Low-Level Toxin Exposure Adds Up

In 2002, a study of nine healthy people who did not have occupational chemical exposure discovered that each of them carried an average of 91 chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides.1 In all, 167 chemicals were found in the participants. Most of these toxins did not exist 90 years ago.1 This incredible change in the environment over a relatively short timespan may be altering human health.

IFM educator Robert Rountree, MD, on total toxic load and its relevance to human health.

Industrial chemical residues are now found in air, soil, water, and food webs around the world.2-4 As low levels of multiple chemicals accumulate in the body, previously unknown effects may occur.5 Importantly, long-term exposure at low doses to a range of toxins that persist in the body can lead to clinically significant exposure.5 The cumulative collection of environmental factors to which an individual is exposed over a lifetime has been termed the exposome.6-7

Exposure to low levels of chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides can have large-scale impacts on health.5 By evaluating total toxic load and exposures, rather than individual toxins, it is possible to evaluate the potential role of toxins on patients’ health.8-9

Total toxic load may help to differentiate antecedent factors and triggers for specific patients. Personal biomonitoring could offer a route to identify exposure vectors and reduce total toxic load.5

IFM’s Biotransformation APM (formerly Detox) provides the tools to assess total toxic load.

Learn More About Biotransformation Pathways and Toxic Exposures


  1. Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Environmental Working Group, Commonweal. BodyBurden: findings & recommendations. Environmental Working Group. Accessed July 24, 2017.
  2. Zeeman M. Chapter 8: EPA’s framework for ecological effects assessment. In: Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment. Screening and Testing Chemicals in Commerce. Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment; 1995:69-78.
  3. Evans MS, Muir D, Lockhart WL, Stern G, Ryan M, Roach P. Persistent organic pollutants and metals in the freshwater biota of the Canadian Subarctic and Arctic: an overview. Sci Total Environ. 2005;351-352:94-147. doi:1016/j.scitotenv.2005.01.052.
  4. Simonich SL, Hites RA. Global distribution of persistent organochlorine compounds. 1995;269(5232):1851-1854. doi:10.1126/science.7569923.
  5. Thornton JW, McCally M, Houlihan J. Biomonitoring of industrial pollutants: health and policy implications of the chemical body burden. Public Health Rep. 2002;117(4):315-323. doi:1016/S0033-3549(04)50167-X.
  6. Wild CP. Complementing the genome with an “exposome”: the outstanding challenge of environmental exposure measurement in molecular epidemiology. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(8):1847-1850. doi:1158/1055-9965.EPI-05-0456.
  7. Anaya JM, Ramirez-Santana C, Alzate MA, Molano-Gonzalez N, Rojas-Villarraga A. The autoimmune ecology. Front Immunol. 2016;7:139. doi:3389/fimmu.2016.00139.
  8. Lentz TJ, Dotson GS, Williams PRD, et al. Aggregate exposure and cumulative risk assessment—integrating occupational and non-occupational risk factors. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2015;12(suppl 1):S112-S126. doi:1080/15459624.2015.1060326.
  9. Eggers MJ, Doyle JT, Lefthand MJ, et al. Community engaged cumulative risk assessment of exposure to inorganic well water contaminants, Crow Reservation, Montana. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(1):E76. doi:3390/ijerph15010076.

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