I was pleased with the election of Joe Biden, not least because we might end (and start reversing) the more than 100 pollution rollbacks that the Trump administration has initiated in favor of corporate polluters.
However, I was genuinely disheartened to learn that his current EPA lackeys recently finalized a rule that will sabotage any of President-elect Biden’s efforts to reverse the damage. The latest EPA rules specifically state that any reversal of an environmental hazard will be based on evaluating all potential economic costs but will disregard benefits such as health or death risk.
Emily Davis, senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, stated:
“This is an egregious 11th-hour attempt to handcuff the incoming administration and undercut the benefits of clean air—in the worst days of a global health crisis. Our country is struggling to address racial injustice and a deadly pandemic magnified by pollution, which all heavily impact Black, Latino, and low-income people.
“The Biden administration should deep-six this dishonest and dangerous rule—and allow EPA to re-embrace its core mission, which is to protect public health and our environment. We’ll use every tool, and look forward to working with the Biden team, to ensure that healthier future for all.”
This final pro-pollution Trump rule comes during the worst moments of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Early research tied air pollution to a heightened risk of dying from Covid-19, which by the time you read this will have killed more than 300,000 people in the US, just about the entire population of Pittsburgh.
Death by pollution
But even in the absence of this pandemic, two Harvard social scientists writing in JAMA estimated that 80,000 people will die unnecessarily every decade because of the Trump administration’s repeal of clean air regulations, with another 80,000 deaths caused by the more recent repeal of clean water rules.
If you ask a Trump supporter about this, you’ll likely get an answer like “More jobs.” Well, yes, perhaps, but waiting for someone to die or become disabled because of pollution so a spot opens up for you seems like a pretty callous way to secure employment, not to mention poisoning your children in the process.
The Covid-19 pandemic has many of us thinking about our chemical-laced foods and we appear to be talking with our wallets. Organic food sales jumped 25 percent for the four-month period ending in June among all retailers, from Whole Foods and Kroger to Walmart. Surveys by the food industry confirm that the public believes “healthy food is important” to keeping their bodies in shape to fight against the virus.
People are right to be worried about the chemicals in our food, air, and water. The number of chemicals pouring into our bodies is mind-boggling: we intentionally add 2,500 chemicals to food as additives, preservatives, and coloring agents. A shocking 12,000 chemicals find their way into our food supply via processing, packaging, pesticide residues, and drugs given to animals.
More than 700 chemicals have been found in drinking water, and don’t even ask about air, especially in urban areas and near factories. Astonishingly, earlier this year Trump gave a thumbs-up to maintaining the current levels of soot in our air. Soot! I suspect that in Trump’s twisted logic, poor people, people of color, and progressives in general live in sooty areas and since they vote Democratic, let’s punish their lungs.
More hidden chemicals
Let’s not forget the junk we inhale from new furniture, vehicle exhaust, sprayed herbicides and pesticides, plastics, and treated wood, plus the formaldehyde in everything from flooring and pillows to mouthwash and furniture polish.
In addition, doctors are seeing more problems with naturally occurring toxins, including the mold biotoxins from water-damaged buildings that make people sick.
The irony in all this is that the conventional medical profession might do a lot of hand-wringing over the pollution of air, water, and food, but there’s actually been very little progress in their approach to how all this affects patients.
If you’ve been feeling chronically ill and have heard “Your tests are negative,” ask yourself when (if ever) your physician offered to test you for accumulated environmental pollution or accumulated food additives or evaluated the damage these pollutants might be doing.
These tests are available, but of course are not covered by insurance. If you ask your doctor for them, you’ll likely hear some variation of “We don’t know what to do with the results anyway” (hint: We at WholeHealth Chicago work on just this sort of thing).
Learning more about pollution’s health effects
Researchers know a lot about all this exposure and are learning more every year. Here’s a sampling:
- Some people are affected more than others. Some get disabling chronic illnesses, others nothing at all. This leads to a real mess among genuine sufferers who are disbelieved by doctors, co-workers, and family members. Physicians can be especially brutal, insisting that the affected person is “just depressed” or “seeking financial reimbursement.”
- The reason for this disparity is a now-recognized genetic susceptibility in detoxification pathways. Every doctor with a lick of common sense knows that Patient A will do just fine on one medication while Patient B suffers nausea, mental confusion, or even failure of major organs like the liver or kidneys. Tests are available to uncover these genetic susceptibilities, but getting insurance coverage for them is virtually impossible.
- An ever-growing number of people start with sensitivities to one or more relatively innocuous substances, but become increasingly sensitive over time, adding newer chemical responses and more intense reactions to their burden. This is called the “spreading effect” of environmental illness syndrome, also known by its preferred name, multiple chemical sensitivities.
- Symptoms of environmental illness and multiple chemical sensitivities can affect any organ in the body. The most common symptoms are neurological (fatigue, lethargy, headaches, insomnia, brain fog, blurred vision), musculoskeletal (muscle aches, joint pain), gastrointestinal (nausea, vomiting), heart/lung (chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing), ear/nose/throat (sore throat, hoarseness), dermatologic (rashes, flushing, dry skin), and immunologic (increased susceptibility to viruses, swollen lymph nodes, candida).
This 34-year-old article from the EPA shows how worried scientists were in 1985. Over the years we actually started making some baby-step progress to clean up the environment until the current administration pressed the reverse button.
How we approach diagnosis
Our Functional Medicine practitioners will review your health history, including dietary and industrial exposures. Functional medicine testing will check for a range of environmental illness. For example, one test (Genova Liver Detoxification Capacity) measures how you, as a unique individual, either easily clear or inadvertently store toxins from the environment or food.
Two additional tests measure the levels of food additives (Vibrant Wellness Additives) and environmental chemicals (US Biotek Environmental Pollutants Profile).
And last, but probably most important, we’ll call for a test that measures the oxidative damage done to your body by these accumulated toxins (Genova Oxidative Stress). With the results at hand, you and your Functional Medicine practitioner will work together to address detoxification and repair.
Although it’s tempting to go it alone with these functional medicine tests, the labs will only authorize them through a health care practitioner. If your appointment is here at WholeHealth Chicago, we can draw a blood sample on the spot and send it to the lab. If you’re doing a telemed consultation, we’ll arrange to have the test sent directly to you. The lab will direct you to a blood drawing station or you can ask your primary physician to handle it. You’ll pay the lab directly for these tests and we’ll review the results together.
To work on all this with WholeHealth Chicago, schedule an in-person or telemed appointment by calling 773-296-6700. Any of our Functional Medicine practitioners, including me, are available for this type of consultation: Rachel Gates, APN, Wendy Ploegstra APN, Katie McManigal, APN, Caley Scott, ND, Parisa Samsami, DC.
Next week I’ll review heavy metal toxicity, including tests that measure your levels and chelating techniques to remove them. The following week we’ll discuss a personal detoxification program.
In the meantime, get started on an environmental detox
Here are 17 immediate steps to reduce indoor air pollution (probably worse than you think), courtesy of the Cleveland Clinic with more at this link. We would go further and recommend not using scented products of any kind, from candles, personal care products, and bar soap to dishwasher and washing machine detergents.
- Avoid smoking indoors (quitting smoking is the best answer for overall health).
- Use craft supplies in well-ventilated areas.
- Make sure your gas stove is well-ventilated.
- Minimize clutter.
- Remove carpeting if possible.
- Use a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner to reduce moisture.
- Keep trash covered to avoid attracting pests.
- Remove shoes at the door.
- Have car emissions tested regularly.
- Minimize air freshener use.
- Test your home for radon.
- Use carbon monoxide detectors.
- Fix water leaks.
- Dust surfaces and vacuum frequently.
- Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
- Make sure exhaust fans are functioning in your bathrooms and kitchen.
- Keep a lid on scented candles.
All set? Call one of our practitioners and let’s get started.
David Edelberg, MD