it was lead or something will be released. But the idea is that your body can store chemicals then during certain stages of life maybe you've lost a lot of weight, you're pregnant and breastfeeding, they couldn’t get released and then mix with something, like a medication you're taking or inhaling the fumes from your cleaning products. Is that a possibility?
David: Yes, and your example is just right on. Lead is stored in the bone. It’s closely related structurally to calcium and calcium is the main element in bone. When you become pregnant, calcium is released from the bone to assist in the development of bones in the child. So if you have a lot of lead in your bone, the lead gets released along with the calcium. And lead is a very toxic metal to the developing fetus because it interferes with cognitive function. So the child can be less bright than they would have been if they had not been exposed to lead.
For any chemical, there is a body burden and it depends on if it’s stored and, if so, where it’s stored. Many metals are stored in bones and teeth and many metals have toxicity. Cadmium is another example. Or radioactive metals like uranium are stored in the bone. Sometimes they just sit there but when they're released in the circulation that’s when they usually have their most dangerous effect, although radioactivity in bone could be very dangerous because it can generate bone cancer or leukemias because of the fact that the white blood cells develop in the bone marrow.
Now, other chemicals nearly aren’t stored very much so they go in the blood supply and they're relatively rapidly released. But then you have a whole variety of chemicals that are more fat soluble than they are water soluble and these are stored in the body fat. This is one case where it’s probably a good thing to be overweight, because if you have more fat you have a larger reservoir for storing these fat soluble chemicals when what really is dangerous is the amount of the chemicals that are in the blood supply that are circulating in the body. So a very obese person may have high body burden of PCBs and DDT and chemicals like that but the amount that you would measure in the blood sample may not be as great as that in a skinny person that also has a fair bit of exposure. But because they don’t have as large a fat mass in their body, what’s in their blood can be even higher than in the fat person.
There are dangers, then, if you suddenly lose a lot of weight because losing weight can reduce your amount of body fat. But in chemicals that are very difficult to destroy in the body, like PCBs and DDT, then suddenly the concentration that’s in your blood can go much higher. Another example of why weight control is better done in a gradual basis rather than sudden starvation.
Sophia: So that your body has the opportunity to detox.
David: That’s exactly right. Because the body is very good at detoxification. It’s better at some things than in others, but the body will slowly get rid of things. On the other hand, for some chemicals that we are all exposed to the food supply, and PCB is a good example, in general, the levels in a person’s body are going to increase as that person gets older. That’s because we usually take more of them in. We take them in at a more rapid rate than we can degrade and excrete them.
Sophia: How healthful is sweating via exercise? Infrared saunas are a popular thing now in Manhattan. Are there things we can do that really help us detox?
David: Well, detoxification is very difficult. I've been involved in a study using saunas. Sauna makes you sweat and so a sauna can help the body be rid of things that are water soluble, so that does include some metals. There's of course a danger in losing too much salt because our body needs salt but saunas, in general, are a very healthy practice.
Now, they're not going to help a lot with the chemicals that are fat soluble. There is some release of what’s called sebum which is a fat soluble substance from little pores around the nose and the face and a few other parts of the body but nobody has really demonstrated that that is significant in terms of getting rid of fat soluble compounds. Beyond that, there are then these efforts…
The story I like the best is the chemist somewhere in Europe that tried to kill his wife by poisoning her with dioxin. First of all, it’s a stupid way to try to poison your wife. Dioxin doesn’t kill people fast. It certainly is a carcinogen but it takes many, many years. What they found was that this woman developed all kinds of skin lesions and some bright guy took a blood sample and figured out that her husband tried to kill her by giving her dioxin.
Well, how do you get dioxin out of the body? This is a fat soluble chemical. What they used to reduce the concentration was olestra, which is a kind of fat, a lipid that isn’t digested. So you eat this, and in this country you can buy Pringles potato chips with olestra, and so the dioxin, instead of being absorbed from the intestine, was going the other way, coming into the intestine from the body. That slowly reduced her body burden.
I think the husband went to jail for attempted murder.
Sophia: I don't know why I’m laughing. That’s not funny.
David: It’s not funny but it is still an interesting story. There are some problems with this. It’s not being widely used to get rid of fat soluble chemicals for several reasons. First of all, it gives you terrible diarrhea, which is not pleasant, and, secondly, we all require constant intake of fat soluble vitamins. If you're eating all these nonabsorbable lipids then you never absorb your fat soluble vitamins, like Vitamin A, Vitamin D.
So the few people that are taking these drugs under medical supervision will stay on them for maybe five days then go off them for two then go back on for five and take supplements of the fat soluble vitamins on the days they're not taking the olestra, but it’s a pretty extreme way to try to detoxify your body.
Sophia: I have read that it seems like there aren’t a lot of studies on how certain foods could protect against certain chemicals, but there have been some. What are your thoughts on how diet may protect us from our toxic exposures?
David: I don't think that diet is going to protect you very much except by choosing a diet that doesn’t consist of contaminated foods. I’m very skeptical of some of the claims that you eat this and it’s going to help your body get rid of chemicals. I really don’t think there's a lot of evidence for that. But unfortunately, our diet is a major source of our exposure to many nasty things. Again, I've talked a lot about PCBs and DDT but you can’t have a Big Mac and you can’t have a glass of whole milk, you can’t eat an egg without getting some of these chemicals because they're fat soluble so they're in all of the animal fats and they're totally distributed through our food supply. The concentrations are not terribly high but they're still there.
I was on a panel of the Institute of Medicine a few years ago about dioxins in the food supply and one of the things they informed us at that meeting is that it’s common practice in the U.S. when an animal, say a cow, is sent to a butcher, there's all this cow fat that nobody wants in their food. So what they do is take all that cow fat and make it into food for other cows. Cow fat has all the chemicals that have accumulated in over the years and if you make that into cow food, well, you're just passing it to the next generation of cows.
There came this story of mad cow disease when there were some cows in Canada that were found to have mad cow disease. Everybody got scared of eating cow fat so now what we do, we feed the cow fat to pigs and chickens and we feed the chicken fat and the pig fat to cows but we still recycle all these chemicals.
So the obvious thing would be let’s stop that practice of recycling waste and animal fat. It’s efficient. First of all, what do you do with the fat if you don’t feed it to something? You'll have to bury it. And it’s cost effective. So that has been a major factor why we still have all these fat soluble chemicals in most of our food that contains animal products in the fat part of the food.
Sophia: Do you eat a vegetarian diet? How has your expertise guided your diet choices?
David: I certainly do not eat a vegetarian diet. I’m very much a carnivore and I like my meat. On the other hand, I have a farm and I raise a lot of my own meat. I know what my animals eat and I’m very careful about that.
I was a member of the team that looked at contaminants in salmon a number of years ago. What we found in that study was that farmed salmon, which are cheap and available year round, had about ten times the amount of pesticides and dioxins and PCBs that wild Pacific salmon had. Well, I don't eat farmed salmon. The wild salmon is more expensive but it contains much [fewer?] levels of contaminants. I should say that farmed salmon industry has made some progress in reducing the levels of contaminants in the food that the salmon are fed because that was, again, the source. The salmon are locked up in a cage and they get the contaminants from what food they're fed. But they still are more contaminated than the wild salmon in general.
Sophia: Is wild salmon from certain oceans, like the Pacific, cleaner than wild salmon from other waters, like the Atlantic?
David: In the first place, there's effectively no wild salmon in the Atlantic any longer, at least not enough to make commercial fishery. The wild salmon has simply been depleted. But the farmed salmon are all the Atlantic species of salmon because they adapt to the cages more easily.
What we did find in our study was that the farmed salmon from Northern Europe were much more contaminated than those from both sides of North America, and that North American salmon were more contaminated than those from Chile. That reflected what the farmed salmon were being fed in different parts of the world. Northern Europe has been industrialized longer than North America and therefore the fish around Northern Europe are more contaminated than those around North America. And the feed that the salmon are fed is basically you take a big net, you catch everything that swims, you grind it up and you feed it to the salmon in the cage.
Chile in the South Pacific has been less industrialized. The Pacific is larger. And although the farmed salmon there ate the same food, it comes from less contaminated waters, therefore the Chilean salmon were less contaminated than especially those from Northern Europe.
Sophia: Are there any certain foods that you avoid because of contamination besides… you're very well aware of, for example, salmon from Northern Europe. I don't even know if you can buy that in the U.S. but…
David: Unfortunately, you can. It’s quite common.
Sophia: Oh, really? Wow. But it sounds like you basically eat a diverse diet but you're just thoughtful about where your foods come from.
David: That’s right. Again, I’m very fortunate because I raise many of my own vegetables and fruits and many of my own meats. I don't raise fish. I like fish so I eat fish, but I choose fish that are lower on the food chain. So a vegetarian fish is better than a carnivorous fish. A small fish is going to have less contamination than a large fish.
There's no way we can all avoid some exposure and I’m not even advocating that we try to do that. I think what we want to do is reduce our exposure in ways that we can without compromising our lifestyle greatly. You can’t totally avoid exposure and one shouldn’t be obsessive about it, but you should be informed.
Eat a healthy diet for a variety of reasons. Too much fat is a risk factor for obesity and heart disease but it’s also a risk factor for getting exposed to chemical contaminants. So the ideal thing is to reduce your consumption of fats as much as possible. It’s extremely important to eat fruits and vegetables. But fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated.
Another story from some of my past was we were doing a grant where we were trying to look at a baby’s exposure to PCBs and pesticides. This was when my younger son was quite young. So we were measuring PCBs in the wet diapers of one-year-old boys. My son Zachary was breastfed. My colleague Ryan had a son by the name of Patrick and he wouldn’t let his wife breastfeed because he was afraid of all the PCBs that are in breast milk.
So we took these wet diapers and we analyzed them and what was striking was they were both full of all kinds of chemicals. It wasn’t that Zachary had more than Patrick but they had different patterns but they all had them.
Then we were working with a colleague who just had a baby and was breastfeeding, and she was a vegetarian. She felt very proud of herself because she was protecting her baby from exposure to chemicals. So we said to her, “Oh, Claudia, give us a breast milk sample so we can show how clean your breast milk is.”
Unfortunately her breast milk was totally full of contaminants. When we began to think about it, first of all, we regretted even asking her for the sample. She ate a lot of broccoli. There are a lot of pesticides on broccoli. Unless you are purely organic it’s almost impossible, even if you're not eating animal fats, to avoid being exposed to chemicals in our environment.
Sophia: But if she ate an organic vegetarian diet her contamination levels probably would have been much lower?
David: Probably would have been less. She was partly organic but it’s not always possible to get organic foods. This was a few years ago so we had more access to organic foods now than we used to have. But even some foods labeled as being organic are still partially contaminated.
Sophia: I’m so interested to hear that because I remember when I started learning about toxic chemicals found in breast milk, I panicked and was up for maybe 48 hours trying to figure out should I be giving my infant formula instead. I ended up concluding that they're both contaminated but breast milk has extra benefits.
David: Absolutely right. There are wonderful benefits in breast milk. The only circumstances that I ever advised not breastfeeding is if a mother is infected with HIV because the virus can be passed on to the child. But it is, too, at the same time that breast milk is a very significant source of exposure to fat soluble chemicals.
Sophia: I think this overall conversation about diet and body burden and contaminated breast milk, I hope it just inspires more people to get to know their food supply more carefully and become more thoughtful about how clean our water, air and our choices are because it does all end up in our food supply.
David: That’s absolutely correct. I just was going to make one other comment that formula, even bottled water, these are major sources of exposure to these chemicals, like the phthalates that are in the plastics that many of these formulas are found in, certainly in plastics that bottle water. So don’t think that you can avoid exposure by doing some of those extreme things because your exposure may change but it may not change for the better.
Sophia: I just recorded a podcast with Dr. Hugh Taylor at Yale School of Medicine. He spoke a lot about BPA and low doses and the cocktail effects. It’s good to remind listeners that another source of exposure is the baby bottles and the water.
Speaking of water, I assume you filter your water. I’m wondering what kind of water filtration system do you use.
David: No. In fact, I do not filter my water. We have a very good municipal water supply. I am a strong advocate of municipal water supplies. I think that the obsession many people have, especially those drinking bottled water, which I find just ludicrous because a lot of the bottled water is much more contaminated than the municipal water supply. And if there is an occasion when something goes wrong with the municipal water supply, we’re all notified immediately. We can take steps to do something about it then.
I don't see a reason for the obsession to filter all your water supply if you have a well-regulated municipal water supply. That’s not necessarily the same situation if you're on a well because then there aren’t the controls that we have for regulation of municipal water supplies.
Sophia: Well, what about building materials like pipes that can… maybe the municipal water is of good quality but along the way, en route to coming out of your water faucet, it gets contaminated?
David: That’s a legitimate concern. Again, it sort of depends on how old the area you're living in is. It used to be that a lot of the pipes for water were made out of lead and that has obviously great danger.
I remember a few years ago, it was discovered that on Monday morning, the drinking water from the fountains in the New York State Department of Health was highly contaminated with lead. But if you tested the water supply on Fridays it was no longer contaminated. What had happened was that the reservoir in the water fountains had leaded solder. When the water sat there over the weekend when people weren’t drinking, the lead slowly dissolved in the water and it rose to dangerous levels for those people that took to drink from the water fountain first thing Monday morning. Then during the week, the contaminated water was gone and the water flow was such that dangerous levels were not reached.
But it is true that there can be chemicals in the pipes and so forth. There can be Bisphenol A, there certainly can be lead. The situation in Flint, Michigan is a case in point where failure to add a chemical actually resulted in high levels of lead.
I don't mean to say that putting water filter on is a bad thing. Different kinds of water filters, and again I’m not a great expert on this, but some will get the metal, some will get the contaminants. Most are relatively specific for certain classes. So for those people that are really concerned about water as a source of contamination, the water filter is a good idea.
My personal view is that the contaminants in the food supply are much more serious and a greater problem than those in municipal drinking water.
Sophia: Would you talk about what health effects that science is linking toxic exposures to? We mentioned brain development a bit earlier, like IQ for fetal exposures. But I know the science has been developing for a number of adverse health effects.
David: Absolutely right. Let me just add a little bit to the IQ effects because what’s so clear there is that it’s not just one or two things. We've talked about lead and PCBs. Both are very bad in terms of IQ. We talked a little bit about methylmercury, which also reduces IQ in children. But now we know that excessive fluoride, excessive arsenic, and even environmental tobacco smoke, passive smoking reduces IQ in children.
So there are just many different things. One question that’s still not answered is what happens if a poor kid is exposed to multiple of these chemicals before birth? I often tell my students just think how brilliant you would be if your mother had not been exposed to all this stuff before birth. And so you can blame your mother if you don’t do well on your midterm exam. Maybe there's a factor of whether or not you studied as well.
But there are a variety of other effects. Let’s talk about cancer. Many chemicals either are known to cause cancer or are likely to cause cancer, proven to cause cancer in animals and therefore likely to cause cancer in people. That includes metals, arsenic, cadmium or chromium, carcinogenic metals. It includes many, many organics. Certainly dioxins and PCBs and most of the chlorinated pesticides. A little less information about other common-used pesticides but if they kill pests they're not going to be very good for people.
I've been very much caught up now in looking at the more chronic diseases of older age. Let’s take diabetes, for example. Everybody thinks diabetes is because you’re too fat, you don’t exercise, and you eat the wrong foods and too much of it. Well, those may be factors but some of our studies have shown that, actually, the amount of PCBs in the body is a bigger risk factor than just being overweight.
I have colleagues in Korea that have done a study where they look at very obese people to see whether or not they develop diabetes. What they found is that very obese people that did not have high concentrations of these chlorinated pesticides and dioxins and PCBs in their body were not at elevated risk of developing diabetes. If that fat person had high levels of the contaminants then the risk of diabetes was sky high.
So the conclusion from that study was, well, maybe it’s not the obesity per se that increases your risk of diabetes but it’s the fact that most people that are obese or very overweight are so because they eat too much animal fats. They eat potato chips and they eat fatty meats and eat too much of those things. So the diabetes may be, in part, just because of their diet, but not because of the calories but because of the contaminants that are in the diet.
Now, another factor with diabetes that we've been involved with is showing that, specifically for PCBs, the PCBs that are most associated with diabetes are those that are more volatile. PCBs are basically up to 209 different chemicals and they vary in how water soluble they are, how volatile they are and how fat soluble they are. Well, we found these lower-chlorinated, more volatile PCBs strikingly associated with diabetes and we think that the root of exposure is not from eating the contaminated fish but rather breathing the air because of the PCBs that are in the air among people living close to these highly contaminated sites.
Other diseases, heart disease. Everybody thinks heart disease also is something related to lack of exercise and bad diet. But like diabetes, it’s related to exposure to chemicals. A variety of chemicals are related to heart disease. Some metals, some organics.
Again, everybody sort of thinks that your immune system is going to take care of things. That’s true, but the immune system is influenced by a variety of exposures to chemicals. For example, metals, in general, stimulates your immune system so they cause allergies and asthma and things like that, whereas a lot of the organics suppress the immune system. Since a lot of my work has been with organics, I've been more involved in that than other things.
But there are a number of studies from the Netherlands, from Northern Canada in the Inuit people showing that high exposures to these persistent organics suppress the immune system, therefore he or she gets more respiratory infections, more ear infections, more colds, more pneumonia if they have high exposure to these chemicals. Not only that, but they don’t respond so well to immunizations. So when you get immunized for a childhood disease, your body has to develop an immune response. If your immune system is suppressed then it makes you less easily immunized.
So those are just a certain number of the disease.
Sophia: Thank you. How do you feel about vaccines? There are pros and cons. They're definitely a source of some toxic exposures but they are generally good for public health, it seems. What are your thoughts on vaccines?
David: I’m a strong advocate of vaccines. It’s been known for a long time that a very small percentage of people that are immunized will develop some adverse reactions. However, vaccines protect you against life-threatening illnesses. I think parents that are refusing to immunize their children for routine childhood infections are making a very foolish decision.
Sophia: Like the flu?
David: Like the flu, like chicken pox, like mumps, like whooping cough, like measles. These diseases in the past killed millions of children. Unfortunately now, people are getting so concerned about vaccines that many well-intended and often well-educated people are failing to immunize their children, and we’re beginning to see outbreaks of measles again. We haven't had measles in the U.S. for years because everyone was immunized against measles. But measles is a very, very dangerous disease.
So I think you're taking the life of your child in your hands if you fail to immunize children for these common childhood diseases.
One of the big debates around immunization is the fact that some people argue that immunization had caused an increase in autism. First of all, there's no evidence that is the case. The concern about immunization was the preservative added to the vaccine, which is an organic mercury called thimerosal. Thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines 10 years ago or so. The rates of autism didn’t stop rising. They continued to rise even though no child is being exposed to thimerosal today.
There are some issues about how to improve the effectiveness of the vaccine and reduce the very low levels of adverse effects, but the CDC and other organizations are working very, very hard to develop ways of reducing the adverse effects but they're so rare that it’s not something that parents should worry about in relation to the worry they should have for the seriousness of the illnesses that their child might develop if they are not immunized.
Sophia: Thank you. I think that’s very important for a lot of parents to hear.
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