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Environmental chemicals

MagazineDecember 1999 (Vol. 10 Issue 9)Environmental chemicals

The chemicals in your environment, particularly your office, can have endless effects on your health

The chemicals in your environment, particularly your office, can have endless effects on your health. Fluorocarbons that are present in aerosol propellants have been shown to set off cardiac arrhythmias (J Am Med Assoc, 1970; 214: 81-5; N Eng J Med, 1975; 292: 624-6).

Exposure to NCR (no carbon required) paper, used for simultaneous carbonless copies, which contains alkylphenol novolac resin, has been shown to induce laryngeal swelling in sensitised individuals and to cause blood histamine levels to rise sixfold (J Am Med Assoc, 1988; 260: 242-3). With photocopiers, the fine dust emissions from the black toners were shown in blinded trials to cause spasms of the constrictor muscles of the pharynx (J of Allergy, 1985; 55: 665-73).

The trigger may be the various organic compounds that are given off by new laser printer paper, as it was shown to be in a study of so called laser printer rhinitis. The characteristic symptoms nasal congestion, skin irritation and stomach discomfort with tightness in the chest were induced and confirmed by blinded challenge with the paper itself, although some people reacted to the combustion products from the styrene butadiene toners. In the study, the paper caused a three to four fold increase in nasal congestion (Ann Intern Med, 1987, 107: 526-45).

Polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), which are present throughout the home, including the insulating material of electrical transformers, also cause reactions in the sensitive. In one instance, the combustion products of PCBs that were given off in a transformer room fire produced substantial reductions in perceptual motor speed, and impairments of cognitive function and memory in 14 firemen exposed during the fire. All 14 also suffered from joint aches, muscular weakness and extreme fatigue (Arch Environ Health, 1989; 44: 345-50).

This makes one wonder whether the Gulf War Syndrome had anything to do with the fact that the Iraqi Army lit fires in Kuwait just before their retreat.

Scleroderma is another syndrome with an environmental cause. It's been linked to exposures to organic solvents, epoxy resins, consuming toxic cooking oil, vinyl chloride and silica dust (Internal Med, 1988; 9: 135-54).

Using paraffin oil (called"kerosene" in the US) as cooking fuel can also bring on a variety of symptoms, particularly respiratory problems. In Cuba, where cooking with paraffin oil is widespread, a five year study of 286 asthmatic women who cooked with paraffin oil showed that the condition of only 15.5 per cent improved with medical treatment, while nearly half showed no improvement. Some of the women in the study noted that their asthma came on soon after they'd begun using paraffin oil as fuel (Annals of Allergy, 1990; 64: 362-3).

Another potential hazard is hydrazine, which has been linked to lupus erythematosus (Annals of Allergy, 1990; 64: 362-3). Hydrazine is found in textiles, mushrooms, plastics, photographic supplies, rubber articles, pesticides, herbicides and in drugs like hydralazine and procainamide, but it also makes its way into food. The food dye tartrazine is metabolised to hydrazine compounds (Am J of Medicine, 1983, 75: 363-70).

Emissions from wood treated with pentachlorophenol and lindane can bring on a multitude of symptoms (Bundesgesundheitsblatt, 1994; 37: 377) in the skin, brain, immune system, eyes and endocrine system. They can also produce psychiatric effects and induce new sensitivities to odours, foods or chemicals.

If you've been repeatedly exposed to environmental chemicals, a nutritional approach can help. Particularly useful are supplements of selenium, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as other antioxidants (Arch Environ Health, 1974, 28: 105-113).

Other therapies which may be beneficial include acupuncture, EPD, allergy neutralisation and treatment for a leaky gut. If you have had exposure to any of these chemicals, clinical ecologists often recommend taking tri-salts (sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate); or powdered vitamin C in water as a handy first aid treatment to cut down on reaction.

!AHarald Gaier

Harald Gaier is a registered osteopath, naturopath and homoeopath.


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