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
- carpets and carpet backing
- electric wire coatings
- synthetic rubber
- automobile dashboards and parts
- construction materials
- notebooks with plastic-coated covers
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?
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