An excerpt from Emily Holden’s results from her wristband test which showed – highlighted in yellow – what had been found, including TPP, the flame retardant used in some nail polish. Photograph: Emily Holden
Endocrine function is important to a healthy body. Endocrine disruptors can turn on or off, or modify, signals that hormones carry. They are linked with developmental, neural, immune and reproductive problems.
Naidenko reminds me that research can’t yet tell us the effects of cumulative exposure to multiple chemicals simultaneously.
“In EWG’s view, this question should have been answered by chemicals and products manufacturers before the chemicals were released on the market,” she says. “In the meantime, EWG recommends avoiding various possible sources of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in everyday products.”
This, she adds, will “require a bit of detective work … since ingredients are not typically listed on consumer products”.
At first, I don’t aggressively pursue that detective work – I’m busy and I’ve been living this way without major problems for years, right? But I find I can’t help myself. Within the month I decide to start skipping pedicures and painting my toenails at home or not at all.
Results from the rest of my tests
When Mount Sinai completes my lab tests, Wright won’t send them to me until we talk. He knows I would go straight to Googling.
First he asks if I have chronic illnesses or take medications. I don’t, but I do take two pills a day for minor issues. I work in front of a computer, but I’m otherwise active and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. I’m also gluten intolerant, so I skip many processed foods.
Wright tells me I have at least 36 chemicals in my body – phthalates, flame retardants and pesticides, as well as some phenols used in plastics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from air pollution.
I also have a metabolite from cigarette smoke, called cotinine. I don’t smoke and I’m rarely around smokers, but I did briefly visit relatives who were smoking two weeks before my test.
It’s remarkable to me that this could show up in my results.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ level for any of these chemicals,” Wright says.
But compared with the CDC data, I’m fairly average for a person living in a city.
Two of my phthalate levels are two to three times higher than the American average. Those are the chemicals found in my fancy soaps and shampoos. But they’re also in the plastic medicine capsules I swallow each day. And they’re in food packaging – like the plastic sheets that wrap American cheese. They are associated with obesity and reproductive problems, particularly for males.
“All those things are not directly causal, they’re risk factors,” Wright explains.
Even average levels aren’t necessarily healthy.
Trasande says he would have compared my numbers to the ranges of levels – rather than the averages – present in Americans. He says results like mine “are associated with a host of health consequences that can develop in folks who don’t have clinical symptoms of any disease or burden”. He counsels me to avoid the exposures I can.
But Wright says that since I don’t have any illnesses – like type 2 diabetes – he wouldn’t advise any extraordinary measures to limit my encounters with phthalates.
“My bet is you’re more in tune than most people and probably have a lower risk,” Wright says. He says taking your health seriously,“more than anything else, will help no matter what you’re exposed to and pretty much no matter what your DNA says.”
Based on one result, my elevated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, I decide to get a big fan and open the window when I cook over my stove.
My kitchen doesn’t have an exhaust. It’s unclear whether the air pollution my labs show is from cars in a traffic jam or smoke inside my home.
“I think the important message is it’s not that we think that all chemicals should be banned,” Wright says. “Chemicals have positive uses. It’s just that we need to be aware of what’s in [products] and then make informed choices.”