Stealth chemicals are those whose effects show up as unrelated illnesses.
This contrasts with known toxic chemicals like arsenic which are “in your face” poisons that can be readily identified by doctors and scientists.
Most significantly, the difference between a stealth chemical and one that’s obvious in its effects is determined by how much science knows about them.
For example, both arsenic and Diethylstilbestrol (DES) were once stealth chemicals before scientific advances unmasked them.
Advancing Science Unmasks DES’s Stealth Illnesses
DES is an artificial estrogen which used to be prescribed to both pregnant women and those in menopause from the late 1930s into the 1970s. (For more, see : DES History from the Centers For Disease Control, CDC).
During much of that time, science was inadequate and failed to recognize the that it was raising the women’s breast cancer risks. Not only that, science eventually learned that DES caused cancer in many of the daughters of women who took it during pregnancy (For more, see About DES from the CDC).
Old Science Means Looking In All the Wrong Places
During the time that DES was prescribed, the science of chemical safety looked for immediate or short-term symptoms from relatively high concentrations. This was supplemented with observations of cell or tissue damage that could be seen using optical microscopes or changes observable with a ruler or the naked eye.
New Science Unmasks Arsenic’s Stealth Side
Arsenic and DES have parallels in their journeys out of stealthdom.
In the days before more modern lab techniques were developed to detect the presence of arsenic, chronic cases of arsenic poisoning were usually diagnosed as cholera.
Murder by arsenic, therefore, remained a perfect crime until new science emerged.
Even th0ugh studies of arsenic’s poisonous effects began in then late 1700s, early attempts were inexact and incapable of detecting it in very low concentrations.
The science advanced by fits and starts until Scottish chemist James Marsh finally produced a conclusive test on low concentrations that was consistent and conclusive enough to convince a trial jury.
In fact, in 1840, French arsenic killer Madame Marie Lafarge was the first person ever convicted of murder based on direct toxicological evidence that Marsh had developed.
“Toxicology” is the study of toxic substances.
Aging Toxicology Paradigm Can’t Handle Stealth Chemicals
Scientific advances often go in cycles where followers of the accepted theories and paradigms fight new developments. This reluctance is understandable because scientists invest incalculable time, and their very lives in learning, practicing and advancing the “truth” they have learned and been taught. New paradigms devalue that, and risk careers, prestige, and income.
Conflict is inevitable when scientific changes endanger not just scientific careers, but entire industries whose operations are based on perpetuating the old ways.
Stealth Paradigm Progression: Arsenic, DES, Now Endocrine Disruptors
The scientific transition of arsenic and DES from a stealth to a recognized threat is being repeated today with a new class of chemicals called “endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs).”
The term “endocrine” refers to your body’s system of producing and regulating hormones such as adrenaline, estrogen, testosterone, and many others.
This means that endocrine disruptors are also hormone disruptors. These are chemicals that are active in the same very low doses as your body’s hormones but which can interfere with their proper functioning.
Because of the hormone disruptions experienced with DES, most of today’s current stealth chemical research has focused on compounds that exhibit estrogenic activity. But, those are not the only EDCs. Other stealth chemicals can act directly interfere with cellular mechanisms and even alter the way that genes function.
However, the fact that DES — and today’s hormone disruptors — could be harmful years after exposure to very low concentrations still upsets old-guard toxicologists, even though the stealth effects of many chemicals are unmasked.
But because the emerging science of hormone disruptors conflicts with the old paradigms, many of today’s old-time toxicologists continue to dismiss thousands of recent, high-quality, peer-reviewed studies showing how these chemicals can cause or promote cancer, obesity, diabetes, fertility and developmental problems as well as other “stealth” problems. Just for BPA, there are more than 2,000 in 2014 alone).
DES & BPA: Common Origin As Artificial Estrogens
No one knows how many stealth chemicals we are exposed to. But, in the past 10 years, three classes of EDCs have received the most attention: Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and flame retardants.
Of these, BPA has become the most prominently discussed “poster child” of them all. BPA has received the greatest attention because it is one of the most widely used plastics on the planet. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, at least 93% of Americans have significant levels of BPA in their bodies.
This is because we are constantly exposed to BPA through plastics used almost everywhere in modern life: water bottles, coffee makers, plastic glasses, water pipes, linings in canned foods, kitchen appliances such as Keurigs and K-cups, Sodastream bottles, and in dental sealants, thermal cash register receipts, paper currency, medical equipment like kidney dialysis machines and even intravenous bags and tubing.
Indeed, BPA is among the 84,000 unregulated and untested chemicals in our environment whose safety has never been evaluated. However, several recent studies have shown that 92% of plastics tested show the same sorts of estrogenic action as BPA.
Ironically, Sir Edward Charles Dodds, the British inventor of DES, first investigated BPA because of its estrogenic action. He rejected BPA because it was not similar enough to natural estrogen to serve as a substitute. He considered it a “weak” estrogen. Subsequent research has shown that while not as valid an estrogen as DES, it exhibits a very strong ability to disrupt what it cannot replace.
Now, Back To Arsenic
And our old friend arsenic? It has been found to act as an endocrine disruptor in very small concentrations comparable to that of hormones.