The Health Burden from Toxic Chemicals
Posted January 20, 2010
Most practicing physicians are acutely aware of the tremendous cost and burden of health care in the United States. But there’s one element of this burden that I see in my medical practice that many physicians don’t. In the clinic where I work at UCSF, we specialize in seeing patients who have become ill due to exposures to chemicals in their environment. Sometimes the concerns are related to contaminants discovered in well water; sometimes it is a respiratory problem related to indoor air quality; sometimes chemicals in consumer products are implicated in a child’s illness. One thing that makes me sad about the stories that I hear from patients is that they are so preventable.
That’s why I spend a lot of my time working to change public policies that make people sick, or policies that don’t protect people from dangerous substances.
Just last week I blogged about the new study linking bisphenol A (BPA) to heart disease. One of the implications of that study was that this chemical could potentially be responsible for a significant burden of health care costs and illnesses. But it’s not just BPA. In fact, a report coming out tomorrow from the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition will pull together information about the contribution of toxic chemicals in our environment to human illness. The conclusion is that a substantial portion of disease – ranging from asthma to learning disabilities to cancer – is likely to be due to preventable exposures to toxic chemicals. The costs to individuals and society are sobering.
Even if public policy changes will protect people from just a tiny fraction of these diseases, it will help tremendously. That’s why we need to get chemicals tested for their toxicity and controlled so that people don’t get sick. Stay tuned for more on this tomorrow!