Like the rest of us, toxins have some standards. Some prefer to guzzle champagne on board yachts, while others are content playing pool at the local bar with a beer at their sides. At least, according to a recent study from the United Kingdom, anyway. That’s right: the researchers found that the types of toxins mapped in the bodies of their subjects depended in part on their social class as outlined in a detailed survey of data.
Using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they examined connections between the socioeconomic status of their subjects and the chemicals found in the human body. What they found was truly fascinating. While many wealthier people might imagine that they can live a low-impact, low-toxin lifestyle, with some spending a lot of money on healthy living, the fact is that all people across the U.S. carry toxins with them wherever they go. But the kinds of toxins they have in their bodies depend on where they live, and who they are.
People in general across the U.S. have concentrations of chemicals in their body that can be related to the development of cancers as well as other health problems, and may be expressed in breastmilk, causing health problems for developing babies. Researchers have been tracking the levels of toxins in the human body for years, looking at what accumulates and why, and trying to trace toxins to their origins. Of particular concern are chemicals that can’t be eliminated, and those that could pass on problems generationally, such as those that might affect a growing fetus or cause abnormalities in eggs or sperm. Some cause infertility, making it difficult for people to have children at all.
Wealthier individuals, however, tend to have more heavy metals like mercury and thallium in their bodies, because of the larger amount of seafood they eat; all that sushi and those delicious tuna steaks are, it turns out, coming with a hidden price tag. Oxybenzone, a sunscreen ingredient, also showed up in more wealthy subjects. Spend time relaxing on yachts, eating fresh food and enjoying the sea air and you just might find yourself with an unpleasant array of chemical visitors, no matter how wholesome the life feels.
Meanwhile, low-income people were more likely to have compounds associated with smoking, including a variety of byproducts of combustion along with chemicals found in cigarettes and processed tobacco. Bisphenol A (BPA, from plastics and can linings) and cadmium (from smoking) tended to be more common in the bodies of low-income people, and this doesn’t even touch upon the problem of chemical pollution from plants located in low-income communities. Such facilities manufacture and work with a variety of toxic substances that often contaminate the neighboring community and disproportionately impact low-income people.
Tackling the issue of toxins in everyone’s bodies, rich and poor alike, involves cleaning up existing pollution and reforming modern processes to avoid adding more. And, as this study shows, more control for lifestyle factors is a critical necessity, because the world is a dangerous place whether you’re in a mansion or a homeless shelter, but different approaches are obviously needed for different risks.
Photo credit: Yorick_R.