Body Burden

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Body Burden

John Doe
Anthropology 200h
Professor Smith

The environment that we inhabit today is filled with massive quantities of toxic chemicals of all sorts. To be specific, there are more than 80,000 known chemicals floating around us, some naturally occurring and some man-made. We are exposed to chemicals through the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink and clean ourselves in. All of these factors are dependent on the environment we choose to live in, though; a seemingly clean community does not always signify a clean body. Most chemicals have the ability to attach to traveling air, water, or dust and contaminate places far from where they originated, creating a “chemical soup” that our bodies encounter every day. Additionally, humans come in contact with chemicals present in the everyday products we use such as gasoline, paints, make-up, detergent, plastics, and glues. The total amount of these chemicals present in the human body at a single point in time is referred to as your body burden.

All humans carry this chemical body burden, and current studies have shown that everyone alive today is a host to at least seven hundred different contaminants. The duration of time these chemicals stay in our bodies for varies for each chemical and the repeated exposure to each respective pollutant. Some chemicals only stay in our bodies for a very short while before they are disposed of in human waste, though, continuous exposures to such elements can create a lasting burden on your body. An example of a toxin that is only lodged into your body for a short period of time is arsenic, which is normally excreted within three days of exposure. Though, lasting exposure to arsenic can severely affect the structure and functions of the cardiovascular system. However, other chemicals are not easily disposed of and can remain present in our tissues, blood stream, and organs for extended periods of time. DDT, and other chlorinated pesticides, can remain in our bodily systems for up to fifty years. Out of the estimated 80,000 chemicals known to be used in the United States, we do not know which are heavily toxic and which our bodies are immune to, but we do know that hundreds of these toxins have been discovered in people’s bodies around the globe.

The ways in which we are exposed to such pollutants is very broad. Chemicals are laden in the foods we eat and the products we use, but since such chemicals are not all labeled clearly, it is extremely difficult to deduce where they originated from. Our body burden is not completely identified by what we are directly exposed to, but also what our mother was exposed to while pregnant with us. The chemical body burden of our mothers is another primary source of exposure. Toxins that have accumulated in a woman’s body have the ability to travel through the placenta to a growing fetus where they may cause harm. Additionally, chemicals from a mother’s body can also be transferred to a child through breast milk. Some of these chemicals which we receive from our mothers while we are still developing fetuses may remain with us for years. In a study entitled Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns, researchers tested samples of umbilical cord blood from newborn babies and found an unprecedented 413 chemicals commonly found in industrial and consumer products. Another recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group has concluded that industrial pollution is more likely to be passed on to daughters than sons. The study showed that four daughters tested more chemicals in common with their birth mothers than sixteen other women tested. While each child is now known to be born with an inherited load of pollution, they still accumulate more and more toxins as they develop.

The evidence for the phenomenon of body burden has been around for centuries. Though the first significant research conducted was in 1944, when researchers found DDT, a toxin...
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