Money can solve many of life's problems, but a new study shows it won't keep you safe from toxins. Your body accrues chemicals that it can't easily break down from food, plastics, the air, and water. These include lead, arsenic, cadmium, bisphenol-A, oxybenzone, and mercury – all of which have been linked to serious health issues. Researchers looking at a large cross section of Americans found that the people who harbored the most toxins happened to be the poorest...and the richest people in the country.
According to the study, which looked at 10 years of Centers for Disease Control data, poor Americans have more lead, cadmium, and antimony in their bodies, likely due to manufacturing-type jobs, higher smoking rates, poor water quality, and poor diets. High levels of bisphenol-A, an endocrine-disrupting substance used to coat cans, plastic bottles, and other plastic containers were also prevalent in this group.
Meanwhile, the wealthy are full of mercury, arsenic, caesium, and thallium, which the researchers think comes from eating lots of seafood. The group also has higher levels of PFCs, compounds used to line nonstick cookware and present in stain-resistant couches and carpets, and in waterproof clothing that, in high doses, may damage the liver and reproductive system. Another toxin abundant in the wealthy: oxybenzone, the active ingredient in most sunscreens on the market, which, in high enough quantities, may pose a cancer risk.
Of the 18 toxins the researchers detected in at least three of the socioeconomic groups, cadmium, lead, and mercury are the most troubling, says lead study author Jessica Tyrrell of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health. "Each has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurotoxicity," she says.
One of the most worrisome things about this toxic exposure: Experts have no clue what health issues the combination of so many different chemicals could cause. "The toxins in your body might vary depending on where you live, what industries operate near your home, and what products you use," says Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But they still create a toxic soup that's really concerning. Individually, a toxin may not act in our bodies, but they can interact in ways we don't even know about."
Tyrrell says it's tough to avoid toxins altogether, especially if you're unable to switch to a less hazardous job or move to a less polluted neighborhood. But even if you can't completely steer clear, you can limit exposure to several types of toxins to minimize your overall load.