Yes, I said, “pee.” And not just because I’m trying, and failing, to potty-train my three-year-old at the moment.
I’ve always had a fascination with health and science. I’ve lived with ulcerative colitis for nearly 30 years, grew up the daughter and stepdaughter of parents in the pharmaceutical industry, and currently work not only as an independent consultant for a better-for-us business but also as a writer and media relations consultant for health IT and consumer health companies.
That’s why I knew I needed to participate in Silent Spring Institute’s crowdsourced biomonitoring study on exposure to toxins. Pass a cup please...
Researchers at Silent Spring Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, want to know more about our exposure to toxic chemicals contained in many household products.
The ultimate goal? To create a shift in how manufacturers formulate their products so they don’t use chemicals known to be harmful or that haven’t been evaluated for safety. Eventually, the burden will no longer be on consumers to police their own products.
That’s why the organization developed the Detox Me Action Kit, a simple urine test that detects the presence of 10 of the most common household chemicals that can accumulate in your body.
How Does It Work?
The short answer:
You submit your urine sample (it’s easy and non-invasive) and receive a personalized report that compares your results with all other participants in the study.
The long answer:
- Get your kit in the mail.
- The kit contains two glass jars, instructions, a cold pack, a link to an online survey, and a return shipping label.
- Take the online survey, which takes about 15-30 minutes, but you don’t have to answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable with.
- Your survey responses, along with your test results, will help researchers personalize the report and recommendations you receive.
- Scientists need this information to learn how specific behaviors affect chemical body burdens.
- Collect two samples – one first thing in the morning, one at the end of the day.
- Place both jars and the cool pack in the freezer for at least 24 hours so they become frozen solid.
- Pack the frozen jars and cold pack into the shipping container provided, apply the pre-paid shipping label and mail the package back to the Silent Spring Institute.
The Bigger Picture Results
Here’s what researchers have learned so far:
- All Action Kit participants had at least two chemicals detected in their sample.
- Everyone had a detectable level of the preservative methyl paraben.
- Researchers screened participants for two flame retardants,one of which is a carcinogen, and detected high levels of these chemicals in some participants.
- Action Kit participants had lower levels of BPA than the U.S. population, but higher levels of a chemical substitute called BPF.
Vannessa, a research scientist in action for the Silent Spring Institute. #GirlPower
What Did I Discover?
I submitted my “pee sample” in early March 2017 and received my personalized report in early August 2017. I’m one of about 150 participants who have received their results to date.
Overall, my sample showed:
- A higher level of an antimicrobial than most others in the study.
- A higher level of a bisphenol than most others in the study.
- A lower level of a sunscreen chemical than most others in the study.
- A flame retardant chemical
At first glance, I was a little surprised because I’ve been making a conscious effort to limit or eliminate toxic chemicals from my environment and switch to healthier options. And then I realized something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.
Our journey to a healthier world can’t just begin and end in the home or in our own communities. You see, while I’ve been choosing non-toxic and organic options at home and when I’m local to my town, I peed in those two cups the day after returning from a four-day business trip to Orlando.
I made a conscious decision to take the test after my trip, thinking I didn’t want to leave pee in the freezer and gross my kids and husband out, but after speaking with Ruthann Rudel, Director of Research for Silent Spring Institute, I learned that a lot of the chemicals Silent Spring Institute tested for have such a short shelf life that it’s quite possible that airport and convention center bathrooms and airplane fabrics, not to mention antimicrobial hand sanitizer stations, could very well have skewed my results, that if I tested my urine sample again, my levels would most likely have been more favorable.
Of note, 43 out of 150 participants showed detectable levels of triclosan, with the highest levels in the study around 400, which is 100 times higher than my results, Ruthann explained to me. She also said that some of these exposures could be skewed because triclosan is found in so many things, including toothpaste, so there were a clutter of people who self-reported not using hand or dish soaps containing anything anti-microbial but who may not have considered other products they use daily.
Also, like other people in the study, I’ve tried to avoid BPA, but instead have higher levels of a chemical substitute. Why? Because many manufacturers have shifted to chemical substitutes that are similar to BPA, like BPS and BPF. Because the chemicals have similar structures, they have many of the same properties that made BPA a useful ingredient in products – but they also share many of the properties that made BPA a health concern. Do you handle grocery receipts? What about canned food or beverages or even plastic water bottles? Plastics are complex, and they are everywhere.
Overall, though, I have learned that my decisions to switch to non-toxic options have made a difference. My paraben levels were all non-existent or super low.
“Your results are consistent with the fact that you are pretty cautious about your personal care products – sunscreens, lotions and the like,” Ruthann explained. “And your triclosan levels could be as a result of your trip or even your husband or children using some products with those chemicals that have led to your exposure as well.”
The more participants who enroll, the more statistical power the Silent Springs Institute will have to draw connections between the products that people use and the level of chemicals in their bodies.
As the study grows, researchers will be able to expand the list of chemicals tested for with the Detox Me Action Kit. In the meantime, I’m happy to have concrete actions I can take to reduce my body’s chemical load and am glad I now have a better sense of exposure to harmful environmental chemicals, because when we know better, we can do better.
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