Archive for June, 2010

Whats Eating YOU?!?!?

Do you have a nagging, gnawing feeling that …well, just a nagging, gnawing feeling? You should-odds are you’re being slowly devoured by one of these tiny, vicious parasites right this very second.


BIO: Fleas are tiny insects that just can’t live without blood. They eat more than 15 times their body weight in blood in a single day. That includes the blood of dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, and any other mammal that’s handy, including you. They’re also “Super Bugs”: Fleas can pull 160,000 times their own weight (the equivalent of a human pulling 24 million pounds) and can jump over 150 times their own size (the equivalent of a human jumping about 1,000 feet).

DANGER! In the right-or wrong-conditions, fleas are disease machines. They can transmit tapeworm to pets or humans, and can carry a number of diseases, including the blood parasite babesia, and the dreaded bubonic plague.Thankfully, they’re not nearly as bad as they were in the days before the vacuum cleaner. (Most eggs hatch in your carpet.) Image credit: Flickr user Dr. Hemmert.

EATIN’ YOU: Bedbugs

BIO: Tiny, painful, smelly, and disgusting, bedbugs are nocturnal, spending the day in walls, furniture, or in your bed. At night they crawl out of the mattress and suck your blood. And they can wait up to a year in that mattress between feedings.

DANGER! Their bites are often painful, but, thankfully, bedbugs are not known to transmit any diseases. Image credit: Flickr user PeterEdin (Tag Man).


BIO: Ticks are arachnids-not insects-and are related to spiders. There are no ticks that live solely on humans, but if there are no deer, cattle, birdsd, or reptiles handy, you’ll do. They have three life stages after hatching-larva, pupa, and adult-and each stage needs a “blood meal” before morphing into the next stage. Ticks use a hunting technique known as “questing”. That means that since they can’t hop or fly or run after prey, they wait around on grass or twigs for a host to come to them. How long will they wait? Years, possibly decades. And despite all that sitting they can leap into action the instant they sense a host coming by. One female tick can increase its body weight 200 times in a six-day feeding. Human equivalent: going from 170 pounds to 34,000 pounds in a week.

DANGER! Only mosquitoes transmit more diseases to humans than ticks do. Image credit: Flickr user Micah Taylor.

EATIN’ YOU: Chiggers

BIO: Chiggers are the blood-sucking, infant larva of mites, but before they can grow up, they must eat. They prefer rodents and lizards, but they’ll happily dine on you. These ravenous babies digest skin cells by spitting up powerful enzymes. Irritated skin cells react by building a hard mound around the tiny hole created by the enzymes, forming a “straw” (called astylostome) through which the chigger continues to suck your mushed skin.

DANGER! Chigger bites are possibly the most irritating and itchy bites in the world-and the sores can itch for weeks-but they’re not known to carry any diseases. Old wives’ tale: Putting nail polish over the hole will suffocate the submerged parasite. Wrong! Chigger do not burrow underneath the skin. If you have sores, you probably already scratched the chiggers off. Image credit: Flickr user Cabezalana.

EATIN’ YOU: Face mites

BIO: What’s that on your eyelid? It might be one of those microscopic mites. They live in the pores and the hair follicles of the face, especially around the nose and eyelashes. They plant themselves head-down on a pore or follicle, and happily live there feeding on sebaceous secretions and dead skin debris.

DANGER! Usually you wouldn’t notice them, but bad infestations can cause the face to become polluted by the excrement and and corpses of these invisible bugs. That and their eating of hair roots and oil glands may cause hair loss, rashes, and rough skin. They are not known to transmit diseases.

EATIN’ YOU: Head lice

BIO: These bloodsuckers live their entire lives on the human scalp and hair. They puncture your skin with special piercing/sucking mouthparts and feed two to six times a day. They’re particularly prevalent among children, who can spread them easily by sharing hats and combs, and by playing games such as “I’m gonna rub my lice-infested head against your head …because its fun!” (But personal hygiene is irrelevant-they’ll live on anybody.)

DANGER! The bites may itch, but head lice aren’t dangerous. Image credit: Flickr userEran Finkle.

EATIN’ YOU: Crab lice

BIO: Also permanent human residents, these larger lice live in the warmer, moister climes of pubic and armpit hair. They’re sluggish: If not disturbed, one can live its entire life within a half-inch of where it was born, but, like all lice, can be passed to other people through close contact. Not gross enough? Crab lice can also live in beards, moustaches, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

DANGER! Like head lice, you’re only in danger of embarrassment from crab lice.

EATIN’ YOU: Human liver fluke

BIO: This flatworm is contracted from eating infected fish, and primarily targets humans. They live in your bile ducts and liver tissue, as well as blood, and can grow up to an inch long and can live inside you for ten years.

DANGER! Symptoms can range from none …to death, for heavy infestations. (There have been cases where one person housed more than 20,000 of the parasites.) They are most prevalent in Asia, where raw and pickled fish are dietary staples. Image credit: Wikimedia user Flukeman.

EATIN’ YOU: Mosquitos

BIO: Contrary to popular myth, mosquitoes do not live on blood. They survive on nectar and other fluids sucked out of flowers. But females take a “blood meal”-they need protein to develop their eggs. You can’t hide: Mosquitos home in on their prey using specialized organs that can sense heat, carbon dioxide-which you just exhaled-and other gasses from up to 100 feet away.

DANGER! Mosquitoes traveling between hosts can transmit several diseases to humans, including malaria, sleeping sickness, and elephantiasis. Mosquitoes are the most deadly animal to humans on earth, causing more than 1,000,000 deaths a year.Image credit: Flickr user bogdog Dan.

  • 5 everyday chemicals linked to ailments including cancer, sexual problems, behavioral issues
  • The 5:      BPA , phthalates ,  PFOA,   formaldehyde ,  polybrominated diphenyl ethers ,  PDBEs
  • Tests reveal most of us now carry them in our bodies
  • Ways to reduce exposure

(CNN) — A growing body of research is linking five chemicals — among the most common in the world — to a host of ailments, including cancer, sexual problems and behavioral issues.

We encounter them every day — in plastic bottles, storage containers, food wrap, cans, cookware, appliances, carpets, shower curtains, clothes, personal care products, furniture, television sets, electronics, bedding, cushions and mattresses. In short, every room in almost every house in the United States is likely to contain at least one of these chemicals, many of which did not exist a century ago.

They are bisphenol A, or BPA; phthalates; PFOA; formaldehyde; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PDBEs. Tests reveal most of us now carry them in our bodies, but are they putting our health — and the health of our children — in jeopardy?

Here’s what you should know about:

BPA – Bisphenol A

What it does: BPA is a building block of a lightweight, clear, heat-resistant and almost unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate. It’s also used in epoxy resins.

Where it’s found: Water bottles, baby bottles, reusable food containers, plastic tableware, infant feeding cups, linings of infant formula cans and other cans, jar lids, CDs, electrical and electronic equipment, dental sealants.

How we’re exposed: Eating food or drinking liquids stored in containers containing BPA. Infants and small children may also be exposed from hand to mouth contact with materials containing BPA. BPA also migrates from dental sealants into patients’ mouths. Fetuses are exposed in the womb by their mothers. Almost everyone has been exposed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of 93 percent of the people it tested.

Health effects: The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, says exposure is so low there are no ill health effects. A new five-year Kaiser Permanente study of Chinese factory workers found higher BPA exposure linked to reduced male sexual function. This research joins a growing body of research on animals that suggests BPA poses a potential cancer risk and may mimic the female hormone estrogen and disrupt the extremely sensitive chemical signals in the body called the endocrine system. According to the Food and Drug Administration, these studies suggest BPA could affect “the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children.”

Regulation: BPA is an Environmental Protection Agency “chemical of concern,” one of five substances the agency has targeted for increased scrutiny and potential new regulation. (The others are phthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, PBDEs, and perfluorinated chemicals including PFOA.)

The Food and Drug Administration allows BPA in flexible food packaging.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Buy stainless steel bottles and glass food storage containers. If you buy plastic, check for the recycle number on the bottom. If there is a number 7, assume the container contains BPA unless it explicitly says otherwise. Switch to fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. Other precautions include not microwaving or putting hot liquids in BPA plastic containers and throwing away baby bottles and feeding cups that are scratched.

In regards to BPA, check the bottles containing the products you buy. Always choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.

To eliminate phalates altogether, then you must read the ingredients. You can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:

DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).

Another idea: be wary of products listing the word “fragrance” in their ingredients. This usually means a combination of compounds, most often phthatates which have been shown in recent studies to mimic certain hormones in the body and disrupt the endocrine system. Ingredients in fragrances are also known to cause severe allergies and to aggravate asthma.


What they do: This family of chemicals softens plastics. They also are used to bind chemicals together.

Where they’re found: Shampoos, conditioners, body sprays, hair sprays, perfumes, colognes, soap, nail polish, shower curtains, medical tubing, IV bags, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, food packaging and coatings on time-release pharmaceuticals.

How we’re exposed: Absorbed into the body through personal care products, ingested in drugs, on food, in water and dust. Infants can be exposed through infant care products like baby shampoos, lotions and powders. Fetuses are exposed in the womb. Virtually everyone is exposed to phthalates.

Health effects: A new study by the Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research found a statistical association between prenatal exposure to phthalates and incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder years later. Phthalates are considered endocrine disrupters, and studies have shown a statistical association between phthalate exposure and male sexual development. Research has also shown phthalates disrupt reproductive development of male laboratory animals.

Regulation: Phthalates are an EPA “chemical of concern.” The FDA allows for plastic containing phthalate in flexible food packaging. The U.S. government last year banned or restricted six phthalates for use in children’s toys and children’s products.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Avoid shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. These may contain phthalates. (Companies are not required to disclose the ingredients in their scents, and the industry says this phthalate is safe.) The federal government recently ended one source of exposure, banning the sale of toys containing any of six phthalates.

PFOA — Perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8)

What it does: PFOA is used to make Teflon and thousands of other nonstick and stain- and water-repellent products.

Where they’re found: PFOA is present in Teflon and other nonstick or stain- and water-repellent coatings as a trace impurity. These coatings are used on cookware, waterproof breathable clothing, furniture and carpets and in a myriad of industrial applications. PFOA can also be produced by the breakdown of these products.

How we’re exposed: Inhaling contaminated air, eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water. Some researchers say nonstick pans give off PFOA vapors, which contaminate food.

Health effects: Almost everyone has PFOA in his or her blood. PFOA causes cancer and developmental problems in laboratory animals. The EPA concludes research on PFOA is “suggestive of carcinogenicity but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential.”

Regulation: PFOA is an EPA “chemical of concern.”

What you can do to reduce exposure: The EPA does not recommend any steps to reduce exposure to PFOA. You can reduce potential exposure by using stainless steel or cast iron cookware. If you use nonstick cookware, do not overheat, which releases toxic gas.


What it does: Formaldehyde is an ingredient in resins that act as a glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products.

Where it’s found: Pressed wood products such as particle board, plywood, paneling and fiberboard; also, glues and adhesives and durable press fabrics like drapes.

How we’re exposed: Breathing “off-gassing” from products containing formaldehyde. Car exhaust and cigarette smoke also contain formaldehyde.

Health effects: Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, causing cancers of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. Formaldehyde fumes can also cause nausea, skin irritation, watery eyes, or burning eyes, nose and throat.

What you can do to reduce exposure: Buying furniture free from formaldehyde eliminates much of the exposure we face from the chemical. One option to reduce “off-gassing”: purchase “exterior grade” pressed-wood products, which emit formaldehyde at significantly lower rates. If you have wood products containing formaldehyde, increase ventilation, reduce humidity with air conditioning or dehumidifiers and keep your home cool.

PBDEs – Polybrominated diethyl ethers

What they do: PBDEs are a group of chemicals used as flame retardants, meaning they reduce the chance of something catching fire and slow how fast it burns when it does catch fire.

Where they’re found: PBDEs are found in televisions, computers and wire insulation, and furniture foam. Over time, televisions and other products shed PBDEs, which accumulate in dust. More than 124 million pounds of PBDEs are produced annually worldwide and they do not break down easily.

How we’re exposed: Swallowing PBDE-contaminated dust and contact with this dust are the primary routes into our bodies, where they collect in fat tissue. We can also be exposed through food and water. Breast-feeding infants are exposed to PBDEs through their mother’s milk and have the highest exposure compared to their body weight, followed by infants and toddlers, according to the data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Levels in humans have been rising rapidly since PBDEs were introduced in the 1960s and ’70s.

Health effects: PBDEs accumulate in the body. Toxicology tests show PDBEs may damage the liver and kidneys and affect the brain and behavior, according to the EPA.

Regulation: In December, the EPA named PBDEs “chemicals of concern.”

What you can do to reduce exposure: Try to find products without PBDE flame retardants and be sure to sweep up dust.

a link to an article about toxic products & alternatives:

Did you know that there are over 80,000 chemicals used in the US and only a few hundred have been tested for safety?

I think what is so stunning about the study is that for so long environmentalists have been pooh-poohed for raising alarms over toxins and chemicals. Now here’s a panel of doctors  telling us we should be:

  • eating organic foods and free-range meats whenever possible
  • avoiding BPA and phthalates and drinking water from glass, stainless steel or safe plastic containers
  • not microwaving foods in plastic containers
  • filtering tap water
  • avoiding toys and foods containing endocrine disrupters
  • using databases like Use the Cosmetics Database and the Good Guide to research common products –   My favorite is
  • This is a good resource as well!