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We’re inhaling, eating, and drinking toxic chemicals

MIT Technology Review: “Now we need to figure out how they’re affecting us. What are chemical pollutants doing to our bodies? It’s a question that’s been on my mind this week, for a few reasons. Last week, people in Philadelphia cleared grocery shelves of bottled water after a toxic leak from a chemical plant spilled into a tributary of the Delaware River, a source of drinking water for 14 million people. And it was only last month that a train carrying a suite of other hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, unleashing an unknown quantity of toxic chemicals into the environment. Earlier this week, I spoke to scientists about the potential impacts of microplastic pollution, too. A research team examining seabirds that have accidentally eaten plastic found that their gut microbiomes seem to have been transformed. Birds with more plastic in their guts also have more potentially harmful bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant bugs, as well as others that can break down plastic. Scientists don’t yet know what microplastics are doing to humans. Given that they’ve been found in human blood, placentas, and feces, it’s a pressing question. There’s no doubt that we are polluting the planet. In order to find out how these pollutants might be affecting our own bodies, we need to work out how we are exposed to them. Which chemicals are we inhaling, eating, and digesting? And how much? Enter the field of exposomics…

The term “exposome” was first coined a couple of decades ago. The idea is that it should capture all the things we are exposed to that might affect our health, whether we encounter them in our diets or in our environment. We already know that our genomes help determine our risk of various diseases, but that’s only part of the story. The exposome should help fill the gaps…”

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