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Environmental Allergies

Sneeze, Swell, and Swipe 

 Allergies are a common problem affecting approximately 30% of the population in North America. Environmental allergies can be caused by many factors including dust, mildew, mold spores, feathers, ragweed, tree pollen, flower pollen and even animal dander.  Dust and mold allergies can occur all year round and not just during certain seasons. Exposure to these substances occurs daily while you are at home, at school, in the workplace or on your daily commute. Once the allergen is inhaled, your body responds by alerting the immune system and mounting an attack against it. First, the body produces an antibody to fight the allergen. The body perceives the allergen as a foreign invader, reacting in a similar manner to a virus or bacteria. The antibody attaches to mast cells (cells important in allergies) that are very abundant in the respiratory and digestive tracts. The mast cells explode, releasing histamine, the culprit responsible for the itchiness and runny nose.

Allergy symptoms can be categorized into three levels of severity. Mild reactions include congestion, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes. Moderate reactions may consist of breathing difficulties or itchiness on more than one area of the body. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction that is rare. It may begin as a mild reaction, but within minutes progresses to swelling of the respiratory tract, difficulties breathing and swallowing, vomiting and diarrhea, etc. Nut and bee allergies are familiar examples of anaphylaxis. Environmental allergies have more subtle effects on the body. With chronic exposure to these substances, low-level inflammation to the airway is not as obvious. Possible manifestations of chronic inflammation can include a tendency to have long-lasting colds, recurrent ear or sinus infections and coughing or wheezing after vigorous activities or with infections (asthma).

The current state of the body may also increase susceptibility to environmental allergens. The immune system is heavily dependent on proper digestion for the absorption of essential nutrients. The mucosal tissue that protects the digestive and respiratory system requires Vitamin A to function properly. Improper digestion can decrease absorption of Vitamin A and make the immune system more susceptible to environmental allergens.  In addition the decreased strength of these tissues in the digestive tract further inhibits its function leading to a condition called ‘leaky gut’−absorption of unnecessary particles that may trigger allergic reactions. For example, certain food allergens can resemble and act similar to environmental pollens and spores. Therefore during allergy season, the body being already sensitive to the food allergen reacts with the environmental allergen (a concept known as cross-reactivity). Cross reactivity can be caused by food additives, chemicals and artificial products. A strong digestive system would normally eliminate these from our body, however when the system is weakened, these substances can be absorbed and cause havoc. Maintaining a strong digestive system and immune system is important in reducing environmental triggers.

Depending on the allergy, the weather plays a significant role in the amount of allergen present in the environment. Wind increases transportation of allergens. Rain and dampness take pollens out of the air giving short-term relief but also encouraging the growth of certain fungal and mold spores. Hot and humid conditions influence the growth of a variety of allergenic spores. There are thousands of different types of spores present in the air throughout the year and many have seasonal variation. Knowing when these counts are elevated may help to prepare you for days that will create the most symptoms and may also help reduce your exposure. The weather network offers a seasonal pollen forecast, which provides counts for the common tree pollen and spores that occur from March to October. Please refer to

/canpollen_en to see the seasonal variation for your area. For US counts refer to


  4.  Water Quality

I drank what?

 Water is essential to the body. The human body is roughly composed of 25% solid matter and 75% water. The brain alone consists of 85% water and blood is primarily 90% water. Water is necessary for survival and optimum function. The quality of water used to replenish the body is also significant.

Water and Heart Disease

The ability of water to affect cardiovascular health may not be a familiar topic. This well-studied relationship is dependent on two factors; hardness of water and the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) in water. Hardness refers to the concentration of calcium and magnesium in the water supply whereas TDS measures all the minerals in drinking water, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, etc. These two factors have been associated with lower mortality and heart disease. The Relationship of Water to the Risk of Dying study found that people who drank water higher in TDS had lower death rates from heart disease, cancer and chronic diseases than those who consumed water with lower amounts of TDS. Numerous major studies have analyzed drinking water since 1960 and each has concluded that areas with hard water had lower mortality rates from heart disease than areas with soft water. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “an optimum conditioning of drinking water could reduce the amount of cardiovascular disease by as much as 15%”.

Modern water softening techniques can also contribute to the problem. During the process, sodium is usually added to the water, replacing significant amounts of calcium and magnesium. The elevated level of sodium in the drinking water has an effect on blood pressure, contributing to hypertension and increased risk of developing heart disease.

Water and Cancer

The hardness of drinking water and the amount of TDS have been associated with cancer. The pH and the amount of contamination appear to play an influential role. Over 2100 organic and inorganic contaminants have been identified in U.S. drinking water since 1974. A 10-25% reduction in cancer deaths were found if the drinking water contained moderate levels of TDS, if the water was hard and if the water was alkaline (above 7.0). Alkaline water will not leech heavy metals or chemicals from pipes, decreasing the amount of harmful contaminates in our drinking water. The majority of water studies have concluded that drinking hard water with 300mg/L of TDS and an alkaline pH will reduce the risk of cancer mortality.

Fluorinated water has had a direct role in cancer related deaths. The National Cancer Institute stated in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health (1977) that “more people have died in the last thirty years from cancer connected with fluoridation than all military deaths in the entire history of the United States”. Genetic damage in plants, animals and birth defects in humans has been linked to toxicity from fluoride. Additional symptoms ranging from fatigue, headaches, urinary tract infections, diarrhea and allergic reactions have resulted with fluoride accumulation in the body. The National Research Council of Canada documented in an Environmental Fluoride study, the mutagenic effects of fluoride and the interference it has on the metabolism of calcium, magnesium and vitamin C. Fluoride was originally added to the drinking water to prevent tooth decay, however these adverse effects were not taken into consideration. One very interesting fact regarding tooth decay is that no genuine scientific research supports the belief that up to 1mg/L will prevent tooth decay. Dr. John Yiamouyiannis revealed in his book Fluoride: the Aging Factor, a court testimonial from Illinois whereby “the United States Center for Disease Control and the British Ministry of Health admit that no laboratory experiment has ever shown that one ppm (1mg/L)  fluoride in the drinking water is effective in reducing tooth decay…” Judge Ronal A. Newman ruled that “a conclusion that fluoride is a safe and effective means of promoting dental health cannot be supported by this record.”  Then why is the addition of fluoride to our drinking water still advocated? New Zealand and the US found no difference in decay rates of permanent teeth at any age with fluorinated water. In fact, many countries including Germany, Spain, France and Sweden have discontinued the use of fluoride in their drinking water for health and legal reasons over the past thirty years. The long-term health effects of fluoridation should be taken into consideration. You can check with your local municipality to see if fluoride is still used in your area.

Chlorine is another chemical that demonstrates alarming concern in regards to cancer. Chlorine was added to the drinking water in the late 1890’s and widely used in North America by 1920. In the chlorination process, chlorine combines with natural organic matter and decaying vegetation to create potent cancer causing substances. These carcinogens by law are not allowed to exceed 100 ppb (parts per billion), however many water systems surpass this limit. Studies completed in 1975 found that the number of chemical contaminants found in drinking water were actually closer to 300 ppb. According to the report, Trouble Waters on Tap, over 2100 contaminants have been detected in US drinking water since 1974; of which 190 are contaminants suspected to cause adverse effects, 97 are carcinogens, 82 are mutagens, 28 are toxic contaminants and 23 are tumour promoting agents. While the addition of chlorine was intended to improve the quality of our drinking water the amount of unhealthy substances produced in the process may actually be increasing the risk of developing cancer.

Chlorine and fluorine belong to the halide family on Chemistry’s Periodic Table of Elements. These can displace another halide, iodine, in the body. Excess absorption of these can easily decrease the amount of iodine in the body contributing to high rates of thyroid disorders and cancer of the breast, ovary and prostate.

In summary, there are many factors to consider regarding the quality of the water we consume every day.  The solution is not to abstain from drinking water as it is vitally essential to the human body. The idea is to drink soft water with high TDS, high pH, low amounts of fluorine, chlorine and other contaminants.


  1. Burk D. Fluoridation: A Burning Controversy. Bestways, April, 1982: 40-44
  2. Burton AC, Comhill F. Correlation of Cancer Death Rates with Altitude and with the Quality of Water Supply of 100 Largest Cities in the United States. Journal Toxicology and Environmental Health 1977;3:465-478
  3. Conacher D. Trouble Waters on Tap: Organic Chemicals in Public Drinking Water Systems and the Failure of Regulation.  Wash., D.C.: Center for Study of Responsive Law, 1988: 114
  4. Maugh TH. New Study Links Chlorination and Cancer. Science 1983; 211 (February 13):694.
  5. National Research Council.  Drinking Water and Health. Vol1:477. Wash.
  6. Wilkins JR, Reiches NA, Kruse CW.  Organic Chemical Contaminants in Drinking Water and Cancer.  Am J. Epidemology 1979; 14:178-190
  7. Yiamouyiannis JA.  Fluoride: The Aging Factor. Delaware, OH: Health Action Press, 1983 Chemicals and Solvents

How polluted are you?

It is no longer a question of if you are exposed to chemicals but rather of how much exposure you have had? According to Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defense Canada, a Toronto-based environmental health group, “We are all polluted, it does not matter where you live, how old you are, how clean you live, if you eat organic food or if you get a lot of exercise. We all carry inside of us hundreds of different pollutants and these toxins are accumulating inside our bodies every day.”

Chemical compounds present in our food, air and water are now found in every living being. The bioaccumulation of these compounds can cause a variety of health issues by negatively impacting the immune, neurological and hormonal systems. Toxicity in these systems can lead to immune dysfunction, autoimmune diseases, asthma, allergies, cancers, cognitive deficit, mood changes, neurological illnesses, changes in libido, reproductive dysfunction and glucose dysregulation.

Our health can be greatly affected by the environment, therefore it is important to understand what we are exposed to. Since 1976, the US Environmental Protection Agency has been collecting and analyzing samples of fat tissue from thousands of participants for the presence of toxic compounds. In 1982, this nationwide annual program, National Human Adipose Tissue Survey (NHATS), looked for 54 different environmental chemical toxins. In 100% of samples, 9 chemicals were found, another 9 toxins were in 91-98% of samples and a total of 20 compounds were found in 76% of individual specimens. These chemicals were either carcinogens or neurotoxins that included DDT (DDE/DDD), PCBs and Xylene.

In Canada, a similar cocktail of chemicals was detected by a Report on Pollution in Canadians from the non-profit group Environmental Defense. The Toxic Nation study conducted by Environmental Defense was the first in Canada to test for a broad range of chemicals in the average Canadian across the country. The results detected 60 of the 88 chemicals in 11 volunteers: these included 18 heavy metals, 5 PBDEs, 14 PCBs, 1 perfluorinated chemical, 10 organochlorine pesticides, 5 organophosphate insecticide metabolites and seven VOCs (volatile organic compounds). On average, 44 chemicals were detected in each volunteer; examples ranged from 41 carcinogens, 27 hormone disruptors, 21 respiratory toxins and 53 reproductive/developmental toxins. These high amounts of chemicals in our bodies are concerning.

A National Report by Environmental Defense and the Canadian Environmental Law Association showed that the volume of chemicals released in Canada increased by 49% between 1995 and 2002. In 2003, air pollution emitted by Canadian industries alone totaled over 4.1 billion kilograms (Table 1). Exposure to these toxic chemicals has been linked to many ailments that have been increasing in Canadians in recent decades. These include several forms of cancer, reproductive disorders, birth defects, asthma and neurodevelopment disorders.


The pollution in Canadians extends all the way to Ottawa. Four federal politicians volunteered to be tested for over 100 different chemicals. Of the 103 chemicals, 61 were detected in the four participants, Rona Ambrose (the Minister of the Environment), Tony Clement (the Minister of Health), the late Jack Layton (Leader of the NDP) and John Godfrey (Liberal Environment Critic). Many of the chemicals detected are associated with adverse health effects (Table 2).


These were not the only polluted politicians. The most recent Toxic Body Burden study tested Ontario politicians including, Premier Dalton McGuinty, NDP Leader Howard Hampton and the Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory for 70 different chemicals. In the three volunteers, 46 toxins were detected and many are linked to negative health effects including 33 carcinogens, 24 hormone disruptors, 9 respiratory toxins, 39 reproductive/developmental toxins and 12 neurotoxins.

Internationally, Canada has one of the worst pollution records among industrialized countries. From emissions of air pollutants, like VOCs and sulphur oxides, to the production of nuclear waste, Canada consistently ranks at the bottom of the 30 industrialized countries that report to the Environmental Data Compendium of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Canada has held on to its poor environmental ranking for over a decade, now placing 28th out of 30 countries in 1992, 2002 and again in 2005.

Adverse Health Effects of Solvents

There is much evidence connecting these chemical compounds to health, however how much effect can they have on the body?

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) act as both peripheral and central nervous system neurotoxins. They can cause diminished cognitive function and motor movements, decreased memory and reaction time, mood disorders, irritability and fatigue.  Kidney damage, immunotoxicity and cancer have also been implicated.

Solvents have been found to affect hormone levels, including decreased testosteroe and increased insulin levels. Infertility, decreased sperm count, increased rates of spontaneous abortion and increased rates of fetal malformation have resulted. Blood disorders have also been found to occur.

In the last 50 years, the global production and use of manufactured chemicals increased substantially. More than 80,000 new chemicals have been created and the quantity of chemicals produced, used and released into the environment is drastically higher now than a generation ago. Studies have found toxic chemicals in every corner of every country-in the land, the air, the water, wildlife, people’s blood and women’s breast milk. It is clear that the environment we live in contains many pollutants. These chemicals can be found in every individual and the implications are very concerning. Removing these compounds from the body and decreasing our body burden of toxins is important to our overall health.


  1. Environmental Medicine, Part 1: The Human Burden of Environmental Toxins and Their Common Health Effects.  Walter J. Crinnion, ND , Alt Med Rev. Vol 5, No 1, 2000.
  2. Toxic Nation: ON PARLIAMENT HILL A Report on Pollution in Four Canadian Politicians
  3. Toxic Nation: At Queen’s Park A Report on Pollution in Three Ontario Politicians
  4. The CDC Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: What it Tells Us About our Toxic Burden and How it Assists Environmental Medicine Physicians  Walter J.Crinnion
  5. André Picard, The Globe and Mail – Wednesday, November 09, 2005
  6. Toxic Nation Report (A Report on pollution in Canadians) 2005
  7. Environmental Defence. (2005, October 15). PollutionWatch Compilation: Create a Pollution Report. Available at