Toxins of the 1%

The rich really are different: Their bodies contain unique chemical pollutants

August 5, 2013
August 5, 2013

“Tell me what kinds of toxins are in your body, and I’ll tell you how much you’re worth,” could be the new motto of doctors everywhere. In a finding that surprised even the researchers conducting the study, it turns out that both rich and poor Americans are walking toxic waste dumps for chemicals like mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and bisphenol A, which could be a cause of infertility. And while a buildup of environmental toxins in the body afflicts rich and poor alike, the type of toxin varies by wealth.

America’s rich are harboring chemicals associated with what are normally considered healthy lifestyles

People who can afford sushi and other sources of aquatic lean protein appear to be paying the price with a buildup of heavy metals in their bodies, found Jessica Tyrrell and colleagues from the University of Exeter. Using data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Tyrrell et al. found that compared to poorer people, the rich had higher levels of mercury, arsenic, caesium and thallium, all of which tend to accumulate in fish and shellfish.

The rich also had higher levels of benzophenone-3, aka oxybenzone, the active ingredient in most sunscreens, which is under investigation by the EU and, argue some experts, may actually encourage skin cancer.

America’s poor have toxins associated with exposure to plastics and cigarette smoke

Higher rates of cigarette smoking among those of lower means seem to be associated with higher levels of lead and cadmium. Poor people in America also had higher levels of Bisphenol-A, a substance used to line cans and other food containers, and which is banned in the EU, Malaysia, South Africa, China and, in the US, in baby bottles.

Previous research has established that rich Americans are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables and less likely to eat “energy-dense” fast food and snacks, but this work establishes that in some ways, in moving up the economic ladder Americans are simply trading one set of environmental toxins for another.

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