10 Most Common Environmental Toxins

Top 10 most common environmental toxins

The following toxins are among the most prevalent in our air, water and/or food supply, as reported by Dr. Joseph Mercola, a leader in the U.S. wellness movement, New York Times bestselling author and founder of Mercola.com, the second most visited non-governmental health website after WebMD.

This list is by no means all-inclusive, as thousands of other toxins are also circulating in our environment.

1. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls): This industrial chemical has been banned in the United States for decades, yet is a persistent organic pollutant that's still present in our environment.

Risks: Cancer, impaired fetal brain development.

Major Source: Farm-raised salmon. Most farm-raised salmon, which accounts for most of the supply in the United States, are fed meals of ground-up fish that have absorbed PCBs in the environment.

2. Pesticides: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60 per cent of herbicides, 90 per cent of fungicides and 30 per cent of insecticides are known to be carcinogenic. Pesticide residues have been detected in 50 per cent to 95 per cent of U.S. foods.

Risks: Cancer, Parkinson's disease, miscarriage, nerve damage, birth defects, blocking the absorption of food nutrients.

Major Sources: Food (fruits, vegetables and commercially raised meats), bug sprays.

3. Mould and other Fungal Toxins: One in three people have had an allergic reaction to mould. Mycotoxins (fungal toxins) can cause a range of health problems with exposure to only a small amount.

Risks: Cancer, heart disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes.

Major Sources: Contaminated buildings, food like peanuts, wheat, corn and alcoholic beverages.

4. Phthalates: These chemicals are used to lengthen the life of fragrances and soften plastics.

Risks: Endocrine system damage (phthalates chemically mimic hormones and are particularly dangerous to children).

Major Sources: Plastic wrap, plastic bottles, plastic food storage containers. All of these can leach phthalates into our food.

5. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): VOCs are a major contributing factor to ozone, an air pollutant. According to the EPA, VOCs tend to be even higher (two to five times) in indoor air than outdoor air, likely because they are present in so many household products.

Risks: Cancer, eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment.

Major Sources: Drinking water, carpet, paints, deodorants, cleaning fluids, varnishes, cosmetics, dry cleaned clothing, moth repellants, air fresheners.

6. Dioxins: Chemical compounds formed as a result of combustion processes such as commercial or municipal waste incineration and from burning fuels (like wood, coal or oil).

Risks: Cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, chloracne (a severe skin disease with acne-like lesions), skin rashes, skin discoloration, excessive body hair, mild liver damage.

Major Sources: Animal fats: Over 95 per cent of exposure comes from eating commercial animal fats.

7. Asbestos: This insulating material was widely used from the 1950s to 1970s. Problems arise when the material becomes old and crumbly, releasing fibres into the air.

Risks: Cancer, scarring of the lung tissue, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer).

Major Sources: Insulation on floors, ceilings, water pipes and heating ducts from the 1950s to 1970s.

8. Heavy Metals: Metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium, which are prevalent in many areas of our environment, can accumulate in soft tissues of the body.

Risks: Cancer, neurological disorders, Alzheimer's disease, foggy head, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels.

Major Sources: Drinking water, fish, vaccines, pesticides, preserved wood, antiperspirant, building materials, dental amalgams, chlorine plants.

9. Chloroform: This colorless liquid has a pleasant, nonirritating odour and a slightly sweet taste, and is used to make other chemicals. It's also formed when chlorine is added to water.

Risks: Cancer, potential reproductive damage, birth defects, dizziness, fatigue, headache, liver and kidney damage.

Major Sources: Air, drinking water and food can contain chloroform.

10. Chlorine: This highly toxic, yellow-green gas is one of the most heavily used chemical agents.

Risks: Sore throat, coughing, eye and skin irritation, rapid breathing, narrowing of the bronchi, wheezing, blue coloring of the skin, accumulation of fluid in the lungs, pain in the lung region, severe eye and skin burns, lung collapse, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS) (a type of asthma).

Major Sources: Household cleaners, drinking water (in small amounts), air when living near an industry (such as a paper plant) that uses chlorine in industrial processes.

Source: Mercola.com


It's impossible in this day and age to avoid all environmental toxins. What you can do, however, is limit your exposure as much as possible with the following tips:

- Buy and eat, as much as possible, organic produce and free-range, organic foods. If you can only purchase one organic product it probably should be free range organic eggs.

- Rather than eating fish, which is largely contaminated with PCBs and mercury, consume a high-quality purified fish or cod liver oil. Another option is to have your wild-caught fish lab tested to find out if it is a pure source.

- Avoid processed foods -- remember that they're processed with chemicals.

- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.

- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.

- Remove any metal fillings as they're a major source of mercury. Be sure to have this done by a qualified biological dentist.

- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances as they can pollute the air you are breathing.

- Avoid artificial food additives of all kind, including artificial sweeteners and MSG.

- Get plenty of safe sun exposure to boost your vitamin D levels and your immune system (you'll be better able to fight disease).

- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).

Source: Mercola.com

Environmental toxins limit daughters’ fertility, study suggests

November 21, 2007 -- A study by a research team at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital suggests that mothers who are exposed to certain toxic environmental compounds prior to pregnancy could limit their offspring’s fertility.

Dr. Andrea Jurisicova is an Assistant Professor at University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Reproductive Medicine at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.

The study, published in the December 3, 2007 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, provides evidence derived from a mouse model that exposure to the compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) prior to conceiving and when lactating reduces the number of eggs in the ovaries of female offspring by two-thirds. PAHs are known carcinogens and one of the most widespread organic pollutants. The compounds are found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, fumes from wood stoves, and in charred and smoked foods.

“The impact of this research is significant,” said Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research for the Lunenfeld. “While the anti-smoking message is clear, these findings serve as a preventative measure for all Canadians and should raise awareness of common environmental toxins.”

PAHs accumulate in the body’s breast and fatty tissues before pregnancy and are later released into the blood during pregnancy, affecting the fetus.

“While young girls and women may not have thought about their reproductive future, exposure to these toxins now may reduce the fertility of their children,” said Dr. Andrea Jurisicova, lead researcher of the study, Assistant Professor at University of Toronto, and Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Reproductive Medicine at the Lunenfeld.

The reduction of eggs in a woman’s ovaries can lead to premature menopause which not only limits reproduction, but is also associated with osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke and depression.

“This kind of research has important potential implications for future generations. The findings underline the importance of funding and designing cohort and other epidemiologic studies to assess the reproductive and child health effects of exposure to PAHs and other environmental toxins in human populations,” said Dr. Michael Kramer, based in Montreal and Scientific Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth (IHDCYH)

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