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Our Environmental Toxic Load

Huntington College of Health Sciences

By Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG)
Huntington College of Health Sciences

Many natural practitioners utilize detoxification protocols as part of their treatment plans for patient health and wellness. However, opponents of such protocols often argue that the human body was designed to process and excrete environmental toxins, so there is no need for protocols to support and promote the detoxification process. While it is true that the body has detoxification systems in place, the problem with this opposing viewpoint is that it fails to take into account the fact that our bodies may not always be equipped to handle the sheer volume of modern, environmental pollutants and toxic substances. Consider the following.

The Toxics Release Inventory
While many toxic chemicals used to make products such as pharmaceuticals, computers, paints, clothing and automobiles are managed by industrial facilities to minimize releases of chemicals into the environment, releases do still occur as part of their business operations. It turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a great source of information for helping to determine the extent to which we are exposed to some of these environmental toxins. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available database maintained by EPA’s TRI Program that tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. According to TRI, in 2015, about 27.24 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were reported as generated at TRI facilities in production-related wastes. Of this total, about 23.84 billion pounds were recycled, burned for energy recovery, or treated, and 3.36 billion pounds were disposed of or otherwise released to the environment.

Chemicals that are of special concern: 1) persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals; and 2) known or suspected human carcinogens. The chemicals designated as PBTs are not only toxic, but also remain in the environment for a long time where they tend to build up in the tissue of organisms throughout the food web. These organisms serve as food sources for other organisms that are sensitive to the toxicities the chemicals cause. These include lead and lead compounds; mercury and mercury compounds; and dioxin and dioxin-like compounds.

Total releases of lead and lead compounds rose and fell between 2005 and 2015, with an overall increase of 20 percent. This represents more than 500 million pounds of lead released into the environment in 2015 alone. The metal mining sector accounts for 85 percent of the disposal of lead and lead compounds. Other sectors include hazardous waste management facilities, and air releases of lead and lead compounds from motor vehicle metal stamping facilities.

Although the release of mercury into the air has decreased since 2005, more than 50 thousand pounds of mercury and mercury compounds were still released into the air in 2015. Electric utilities, which include coal- and oil-fired power plants, accounted for 48 percent of the mercury and mercury compounds air emissions reported to TRI.

Since 2005, the total amount of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds disposed of or otherwise released have risen and fell. In 2015 the amount increased by about 5 percent over that of 2005, for a total over 80,000 grams. Although they are the unintentional byproducts of many forms of combustion and several industrial chemical processes, these chemicals characterized by EPA as probable human carcinogens. The chemical manufacturing industry accounted for 46 percent and the primary metals sector for 49 percent of total grams of dioxins released.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. So, if you’re currently utilizing detoxification protocols for your patients, rest assured that you have billions of good reasons for doing so.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2015 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis. Washington DC. Updated January 2017. Retrieved August 13, 2017 from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/tri_na_2015_complete_english.pdf.


Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at gbruno@hchs.edu.