Toxic Tuesdays

How Individual Sensitivity Affects Toxicity

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

How Individual Sensitivity Affects Toxicity

We previously addressed individual variability and how it affects a person’s response to toxic chemicals. Another important factor in toxicology is a person’s individual sensitivity to chemicals. How sensitive a person is to chemical exposure helps determine how susceptible or vulnerable they are to toxic chemicals. Several factors determine how sensitive a person is including age, sex, health, genetics, diet, lifestyle, preexisting conditions and previous environmental exposures. While some people are more sensitive to chemical exposures than others, there is no clear definition of what sensitivity is or what it means. This is partially since so little is understood about the human response to toxic chemicals, especially to low level mixtures of chemicals.

Because of this uncertainty, there is no generally accepted definition of sensitivity. Nicholas Ashford and Claudia Miller describe the various meanings of the term. In traditional toxicology, sensitivity has been defined as individuals who require relatively lower doses to induce a particular response. These individuals are considered more sensitive than people who require relatively higher doses to experience the same response. The distribution of this population is described by the classic bell curve where the sensitive and resilient populations are found in the tails of the curve. Most people fall into this response category. In traditional medicine, sensitivity has been defined as individuals who have a significant and rapid immune-mediated response to an allergen or agent. In this population, some individuals, described as chemically sensitive, have a striking immune response to an allergen or agent, while non-allergic individuals do not, even at high doses. Classic allergens include ragweed or bee venom, but also include chemicals such as nickel or toluene diisocyanate (TDI).

In recent years, a growing population of people have expressed an entirely different sensitivity response. These are people who have developed multiple chemical sensitivities. Ashford and Miller found that people who have developed multiple chemical sensitivities may exhibit a third and entirely different type of sensitivity. These authors stated this about people with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS): “Their health problems often (but not always) appear to originate with some acute or traumatic exposure, after which the triggering of symptoms and observed sensitivities occur at very low levels of chemical exposure. The inducing chemical or substances may or may not be the same as the substances that thereafter provoke or ‘trigger’ responses.” Unlike classical toxicological or immune mediated responses, people with MCS sensitivity respond in a two-step process of an initial exposure event followed by a second triggering exposure. Much still needs to be understood about this third wave of sensitivity.  

Another factor that influences a person’s sensitivity is the body’s reserve capacity. Researchers have speculated that a chemical exposure may affect the reserve capacity of the body without causing an immediate adverse effect. However, when there are subsequent exposures, the body becomes unable to compensate for the additional stress and toxicity develops.

The science behind what is known about how people respond to chemical exposures, especially to low level mixtures of chemicals, is highly complex and not well understood. We know that people exposed to low level mixtures of toxic chemicals, like the people in East Palestine, OH, the site of that horrific train derailment and subsequent intentional burn of vinyl chloride, continue to suffer adverse health effects despite reassurances from EPA and public health agencies who are relying on traditional toxicology and risk assessments. Perhaps the people in East Palestine have developed a unique chemical sensitivity much like the third wave described by Ashford and Miller. So as their exposures continue during the ongoing cleanup, their chemical sensitivity and the subsequent adverse health responses are not what would be predicted by traditional toxicology or medical models. 

This is an important consideration to consider in East Palestine because it is clear that we do not understand what is happening to the health of the people there. It’s time to recognize that we cannot rely solely on traditional toxicology to address the questions people have about exposures to low level chemical mixtures.

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How AI Can Help Strengthen Grassroots Organizing

Image Credit: Tensorspark

By Gregory Kolen II.

Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable members of society. Disadvantaged communities, specifically, are often the ones living in areas with poor air quality, contaminated water sources, and unregulated disposal of waste. These challenges have been longstanding and difficult to overcome, as they require significant resources and political will. Yet, in recent years, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) have emerged to support community leaders and organizations working towards environmental justice.

Boosting activism through data: AI can assess and analyze vast amounts of data to help grassroots organizers tailor their messaging based on the demographics, behavior, and attitudes of their target audience. By better understanding the needs of the communities they serve, organizers can create more effective and convincing campaigns that are more likely to drive action.

Streamlining operations: Organizers can improve the efficiency of their operations and decision-making processes, allowing them to work more effectively and achieve their goals more quickly. AI can help organizers automate routine tasks, which saves time and energy, allowing them to focus on more complicated tasks that require human expertise.

Amplifying voices: Magnify the voices of marginalized communities with AI-powered chatbots. Amplify the stories and experiences of those most affected by environmental injustices. This can help grassroots organizers build empathy and support for their causes among those in power, as well as among the broader public.

Improving outreach: Organizers can reach out to a more extensive and precisley targeted diverse audience. AI-powered tools can help create more targeted promotional materials and reach out to individuals who might not have been reached through traditional methods. This can help organizers increase the reach of their initiatives and attract more support.

Identifying environmental issues in communities: AI tools can help communities identify and monitor environmental hazards in their surroundings. For instance, using machine learning and remote sensing technologies, it is possible to map and classify toxic hotspots or areas with high pollution levels. Real-time air and water quality monitoring sensors can also provide early warning systems that allow communities to take the necessary precautions.

Empower communities through data and citizen science: Citizen science is an approach that empowers communities to gather data, conduct research, and create solutions. AI tools can help democratize scientific research by enabling communities to communicate their findings and analyses. Collectively, high-quality data can be used to ascertain environmental health disparities. For instance, EarthAI, a nonprofit organization, aims to provide equal access to AI-assisted satellite imagery, which can be used to map and track environmental health indicators.

Influencing Policies: AI tools can be used to predict the impact of policies on marginalized communities. For instance, researchers can use machine learning models to identify areas where environmental policy interventions are most needed, based on critical community characteristics and environmental hazards. Such data and insights can be shared with policymakers to develop effective policies that prioritize environmental justice.

There are numerous ways that emerging AI technology can be used to help strengthen grassroots organizing efforts for environmental justice. From boosting activism through data analysis to amplifying voices and improving outreach, AI has the potential to help empower grassroots organizers and create more profound change by identifying environmental hazards, empowering communities through data and citizen science, influencing policies, raising advocacy and awareness, and reducing disparities. While AI is not a magic solution, it has the potential to create a pathway towards a more just future and better outcomes for all communities.

Additional information:

Toxic Tuesdays


Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


Acrylonitrile is a clear liquid that smells like onions or garlic. It is man-made as it does not naturally occur on Earth. It is used to create other materials, most commonly acrylic fibers in clothing and carpeting. Acrylonitrile can enter the environment from industrial sites that produce it and waste sites where it is disposed of. Because it dissolves easily in water and readily evaporates, it can enter the water, air, and soil. Although acrylonitrile breaks down in water and soil, people can still be exposed to it if they live or work near factories that use it. They can also be exposed to it through acrylonitrile-based plastic products and acrylic fibers. In addition to industrial sources of exposure, acrylonitrile is also found in tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust.

Inhaling airborne acrylonitrile can cause respiratory, skin, and eye irritation. It can also cause dizziness, headaches, weakness, impaired judgment, and, in extreme cases, convulsions. Exposure of acrylonitrile to the skin can cause burns and blisters, and repeated exposure can cause brain and liver damage. Studies on laboratory animals have also found that inhalation or oral exposure can cause low birth weights and birth defects.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have all determined that acrylonitrile probably causes cancer in humans. This is likely to occur through DNA damage. Research has found that people who work at facilities that use acrylonitrile have higher rates of lung cancer than the general population. Acrylonitrile is also one of the chemicals in tobacco smoke that is most associated with respiratory cancers. These findings demonstrate that acrylonitrile is dangerous enough that people need to be protected from it, especially if they live or work near facilities that use or dispose of it.

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Health Effects of PFAS in Drinking Water

The glass is always... we're screwed comic.
Image credit: Jim Morissey

By Leila Waid.

As a research project for a university course, I conducted a literature review and systematic analysis of the health effects of PFAS in drinking water. This blog post contains a highlight and broad overview of the health effects discovered.

The systematic analysis included 44 observational epidemiological studies focused on PFAS-contaminated water as the exposure and adverse health effects as the outcome of interest. (For inquiries, references to individual studies, or any other information about the information about the systematic review study, email

The results:

PFAS in drinking water is associated with a variety of different health effects. However, it is important to note that the results included here do not prove causation. In other words, the studies cannot prove that PFAS caused these health issues, only that an increase in PFAS exposure is associated with these health effects.

  • Cardiovascular health: increase in “bad” cholesterol, triglyceride lipids, blood pressure, hypertensive pregnancy disorder.
  • Hormonal health (endocrine system): impaired thyroid function, disruption in the growth hormone IGF-1 in children, lower levels of estradiol and testosterone, increase in Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome, fibroids, and testicular cancer.
  • Immune health: increase in adverse health effects from COVID-19, disruption in inflammation production, lower immune cell count and production, increase in ulcerative colitis (stomach ulcers).
  • Urinary system health: kidney function impairment, kidney cancer, bladder cancer
  • Digestive system: esophageal cancer.
  • Neonatal (infant) health: lower birthweight and small for gestational age.
  • PFAS has also been found to cause epigenetic changes, which is a process through which our environment impacts how our genes are expressed. In other words, it does not change the actual DNA structure, but how the body reads the DNA sequence. Specifically, PFAS is associated with DNA methylation (a process through which chemicals attach to a DNA chain and turn a specific gene on or off. This process affects how the gene is read).
  • Mortality: exposure to PFAS associated with all-cause mortality, as well as mortalities from liver cancer, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, myocardial infarction, kidney cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Neurological system: developmental language disorder.
  • Skeletal system: increase in bone fractures (hip, proximal humeral, and distal forearm fractures).
  • Non-regional specific: mesothelioma cancer (affects tissues around organs), increase in multi-morbidity (multiple chronic morbidities occurring at the same time).
  • Mental health: increased anxiety, financial stress around health issues, emotional distress due to worrying about living in PFAS-contaminated region. Also, PFAS was associated with an increase in behavioral problems among children. 

It is important to note that all the adverse health effects discussed above were found from observational studies on human health, not animal or in vitro (cell) studies. Although the findings cannot prove causation, they still paint an alarming picture for human health. The results showcase that urgent and robust policy action is needed at the federal and state levels to protect our waterways from PFAS contamination. This situation is critical because almost half (45%) of all tap water systems in the U.S. have PFAS contamination. And one study found that an estimated 97% of all Americans have PFAS in their blood streams.

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Backyard Monthly -November 2023

November 2023
CHEJ's "All In" - Spotlight of the Month

Last month, we had the privilege of being joined by CHEJ’s Founder Lois Gibbs to lead an amazing training call on how to set fundraising objectives, identify the target audience, and discover appropriate opportunities to meet your fundraising goals. Here’s a summary of what Lois covered.

Individual donor fundraising is crucial for organizational stability and community support, providing unrestricted funds for various needs. It builds people power, expands volunteer bases, and boosts your influence with corporations and elected officials. In the U.S., 68% of charitable contributions come from individuals, even those with modest incomes, highlighting the importance of asking for contributions from your community. Don’t underestimate the potential support from your neighbors and local community members. Asking for money might be uncomfortable, but embracing both donor and fundraiser roles can significantly benefit your organization’s long-term success.

Overcoming resistance to fundraising and understanding your personal relationship with money is essential, and remember that it’s about your organization, not you. Assess your feelings when asking for or giving money. Develop a clear individual donor fundraising plan with specific goals, audience, strategies, and timelines. Personal stories matter when explaining your involvement in the cause. Practicing mindfulness and intuitive communication with potential donors is key, and always express gratitude and invite them to join your cause.

If you would like to see the full training call, you can view the replay here.

Your Voice is Needed:

The Unity Council for the EP Train Derailment wants you to let Jim McPherson know how you've been affected by the East Palestine train derailment

In the wake of President Biden’s executive order, Jim McPherson, a seasoned government official, has been delegated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to spearhead the recovery operations in East Palestine following the train derailment.

Time is of the essence, and we are keen to ensure that McPherson opens a line of communication with the affected inhabitants. If he genuinely engages and understands their plight, we remain optimistic that he will advise President Biden to declare a disaster. This is a pivotal step towards authentic recovery, as the declaration would unlock the provision of essential financial assistance and thorough environmental testing for the residents.

He only has until mid-November to make his recommendation. Email Jim McPherson today!

Toxic Tuesday

Over 10% of births worldwide are preterm, meaning delivery occurs earlier than 37 weeks of pregnancy. It is a leading cause of neonatal mortality, and evidence suggests that exposure to heavy metals from the environment could be a risk factor[Read more]

Asphalt is made of a compacted “aggregate” mixed with a “binder.” The aggregate takes the wear-and-tear of traffic while providing a nonskid surface. It comes from rock quarries, natural gravel, and/or soil. The binder is a type of cement that holds the… [Read more]

Training Calls

Lois instructs attendees on how to establish fundraising goals, how to determine an audience, find relevant strategies, figure out the necessary amount of donors/donations, and construct a realistic timeline. As she says, “Without a timeline, non-profits are unlikely to succeed.”…. [Watch now]

Backyard Talk Blogs

By Stephen Lester. I’m often asked what it is that I do at CHEJ. As a trained scientist, I provide technical assistance to grassroots community groups. People send me their environmental testing data to review. This data spans chemicals foun… [Read more]

By Sharon Franklin. A recent New York Times series concerning fracking and water by Hiroko Tabuchi and Blacki Migliozzi explores the relationship between hydrofracking and our disappearing water sources.   Giant new oil and gas wells that requir[Read more]

By Juliet Porter. Climate scientists have discovered that Americans are using up groundwater faster than ever before in our history. Recently, the New York Times investigated this phenomenon by examining 84,544 monitoring wells… [Read more]

Do you find this information useful? Please consider pitching in and making a contribution to CHEJ. We appreciate your support!

Three years after a federal judge revoked the permit allowing for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River and ordered an environmental review, the oil still flows as it has since the pipeline began operating in 2017. Now, with the release of a new, and heavily biased, Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), the American Army Corps of Engineers has opened a process for public comment.

The Native Organizer’s Alliance Action Fund is determined to flood the Army Corps with thousands of letters demanding the blockade and removal of the pipeline. No citizens within the Missouri River watershed should be in danger of their water source being ruined by contamination.  

And most certainly, the Standing Rock Sioux should have been consulted concerning this violation of their unceded and sovereign territory rights! Please join the demand to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline now!