Bioethics Blogs

Overexposed: The role of environmental toxicants on your brain

By Carlie Hoffman

It
is often said that we are products of our environment: who we are is
shaped by the things, people, and situations with which we surround
ourselves. However, whatever we may like to think, we are not in
control of every facet of our environment. In fact, we are unknowingly
and involuntarily exposed to dozens of man-made environmental chemicals,
called toxicants,
each day that can negatively alter our bodies and even our very brain
matter. In essence, we are becoming literal products of our environment.
Synthetic
chemicals and toxicants are ubiquitous within our surroundings. While some toxicants come from obvious
sources, like cigarette smoke and car exhaust, other sources of exposure
are more subtle. For instance, electrical equipment (like computers
and cell phones), beauty products (like makeup and shampoo), mattresses,
and furniture all contain flame retardants, chemicals used to reduce flammability [3, 13]. Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates,
chemicals used to harden plastics, can also be found in dental
sealants, cigarette filters, soda bottles, and the linings of canned
foods [4, 8, 12]. Additionally, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT),
a pesticide commonly used in the mid-1900s to combat outbreaks of
pests, malaria, and lice, was banned in 1972 in the US and yet is still currently present within both the environment and human tissues [12].
Pesticides not only harm insects, but certain doses can also have harmful effects on the human body.

The presence of chemicals within almost every facet of our society means we are
subjected to varying levels of environmental exposure throughout our lives– from the womb to the grave.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.