Toxic Chemicals in Health Care Workers

November 05, 2009

Toxic Chemicals in Health Care Workers 

 Reference: Physicians for Social Responsibility Report  Oct 2009 

 Twenty volunteer physicians (12) and nurses(8) for 10 different states (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington) agreed to have themselves tested for their personal exposure to persistent toxins in their environment.  They were tested for 6 chemicals or chemical groups (total of 62 chemicals in all) including Bisphenol A (BPA), Mercury, Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), Phthalates, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and Triclosan. 

 These chemicals were chosen because they are all used in health care, are known to be chemicals of concern, and may be endocrine disruptors.  All have been reported in peer-reviewed literature and associated with certain diseases, all of which are on the rise in population frequencies. All participants had at least 24 individual chemicals in their bodies, and two had a high of 39 chemicals.  Eighteen were detected in all 20 volunteers.  All 20 had at least five of the six categories included.  All had bisphenol A, some form of phthalate, PBDEs, and PFCs.  

Our regulatory system in America requires that you prove harm.  More confoundingly, the companies that make these chemicals can produce studies of their own and bring their own experts to show that the science is not clear.  The process of proving danger is very long and complex.  In Europe, the burden of proof is on the chemical company to show safety.  You can imagine the results of research conducted on behalf of chemical companies.  Over 90% of it has been shown to support the chemical company.  

Independent academic research doesn’t have the same findings. If you thought you were safe working in health care, a setting of purity, sterilized environments, gloves and masks, hand sanitizers, and isolation rooms, you are wrong.  From Maine to Michigan to Alaska to California, everyone tested was found to have been exposed.  The illnesses associated with these chemicals cover the whole spectrum of new and modern diseases that are rapidly increasing in frequency.  We can’t prove harm easily in our judicial and regulatory system.  It took 40 years to back big tobacco down.  The chemical industry is following the same playbook. 

 WWW:  What will work for me?  How can I reduce my exposure?  Read the report attached.  We need to all work together to become aware.  There are many specific actions you can and should take.  Start with not using polycarbonate containers to store and microwave food in.  Avoid stain removers and fire protection spray.  Buy computers from companies that avoid PBDEs.  Most of all, read this report and start including it in your conversations with your patients, your family, and your colleagues.  We need a new law in America that keeps us safe.  Europe did it.  We will fall behind as innovation and safety will migrate to Europe.  We should reclaim our title.  And we should be safe.

This column was written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)