Social Status Offers No Protection from Pollutants
Potentially harmful chemicals are building up in people’s bodies, and it doesn’t seem to matter much what your socioeconomic status is. You’re probably accumulating one toxic substance or another. Scientists had thought that socioeconomic status, such as income and education, might influence the buildup of toxic chemicals in the body. Specifically, British investigators thought people of lower socioeconomic status might be exposed to more of these environmental toxins, and might be accumulating more of them, than better-off folks.
Although they discovered that people across the socioeconomic spectrum harbor toxins, they did discover a link between types of toxins and socioeconomic status. Being wealthier apparently doesn’t protect a person from exposure to toxins, it just changes the types of toxins one is likely to accumulate. Higher-income individuals were more likely to be contaminated with heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic and thallium, investigators discovered. Benzophenone-3, a chemical used in sunscreens, was also more common among the well heeled.
In contrast, lower-income folks were more likely to be contaminated with lead, cadmium antimony, and bisphenol-A, an endocrine disruptor found in everything from plastics to cash register receipts. Investigators speculate that food is a common source of many pollutants, with higher fish consumption likely contributing to higher levels of mercury, arsenic and thallium.
Tyrrell J, Melzer D, Henley W, Galloway TS, Osborne NJ. Associations between socioeconomic status and environmental toxicant concentrations in adults in the USA: NHANES 2001-2010. Environ Int. 2013 Jul 23;59C:328-335. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.06.017. [Epub ahead of print]