Remember this Nitric Oxide video I made for Toxicology I class in Fall term? I made another one for my Toxicology II class! This time it covers “Everyday Teratogens,” a topic about chemicals in products normal folks like us come into contact with on a daily basis, but may not realize have the potential to cause birth defects in future generations. Please enjoy!
I am taking the second segment of the Toxicology courses available at my university because I really enjoyed doing the Tox I concepts, term project, and the flexibility of having an online class in my schedule.
Last term I read “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Deborah Blum, which talked about the potential negative impact of constantly being surrounded by chemicals in our daily lives. This term I am reading “Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.” I am from New York, and I had taken forensics courses both in high school in college, so I immediately knew this book was going to be interesting to me. So far I have only ready the first few chapters, but I am really liking the blend of science and history.
Figure: Cover of “The Poisoner’s Handbook” by Deborah Blum
The book emphasizes how forensics and toxicology develop as scientific fields as a product of trying to detect evidence against murderers. There were few tools to detect toxic substances in corpses until the 1900, making chemical an easy killing method. Also, in the 1800s, the chemical revolution made it accessible to get such poisons. I think that this relationship between murderers and scientific detectives is what drives new and innovative methods of killing to arise. For example, when the detection of metal chemicals was possible, murders stop using things like arsenic and turned to find untraceable chemicals like from plant sources.
In terms of style, “Poisoner’s Handbook” contrasts with “Rubber Duck” in that it is told as a story in a certain time setting. “Poisoner’s Handbook” is divided into chapters based on a specific chemical and the year of the case or cases it will cover. “Rubber Duck” is a more humorous account of experiments and facts. What they both have in common is that they show that the culture and society play a large role in how chemical issues are resolved.
Here is a good review of “Poisoner’s Handbook,” where I learned that the book actually had a trailer (seen below in the YouTube vid)
I’d like to preface this entry with my strong recommendation to read “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. I talked about reading this book for my Toxicology I class back at the end of October. I had finally gotten the chance to finish it before the term ended in December, and I really loved what I learned about the classes of common chemicals in consumer products. It also really emphasizes the point that while we cannot avoid completely the dangerous chemicals we have synthesized and incorporated into our daily life, it does not mean that we should not be aware and attempt to limit the amount of contact we have. A large amount of control can be done by checking the contents of what products we are buying.
Figure 1. “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health” book cover.
Chapter 5: The Tuna Feast Experiment
Chapter 5 entitled “Quicksilver, Slow Death,” examines the dangers of mercury and how easily its levels are increased. The author who took this challenge, Bruce, monitored his mercury blood levels for several weeks while eating a diet consisting heavily on fish. This means a lot of sushi, sashimi, tuna steaks, tuna salads, tuna sandwiches, ect.
Figure 2. A nice, wholesome tuna sandwich.
During the tuna feasting experiment, the author was surprised to find how easily tuna levels had doubled after just 24 hours of his meals. What is even more alarming is that as the experiment went on, mercury levels continued to increase rapidly at an exponential rate, far above the “safe” level of mercury in the blood. It seemed as though mercury is easily accumulated in the body fat, but is not easily cleared out of body via metabolizing factors or excrement. This results in a chemical build up, which consequently changed Bruce’s normal personality and mood.
Relating to My Own Life
This chapter is is a prime example of how awareness can help prevent getting sick. The chapter starts by quoting an actress who went on a Mediterranean diet, which was built around eating tons of fish, including tuna. She started having fits of dizziness and fainting, and later she realized it was linked to the high mercury content due to her diet.
Figure 3. Cans of tuna…yuck.
Firstly, I think that this brings up a good point of why diets that emphasize eating only one type of food is bad. A key to a healthy life is a balance of many types of foods, and a diet could lead to a build-up of something that can harm you. In this case, it was mercury. In fact, I have had a first-hand experience with this. During my internship over my summer, I had eaten tuna with cucumbers and crackers every single day for lunch for a quick meal between lab experiments. I would attribute my headaches and ill feelings to the humid and hot weather, but when I had gotten so bad that I was going back and forth to the doctor constantly for a recurring UTI (something that has never, ever hit me before). After taking Tox I class, I now know that metals in high concentrations can act as an immuno-repressant, leaving your body highly susceptible to foreign or “bad” bacteria invasions.
Solution & Conclusion
A point they bring up in this chapter is about bioaccumulation. Larger fish live longer and eat smaller fish that also contain mercury. Because of this, large fish accumulate a lot of mercy. Being on the top of the food chain, human beings consume this large fish and get the highest dosage of the deadly mercury. Especially in a society where bigger is always better, we need to be aware of the build-up of these harmful substances in our food or else it will immediately make a large impact on our health.
Because of the biomagnification of mercury in larger fish, the authors suggest to try to eat smaller fish as suppose to larger fish as a possible preventative action.
Figure 4. Infographic of a mercury cycle
Hope you enjoyed this! If you do not have time or are not interested in reading all of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” below is a link to chapter summaries. Perhaps they will intrigue you to pick up the book or download the eReader version.
Comp broken. Spilled coffee on it during early morning interview. UGH. Typing painful. Takes forever. Meanwhile, here’s my final Toxicology class project if you are interested.
So for my Toxicology I class, I need to read this book called “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Dangers of Everyday Things” by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. As you may be able to tell, the purpose of the book is to make the audience more aware of the soup of toxins that we are “marinating” in everyday.
Ala “Super-Size Me” documentary style, the 2 authors subject themselves to exposure to 7 toxins to see how it effects their body chemistry, including levels of the toxin in their blood and urine.The toxins are found in trace amounts in everyday consumer products and the exposure tests must mimic everyday life exposure. The one toxin I am interested in reading is triclosan, a hormone disrupter found in many antibacterial products. My last coop tasks were experiments had a lot to do with finding an alternative hand sanitizing methods.
I’ve just started the book, and it’s rather interesting. One of the more disturbing points discusses the evolution of pollution (direct quote from the book):
- It’s now global rather than local
- It’s moved from being highly visble to being invisible
- In many cases its effects are now chronic and long-term rather than acute and immediate.”
One idea in the first chapter really caught my eye though, that no matter where you live or who you are…
EVERYONE IS CONTAMINATED [by toxins].
And here’s a “Walking Dead” spoiler for those of you who have not finished Season 1…
EVERYONE IS INFECTED [by whatever causes zombie-ness].
(“Walking Dead” zombie image from ScreenRant.com)
Happy Halloween :D!!!