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.

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11 ways to reduce your oil use

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – the Buddha

Updated 8 August 2010

Chris Guillebeau’s recent article on the huge disparity between rich and poor in Equatorial Guinea triggered a small earthquake in my world.  It’s good to be shaken out of one’s self-centeredness every once in awhile, don’t you think?

Chris points out that people in many African countries “are poor not because they are meant to be poor, they like being poor, or because they’ve done anything wrong.”  Rather, he says they, “…are poor because of a lack of opportunities, and a system of corruption that discourages savings and investment. To put it more simply, a few people have a lot of money, and most people have almost no money.”

As it turns out, it’s all about oil.  Chris tells us, “Countries that have oil or other natural resources, like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Sudan, end up with large pockets of the population that are completely left behind. Meanwhile, countries without a lot of natural resources (Botswana is the most frequently cited) tend to do much better in terms of reducing absolute poverty and providing healthcare for their citizens.”

Taking personal responsibility

Now whether you agree with the precise details of Chris’ assessment or not, oil is still an underlying thread along with greed.  I was further struck by a single remark among the 48 responses, which was offered by Terry: “All of us who consume oil are complicit in the oppression of others.”

It can often be a knee-jerk reaction to get mad about corruption and injustice; it’s often harder to see one’s own piece in the puzzle.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to hold people, corporations, and governments accountable for their actions.  Nevertheless, pumping up one’s own frustration and aggression is not generally an effective solution.  Anger and it’s associated emotions alienate others, and can also be harmful to your own health and wellbeing.

Spurred on by this article, I decided to re-look at my own levels of oil consumption and invite you to do the same.  In the wake of disastrous oil spill in the Gulf you too may be reconsidering the wisdom of an oil-based lifestyle.  Petroleum derived products are all-pervasive in our culture. To help you out, I’ve compiled a short list of ways to reduce oil dependence.

11 ways to reduce oil consumption

Since 71%  of oil goes to transportation—transporting ourselves and the goods and foods we purchase, there’s no question that a radical reduction in driving and travel are required to effectively reduce oil dependence.  The greatest gains will come from reducing our own driving and flying as well as the transportation of the goods that we purchase.

1. Change your vehicle use patterns.  Use your car a lot less or not at all.  Walk, bike, use public transportation. If it’s necessary to use a car, be sure to have a fuel-efficient vehicle or car pool.  Aggregate your trips, so there’s one weekly shopping trip, for example, instead of 4 or 5.  Reconsider and reduce travel by air.

2. Buy products that are produced locally, instead of one’s that require transportation from a distance.  In the same vein, buy vegetables and fruits in season instead of one’s that are imported from another country.

3. Buy used products instead of new ones, which will reduce oil use both in production and transportation.  Craig’s list, garage sales, and classified ads are good resources for used items.  Often, you can find items that are almost brand new.

4. Reduce the use of plastic, a petroleum derived product.  Reusable shopping bags are a great first step, but we can all probably do much more to reduce plastic consumption.  To stimulate your thinking, Beth at Fake Plastic Fish gives you 60 different ways you could decline plastic in your life.  If you gradually work your way through the list over the next 1-2 years, you will make a huge dent in your plastic purchases.  As Beth points out, sadly, “Our oceans are filling up with plastic: plastic that harms wildlife and never biodegrades; plastic that enters the food chain and leaches toxic chemicals.”   I’ve reduced my use of plastic considerably but, looking at Beth’s list, I see there’s much more that I could do.  How about you?

5. Buy natural fiber clothing instead of polyester, nylon, and other forms of synthetic, petroleum derived clothing.  Natural fibers include cotton, hemp, silk, linen, rayon, wool, ramie, and tencel.  Naturally, organic is a better choice, since pesticides are unhealthy and may also contain chemicals sourced from petroleum, although it’s not an affordable option for everyone.  It has also been pointed out that silk and wool are not necessarily the best options since their manufacturing process involves cruelty to animals.

6. Discontinue the use of perfume and scented products. 95% of the chemicals in most perfume are derived from petrochemicals.  Likewise, avoid products that contain synthetic fragrance and scents like personal care products (deodorants, lotions, hair spray, etc.), laundry detergent, dryer sheets, candles, air fresheners, scented cleaning products, and so on.  In addition to reducing your petroleum consumption, fragrance-free living reduces the health risks associated with the use of fragrance.  It is also an act of compassion, helping to create safer environments for people with allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivity, who are triggered by the chemicals contained in fragrance.

7. Use soy based inks instead of the standard petroleum-based ones.

8. Forgo wall-to-wall carpeting, which is typically loaded with synthetic fibers, not to mention the backing.

9. Regular crayons are a petroleum derived product.  Beeswax crayons have been suggested as an alternative, but it’s been pointed out by vegans that these are an animal derived product.  Any suggestions?

10. Use alternatives to petroleum-based building and remodeling materials.

11. Turn down the heat.

Ubiquitous petroleum

In case you have any doubts about the degree to which petroleum has entered every nook and cranny of your life, take a look at the following list  of “things that get their start from oil and natural gas.”  This list is from the 2 page pamphlet called “There’s a lot of life in oil and natural gas,” which you can download as a PDF file from the American Petroleum Institute’s website.

  • “Aircraft
  • Antihistamines
  • Antiseptics
  • Aspirin
  • Baloons
  • Bandages
  • Blenders
  • Cameras
  • Candies
  • Carpet
  • CD’s
  • Cellphones
  • Clothing
  • Computers
  • Containers
  • Crayons
  • Dentures
  • Deodorant
  • Diapers
  • Digital Clocks
  • Dinnerware
  • DVD’s
  • Dyes
  • Eyeglasses
  • Frames
  • Fertilizers
  • Food Preservatives
  • Food
  • Storage Bags
  • Footballs
  • Foul Weather Gear
  • Furniture
  • Garbage Bags
  • Glue
  • Golf Balls
  • Hair Dryers
  • Hang Gliders
  • Heart Valve Replacements
  • House Paint
  • Infant Seats
  • Ink
  • Insecticides
  • Life Jackets
  • Lipstick
  • Luggage
  • Medical Equipment
  • Nylon Rope
  • Pacemakers
  • Pantyhose
  • Patio Screens
  • Perfumes
  • Photographic Film
  • Photographs
  • Piano Keys
  • Roller Blades
  • Roofing
  • Safety Glass
  • Shampoo
  • Shaving Cream
  • Shower Curtains
  • Slippers
  • Soft Contact Lenses
  • Strollers
  • Sunglasses
  • Surfboards
  • Surgical Equipment
  • Syringes
  • Telephones
  • Tents
  • Toothpaste
  • Toys
  • Umbrellas
  • Vitamin Capsules
  • and a whole lot more.”

The very nature of life is interdependence.  Any step you take—large or small—toward reducing your personal consumption of oil is a positive step for the people of Equatorial Guinea and for the entire world.  It will also help to avert future oil spills.

I would love to hear the steps you are taking to reduce your consumption of oil, and any new ideas you can add to the list of possibilities.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks very much, Sandra

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