The truth about human chemical exposure

There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests chemicals present in our air, water, food, building materials and household products are poisonous to humans.  And these man-made chemicals may be contributing to the array of chronic diseases typically seen in routine medical practice today.

There are about 100,000 chemicals in use today.  Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these do we actually know much about in terms of their effect on humans.

Chemical plant

Every day we eat, drink and breathe in chemicals.  We come in contact with them in our jobs, homes and community.  They’re everywhere and they’re practically unavoidable.  These chemicals don’t just hang passively around us.  They infiltrate our body and they build up in our blood and urine.

Chemicals detected in humans

So, how many man-made chemicals are there in a human body?  Good question, I’m glad you asked as we’ve dug up the following statistics.  But are you ready for the answer?

Professor Holgate of the University of Southampton says that an average human has a staggering 15,000 chemicals circulating inside their body.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s research there are 1,400 chemicals that are known carcinogens and of these 420 have been detected in humans.  There may be more but that’s what’s been studied by scientists so far.


In this study, scientists refer to 200 neurotoxic chemicals that can lead to all sorts of brain dysfunctions and disorders ranging from autism, ADD, cerebral palsy and retardation.  Yet researchers noted that there are in fact more than 1,000 chemicals that could cause neurotoxicity.  It’s just that we only have documented science on around one fifth of them.

Chemical exposure of our children

Experts believe that children incur the highest levels of chemical exposure.  What's alarming is that due to their smaller, developing bodies and minds, our kids are actually more sensitive to toxins.  Not only does their chemical exposure begin in the womb but floor play means they come in contact with a lot of dust in their early life.  Unfortunately, toxins really stick to dust and dirt.

Child chemical exposure

The Standing Committee of European Doctors has been quoted here as saying, “Chemical pollution represents a serious threat to children, and to Man’s survival.”  That’s because it’s understood that chemical exposure from before birth and beyond negatively affects the development of critical organs.  It also increases one's chances of developing diabetes, cancer, attention deficit disorders, thyroid damage, diminished fertility, and other conditions in later life.

The combined effect of multiple chemicals

With thousands of man-made chemicals to study, scientists don't yet know how all these substances interact once inside us.  What they do know is that it’s not enough to simply consider the effects of individual chemicals on the body.  The combined effects of the many day-to-day chemical exposures we encounter must also be taken into account.

Within the cancer research field for example, scientists are looking more expansively at the role chemicals play along the developing stages of cancer.  Whilst one carcinogen can disrupt a specific biological pathway, multiple chemicals can interact to cause cancer via overlapping mechanisms.

Chemical exposure

Is it possible to live chemical-free?

According to Forbes, it’s virtually impossible to rid all toxins from your home, let alone other environments that you have little control over.

Unfortunately, harmful chemicals can be found in just about everything in our homes!  In furnishings, chemicals are used in the foam in your bed (and baby’s cot!), your floor and window coverings, furniture, cushions and paint.  Then there’s chemicals we use to clean, wash, dry, iron, polish, remove stains, kill bugs and deodorise.  Not to mention our kitchen items such as plastic containers and pots of pans with Teflon coatings.

These chemicals are very pervasive so you can’t just clean them away.  Your best chance of detoxing your home is to firstly to arm yourself with information.  Read product labels and ask questions.  Gradually replace items with low toxin or chemical-free versions.  See below for our further recommendations.

Top 10 tips on reducing your chemical exposure

  1. When it comes to furniture, mattresses and floor coverings, ask suppliers about chemicals. Request products that use natural materials and do not contain flame retardants or PFC’s (stain/water resistant chemicals) whenever possible.
  2. If redecorating, opt for paints that are low in VOC’s (volatile organic compounds).
  3. Buy bed linen, soft furnishings and clothes made from
  4. Opt for natural fibres such as cotton, wool, latex, bamboo and leather when buying bed linen, soft furnishings and clothes. Also look into organic versions (as chemicals sprayed on the crop can remain in the finished product). Learn more about natural fibres in beds and linen in this blog post here.
  5. Regularly clean your home, making sure you remove as much dust as possible. Dust tends to be high in toxins.  Read more about dust here and indoor air quality here.
  6. Review what’s under your kitchen sink and replace toxic cleaning products with natural alternatives. Check out this list of non-toxic, home made cleaning products to save money, protect the environment and safeguard your family’s health.
  7. Ditto for your cosmetics case – replace as many personal care products with natural alternatives. Get more advice about cosmetics from this blog post.
  8. Replace plastic food containers with glass or ceramic versions. And replace non-stick pans with safer alternatives such as cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic.
  9. Take stock of your children’s plastic equipment. We’re not suggesting you throw away all the toys, but be mindful when buying plastics.  Items that go in the mouth such as bottles, dummies and rattles are best to be free of BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates.
  10. Think about what you eat and whether that could be contributing to your toxic load. The EWG’s annual ‘dirty dozen’ list is a good place to start in terms of conventionally grown fruits and veggies with low pesticide levels and those you should avoid or buy organic.  Opting for home-made over processed foods is another way to lower your chemical exposure.
Live chemical-free