14 May 2017 The body of Lulu the killer whale was found on jagged rocks on the Isle of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. Lulu's body contained among the highest levels of PCBs - or polychlorinated biphenyls ever recorded - more than 100 times above the level that scientists say will have biological consequences for a species. The chemicals were banned in the late 1970s amid fears about their toxicity. Recent estimates suggest that Europe produced anything between 299,000 and 585,000 tonnes of PCBs up to then with the US producing even more.
This is good example of the exposure we all have in our daily lives to chemical entities. The effect of these entities on our health, particularly over the long term, is difficult to assess though more evidence is now being produced that, in certain individuals, they can have a detrimental effect.
In the developing world [according to UNESCO] as much as 70 percent of industrial waste is just dumped untreated into the rivers and lakes.
According to Greenpeace, around 70 percent of China's lakes and rivers are now polluted from industrial waste, leaving 300 million people forced to rely on polluted water supplies.
Smoke from coal-fired power plants creates the related problem of acid rain. Gases (sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) released by burning fossil fuels make the rain more acidic and therefore corrosive. Acid rain kills plants and trees and damages structures. It also accumulates in rivers and streams, and has resulted in lakes that are already devoid of life in large parts of eastern North America and Scandinavia.
We need to understand the effects of chemicals in our environment on our health. It is through this understanding that we can make choices to benefit our personal health outcomes.
"Ultimately, PCBs find their way into the food chain. PCBs on land eventually get into the water course," said Paul Jepson, a veterinary specialist in Wildlife Population Health at the Zoological Society of London. "Then they get into rivers, then into fish, then into sediment, then into estuaries then to ocean, the ultimate dump. Then they get into crabs and molluscs, then into fish, then into bigger fish and finally into apex predators such as sharks and killer whales at the top of the food chain."
One of the environmental impacts on an individual's health is described as Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI), which can be defined as a "chronic, recurring disease caused by a person's inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals."
A committee of experts in the field decided upon a consensus as to what "qualifies" the patient as truly having IEI [Arch Environ Health 1999; 54: 147]16. Six criteria were decided upon:
- Symptoms are reproducible with repeated (chemical) exposures.
- The condition is chronic.
- Low levels of exposure (lower than previously or commonly tolerated) result in manifestations of the syndrome (i.e. increased sensitivity).
- The symptoms improve, or resolve completely, when the triggering chemicals are removed.
- Responses often occur to multiple chemically-unrelated substances.
- Symptoms involve multiple-organ symptoms (runny nose, itchy eyes, headache, scratchy throat, ear ache, scalp pain, mental confusion or sleepiness, palpitations of the heart, upset stomach, nausea and/or diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, aching joints).
Allergic / sensitivity responses are person-specific. Different people are allergic to different allergens at different times. For this reason, is has always been easy for orthodox practitioners to suggest that such individually experienced symptoms do not have a scientifically measurable organic base. The specificity of sensitisation to 'everyday' substances has presented particular problems to diagnostic practitioners, not least because patients themselves and observers will often be sceptical about a diagnosis for which they cannot see clear material causal reasons.
According to WHO, 4.3 million people a year die from the exposure to household air pollution.
The major difference between the environmental medicine perspective and that of the orthodox allergists, is the orthodox allergists believe a patient's response is a transitory disorder, caused when a substance which acts as an antigen enters the body. This discomfort passes when the antigen has left the body and the cells have stopped breaking down. The environmental medicine perspective, however, is that many chemical antigens, though they may cause a primary allergic response, are not dispelled from the body but stay as continual irritants to the immune system, often lodged in fatty tissue. The illnesses which are consequent upon this toxic storage and the toll which it takes on the immune system, can be long-term. They also believe that once a person is sensitised to a substance, future exposure can lead to dangerous and debilitating illness.