Always Well Within

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Chemical Time Bombs Ticking in Your Body

Plastic and the Ocean

A styrene metabolite in my pee?

Recently, I took a urine organic acids test, which measures metabolites – the end breakdown of various chemical substances  – in the urine.

The test is not intended to measure levels of environmental toxins in the body.  It just happens to measure mandelic acid, a  metabolite from the breakdown of styrene.  High mandelic acid usually occurs from exposure to styrene.

I was surprised to find that my level of mandelic acid was slightly elevated.  This might be due to the normal metabolism of the neurotransmitters phenylalanine or tyrosine since the levels were not extremely high, but it got me wondering.

What Is Styrene and Why Is It a Problem?

Styrene (vinyl benzene) is commonly found in plastic and, of course, Styrofoam.  On June 10, 2011, the US National Toxicology Program described styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen“.

US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) studies on Americans have shown that 100% of human fat samples contain styrene.  Once in the body, there’s no mechanism for getting all of the styrene out.

According to the Great Plains Lab,

“High concentrations of styrene cause central nervous system depression, nausea, headache, fatigue, and liver damage.”

And metabolism of the neurotransmitter dopamine and its metabolites is a target for the neurotoxic effects of some aromatic hydrocarbons (like styrene) and their metabolites.  In other words, exposure to these substances can affect your brain.

Chemical Time Bombs in Your Body

According to Dr. Sherry Rogers, M. D., toxic chemicals like styrene stockpile in the body taking decades to cause disease.  Then, bam!  You’re suddenly caught by surprise when you are struck with a serious illness like cancer, endocrine dysfunction, or autoimmune disease.

Styrene is also classified as a xenoestrogen, an Endocrine Disrupting Compound.  These are toxic chemicals that mimic hormones and can seriously disrupt your endocrine system.

The US EPA also says styrene is “a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others.”

Where’s the Styrene?

Approximately 15 billion pounds of styrene are produced annually.  In other words, it’s everywhere and not easy to avoid.  Remember…it’s in PLASTIC.

So you ingest styrene that leaches into your food and drinks from plastic packaging, containers, and wrapping.  And you breath styrene that off-gasses from everyday products like computers.

Here’s just a small selection of items that out-gas or leach styrene:

  • plastic in its myriad forms
  • plastic food packaging
  • plastic food containers
  • plastic bottles
  • computers
  • carpets and carpet backing
  • Styrofoam
  • electric wire coatings
  • synthetic rubber
  • automobile dashboards and parts
  • construction materials
  • flooring
  • notebooks with plastic-coated covers
  • appliances
  • insulation
  • fiberglass
  • pipes

Makes me think of the fragrant off-gassing of my new computer – just a few months old – and the sound reduction headphones I recently purchased.  I believe the off-gassing can continue even after the strong smell dissipates.

Are Small Amounts Harmful?

Skeptics argue that exposure to small amounts of toxic chemicals isn’t harmful. 

Then why is cancer on the rise?  At the current rate, 40% of the population will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

A few months ago, The Environmental Working Group reported:

“…according to a new report from the President’s Cancer Panel, environmental toxins also play a significant and under-recognized role in cancer, causing “grievous harm” to untold numbers of people. Environmental Working Group’s own research has found that children are born “pre-polluted” with up to 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and contaminants that have been found to cause cancer in lab studies or in people.”

There is also an unprecedented rise in allergies, asthma, and chronic illness in children.  Why is this happening?  Babies and young children, in particular, are even more vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals.  The non-profit organization Healthy Child Healthy World exists:

“…because more than 125 million Americans, especially children, now face an historically unprecedented rise in chronic disease and illness such as cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD / ADHD, and learning and developmental disabilities. Credible scientific evidence increasingly points to environmental hazards and household chemical.”

Of course, the problem isn’t necessarily styrene alone but the whole chemical bomb ticking away in our body including phthales, dioxins, toluene, benzene, xylene, PCB’s, mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic and the list goes on.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Children

What can you do to protect yourself and your family from styrene?  Here are a few tips to get you started.

1.  Reduce your use of plastic as much as possible.

Use Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free Guide.  Beth makes it easy for you with this step-by-step guide to reducing plastic in your life.  Just pick a few high-impact, doable items and get started.

The two top ways to reduce plastic are:

  • carrying a reusable shopping bag;
  • eliminating the use of plastic-bottled water.

These plastic facts from the Plastiki, a boat made of 12,000 plastic bottles that is sailing the Pacific to explore the extent and impact of plastic trash on our oceans and sea life will give you an idea of the scope of the plastic problem.

  • 13 billion plastic bags are issued worldwide each year.
  • Americans trash 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR.
  • It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to degrade into the ground!
  • 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic, are dumped into the oceans every year.
  • North America and Western Europe account for 80% of plastic use.
  • Plastic bags and other plastic trash thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1 million sea creatures each year.

2.  Eat fresh foods to minimize exposure to plastic food packaging.

Also, try to eat organic if possible in order to avoid exposure to pesticides.  If you can’t eat organic all the time because it’s too costly, try to avoid the dirty dozen – the most polluted fruits and vegetables – and to eat the 15 cleanest ones.  Use this dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group.

3.  Be a mindful consumer.

Read tags and ask questions.  Determine what environmental toxins might be in a product before you purchase it.  Buy used items that have already off-gassed.

4.  Educate yourself about styrene and the other toxic chemicals in our everyday items.

The Environmental Resource groups is an information source that I regularly rely upon.

“At EWG, our team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers, and computer programmers pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and our own laboratory tests to expose threats to your health and the environment, and to find solutions. Our research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know.”

5.  Get support, do-it-yourself ideas, and more information from green living blogs

These are some of my favorite green living blogs.

6. Communicate your concerns.

Sign online petitions.  Yes, they do make a difference.  Communicate to your lawmakers.  Write letters to companies about unacceptable products or products shipped with Styrofoam.

Recently, Lynn Fang reported on her experience diving into simple acts of activism.  She encourages us to give it a try and shares some points on how to overcome our hesitations and be an effective advocate.

These are just a few tips to help you reduce your exposure to styrene.

In the end, my small elevation of mandelic acid is probably not significant.  I’m more concerned about chemicals stockpiling in my body and the impact of plastic on the environment.  Therefore, I make a conscious effort to reduce the use of plastic in my life.

The world changes when we change.  Together, we can make a difference.

Does it concern you that you are regularly inhaling toxic chemicals?  What steps do you take to minimize exposure to toxic chemicals in your life?  Do you have any tips on reducing plastic use?


Image 1:  Wikimedia Commons  Image 2:  The Plastiki Expedition

Thank you so much for reading.  If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  You can also connect with me on the Always Well Within Facebook Page or return to the AWW home page for more.  Thanks so much for your support!  Warmest wishes, Sandra


Reason Vs. Intuition: Finding The Right Balance


What Makes You Feel Better?


  1. Sandra, great post! Ketones and toluene caused me to be ill. It took six years and self healing to heal myself. The chemicals can’t be detected in your blood. They find them by doing a test similar to allergy testing. In the end after seeing more than 10 so called specialists no one knew what to diagnose me with. The insurance company closed the only avenue open to me to find someone who knew what was wrong with me. Even though the insurance company’s own specialist agreed my symptoms were genuine, they stopped paying me because my illness didn’t have a name. My body just shut down. I had symptoms similar to aids and chemotherapy treatment. I was diagnosed with CFS, fibromyalgia, and a solvent induced neuropathy. I had numerous symptoms, the worst was experiencing symptoms of having a heart attack 6+ times per day. Illness caused by chemicals manifests quickly. Our bodies just say enough. I’m the poster boy for the benefits of energy healing/soul healing.

    Thanks for posting this. Love and peace 🙂

    • Simon,

      That’s an amazing story, Simon. I’m so happy that you found healing from these intense and overwhelming symptoms. And, I’m very grateful that you have shared your story here. Many of us simply don’t realize the potential impact of toxic chemicals that can come about through an overexposure or a slow build-up in the body. I have trouble with aromatic hydrocarbons myself, but the symptoms aren’t so intense. I agree with you fully that our bodies have the wisdom to just say enough. That can be the beginning of a powerful healing journey with many ups and downs because, as you point out, most doctors are clueless when it comes to toxic chemicals and their impact.

      Thank you for speaking up so others are informed. Sending you love and peace too.

  2. If you have elevated styrene levels, I shudder to think of the amounts in the rest of us. It is scary to think of all the ill effects of this and other chemicals that are so pervasive in our lifestyle today. Our bodies are literally under attack.

    The amount of plastics used you cited in the statistics are shocking and daunting. The average person HAS to become aware and conscious of this in their life. It amazes and saddens me that so many are not at all still.

    We have to each start with ourselves and educate others as you are. I like your sentiments:
    “The world changes when we change. Together, we can make a difference.”

    • Hi Debbie,

      The amount of disposable plastic we use in indeed shocking. It’s one thing to have a few long-term items that are plastic – like a bicycle helmet – and quite another to consider the way that we just have a plastic-bottled drink and throw the bottle away. Most people don’t even recycle.

      I agree that the best place to start is with ourselves and do what we can to inspire and inform others.

      It’s possible the that my elevation of mandelic acid is due to other causes, but that doesn’t mean that styrene is safe. We don’t know the amounts lurking in our body.

  3. Ugh, elevated levels of styrene. That makes me so sick to hear. Of course I knew plastic off-gases, to what degree I was always too afraid to look. I’m really glad you reported your experience. There really is no safe distance from plastic. I will continue with my efforts to reduce plastic use. It is incredibly challenging, since there is just so much of it everywhere, but one can only keep going forward. Thank you for explaining styrene to us, Sandra! And thank you very much for linking me 🙂

    • It’s possible that my mild elevation is due to other causes, but that still does not excuse styrene! Who knows what amounts are in my body. Fundamentally, plastic is not healthy for people or the planet. We probably won’t be able to avoid plastic entirely, but we can begin by making efforts to avoid the use of disposable plastic like in plastic-bottled drinks, plastic bags and soon. Yes, the only answer is to take whatever steps we can and move forward.

      It’s interesting that on June 10, 2011 – this year – the US National Toxicology Program described styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human
      carcinogen“. Environmentalist have been saying that for years. It seems a step forward to finally get this validation.

      Thanks for your thoughts and for all you do.

  4. Wow, Sandra, thanks so much for publishing this! As Lynn said, I knew plastics were bad, but really had no idea how bad. Do you have any idea if plastic just continues to out-gas or does it reach a point where it’s stable? My husband and I were wondering about things like our plastic food containers, Nalgene bottles, and smoothie shakers.

    Funny that you included your favorite green blogs…I just wrote about that on my last post and included two of the same blogs!! I’ll have to check out the other one. Thank you!

    • Hi there, Adrienne!

      I’m not an expert on off-gassing, but from what I understand the degree of off-gassing is greater in the beginning of a product’s life, then it lessens but continues for an extended period. Eventually items fully out-gas. But for some types of substances that can take many years. I don’t know how long it takes for styrene to out-gas fully. Also, items off-gas more when they are heated up – like a computer when it warms up, putting hot drinks in styrofoam cups, the new car dashboard when the car is left sitting in the sun.

      Also off-gassing can occur below the threshold of perceptible odor, so we are not always able to smell it, but it can still be happening. The odor can become more noticeable when the off-gassing is in a small or confined space.

      I haven’t investigated Nalgene bottles myself, but I no longer use them and use a metal water bottle instead. I use glass containers (with plastic lids) for food storage. I have some very old plastic food containers, but I rarely use them. I’m especially careful because I am sensitive to some environmental toxins. Not everyone becomes sensitive; others just stockpile the chemicals and may end up with cancer or other serious illnesses.

      These were good questions. Thanks for asking them!

      If we can avoid these plastics, I think it’s better for our own health and the planet!

      That was a great article on green living. Thanks for encouraging us. I love all three of the blogs you mention.

  5. Yet another good reason to simplify and unclutter one’s life. Much of what you list as sources can be avoided if you are aware of the dangers and damage. This post is an important public service.

    Great first sentence…I had to read the whole post after that!

  6. Bob,

    I’m definitely with you on the simplify and unclutter path. I loved your article on the topic. I’m going to spend a week this summer looking at how I can simplifying further. Thanks for bring up that angle. It’s an important one too. I think most of us will be happier if we can off load all the stuff we don’t need. I think it does load us down energetically.

  7. Strangely enough there is so much plastic and Styrofoam being used in third world countries and yet we consider their life more simple and frugal than ours. A contradiction in a way. I have quit drinking water out of plastic bottles and have my own metal one I use at the gym.
    Great article as always.
    Thanks, Sonia.

    • Sonia,
      That’s an interesting perspective on third world countries. Sadly, they are gradually emulating the toxic ways of developed countries. Yet another angle to consider. Thank you for adding that to the mix.

  8. Thanks for such an informative post Sandra! I have really tried to limit my families exposure to plastic because of the potential for leaching toxins and the harmful effect plastic has on the environment. It has been an ongoing process-when things need to replaced I try to find a plastic-free alternative. It’s impossible to dump it all at once (and really not very green). Plastic takes forever to decompose and sits in landfills for years. It also harms animals and clogs and pollutes our waterways.

    Adrienne-I have replaced my food storage containers and now only use glass. I try really hard to keep all plastic away from my food (including water).

    Thanks for writing on such an important issue.

    Also, a big thank you for the linky love-so appreciate your mention of Groovy Green Livin.

  9. Hi Lori,

    You really have your pulse on the dangers of plastic. I think the gradual path is a good approach. I was able to get a fresh start when I moved to Hawaii.

    Your current article on Fracking is mind-blowing! I could hardly believe what I was reading. Excellent work. Thank you for that.

    I’m happy to give linky-love to you and your blog. I always learn something from every article I read there.

  10. such an important Topic sandra!
    you now scared me a lot
    i have to change my diet completely !
    thank u!

  11. such an important Topic sandra!!
    you now scared me a lot
    i have to change my diet completely !
    thank u!

    • Oh goodness, Farouk! I don’t want to scare people. But it’s good to know the facts, isn’t it? Good luck with your diet changes.

  12. Great post, Sandra! I just emailed a frozen yogurt company in my area that has great frozen yogurt but uses styrofoam cups. Wish I’d had all these facts at my disposal! CA has a ban coming up in a few years on styrofoam, but clearly it’s not enough. I didn’t realize styrene was in so many items — yikes. I’ve never had my blood tested for contaminants, and I’m kind of afraid to.

    Thank you much for the link love!

    • You’re such a great example of simple activism, Jennifer. Yeah for California. They seem to be leading the way banning toxic chemicals or at least alerting consumers to products that contain them.

      I know I had elevated blood levels of mercury in the past when I lived in a house that used high sulfur heating oil. One of the by products is mercury and the system may not have been vented properly or maybe I was exposed when the truck came to deliver. Who knows! I don’t know how long toxic chemicals stay in the blood. I understand they stockpile in fat and that’s one way that they can cause long term problems in the body. There are others. I think it’s a given that at least Americans have some toxic chemicals in our blood or body fat.

      You’re welcome. It’s an honor to link to your blog.

  13. I remember with dismay the gorgeous beaches in Thailand marred by the plastic bags washing up on shore like kelp. You have benefitted many with this “inconvenient truth.” Thank you.

  14. That’s so sad! I image the beaches of Thailand as being pure. But really, there are no pure places left on this earth. Thank you for sharing this image. It’s a stark reminder of current reality.

  15. Great article and great site Sandra! Last year I stopped microwaving in plastic…but recently I started getting lazy again. This was an excellent reminder not to be so stupid. There’s enough exposure without my serving the crap up on a plate every night.

  16. Thank you, Jenny! I know what you mean. Its’ easy to slack off especially when life gets busy. Glad you are back on track. Be well!

  17. WOW! You’ve shaken my mind and shed great light and attention on something I never thought of – in the ‘back of my mind’ I’m aware I need to stop drinking out of plastic water bottles and I have cut out plastic containers and exchanged for glass – but you’ve really got me thinking now.

    We can do our best and strive to consume healthy foods – but there’s still a world of toxins around us. I hadn’t thought of my computer as off-gassing.

    Thank you for these wonderful links you’ve provided. – and thank you for shedding light on this.

    • You’re welcome Aileen. I want everyone to be well, happy, and safe! I’m happy to contribute to your thinking process on the topic of plastic. Wishing you well.

  18. > chemicals stockpiling in my body
    I like the fact you found a way to measure it, and you can actually test your results, after you make changes.

  19. This white and pure blog fit you so well . Perfect! Your messages comes right in focus!

    Happy life and happy health…
    Smiles 😉

    • Oh my goodness, Kojiki…. Your latest blog design is soooo GORGEOUS! The best ever. Thanks for your positive and supportive words on my latest theme change! It’s nothing in comparison to the beauty of yours! So nice to see you again.

  20. Julie Fin

    I found this article while doing research on styrene. I just got some test results back showing high levels in my body after years of suffering from chronic fatigue, endocrine and auto-immune problems. I am freaking out that this has been going on in my body and making me sick. I pray that I have caught it early enough. I spent years going to doctors and getting no answers, finally this year I changed routes and found an amazing naturopath to help me. I will be doing an intense detox of my body, especially my liver to get rid of these chemicals. Thank you so much for this article and for bringing awareness. I hope others hear about these dangers before being sickened from them like me! I joined your Facebook page and look forward to your articles and words of inspiration!

    • Julie,

      I’m so sorry for all the suffering you have gone through. I wish you will with your detoxification process. May you regain your health with no obstacles whatsoever. Thanks for sharing your story here. It will help others understand and be properly informed.

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