Monona Rossol Responds to Your Questions and Comments

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Associations between socioeconomic status and environmental toxicant concentrations in adults in the USA: NHANES 2001–2010

On November 27, industrial hygienist and chemist Monona Rossol talked about a study that showed that rich people and poor people have different toxic substances in their bodies (listen to that interview here). She answered to some of the questions listeners left. Here are her responses:



gene from NYC

Rossol seems ill-infomed on e-cigs, and not very rigorous in her approach to science, or her language.

I'd have been more comfortable had she said e-cigs SEEM to be safer. But that is far from proven. As she herself said just moments earlier (in regards to US v. European regulations), it's unfair to expose innocents to unknown chemicals. I am worried that she has some influence on their use on stage.

Re: propylene glycol as "safe." Ingestion is FAR different from inhalation. Water is safe if ingested; fatal if inhaled.

E-cig vapor contains far more than propylene glycol. See PLOS One's "Metal and Silicate Particles Including Nanoparticles Are Present in Electronic Cigarette Cartomizer Fluid and Aerosol" for one study.

Plus, this is a highly unregulated field, with hundreds of manufacturers of varying levels of competence. You often really don't know what you're inhaling; let alone the danger of explosions/fires.

As a person acting/appearing as some sort of health authority, Rossol can't just mindlessly spout e-cig manufacturers' propaganda and then expect to be considered seriously in anything else she says.

Nov. 27 2013 01:51 PM

Dear Gene,

I'm glad to have an opportunity to answer this, actually. I hope others will also read what I have to say.

First, while you are right about there being no animal tests of propylene glycol by inhalation, there is 40 years of human experience since it is one of the major theatrical fog chemicals.  And there are 5 studies of the fogs' effects in performers including a big NIOSH report.  The glycols can cause, at high levels, vocal problems and upper respiratory irritation in performers.  I personally think the glycols can cause asthma in some people, but there is only anecdotal evidence of this effect.  However, the amount of glycol in those e-cigs are magnitudes less than the exposures that were found to cause these symptoms.

Second, the study to which you refer analyzed the smoke and found particles of a number of chemicals including boron, iron, aluminum, sulfur, zinc, tin, lead, boron, chromium, nickel, manganese, titanium, and lithium. There are also some low toxicity silicate particles which should not be confused with highly toxic crystalline silica.

It is reassuring that the amounts of the chemicals found in the smoke was small. I recalculated the study’s data in order to compare it to the workplace air quality standards for these substances. I found that the amounts from even 200 puffs a day don’t even come close to these standards.

The chart in the study also compares the amounts of each of these e-cig chemicals with the amounts of these same chemicals found ordinary tobacco cigarette smoke. In almost all cases, the amounts of these chemicals in real cigarettes are much larger that those in e-cig smoke.

The most troubling data in the study is that some of these e-cig particles are in the tiny hazardous nanoparticle size. And the tin particles are in the form of "whiskers" or needles, a form some toxicologists associate with cancer. Several of the metals are also associated with cancer.  But these same cancer causing metal particles are in tobacco smoke.  And many of the cigarette smoke particles also are in nanoparticle size.

Before accepting this data, we might consider flaws in the study itself. This online journal charges most contributors for publishing their articles. The articles are peer-reviewed, but most of the reviewers are from rather small universities and institutions. The study only looked at one brand of e-cig which they didn’t identify when there actually are dozens of brands.

In summary, I think that this study is a heads up that there probably are some hazards associated with this fake smoke.  But what they found, with the exception of the tin whiskers, is smaller amounts of the same chemicals that are in tobacco smoke. Plus tobacco smoke has thousands of other toxic chemicals in it.  I will continue to advise actors on stage not to inhale when faking smoking.


Amy from Manhattan

JF, it's been promoted as a supposed utopia. "Better living through chemistry," remember? We've been told these chemicals do wonderful things, but the reality is that they're poisoning us. That's the whole point.

Nov. 27 2013 12:47 PM

Dear Amy,  I think you've said this well.



Alicia from NYC

Just caught a bit of the talk on chelating to get rid of lead. May have missed something, but I have to comment. I (and one of my 3 cats) got lead poisoning in my mid-40's from removing paint from my 1911 apartment--the cat began losing a lot of weight, and I felt like I had the flu--achy joints and tired. We both had chelation (am I spelling that right?) and my symptoms and his cleared up completely. The cat had lost a few lives earlier (he was rescued) but lasted until 18, and I'm quite healthy and full of IQ points almost 20 years later.

Nov. 27 2013 12:43 PM

Dear Alicia,  I suspect you both would have felt better in time without any chelation.  


I paid tuition in the 1960s to get acute lead poisoning.  We were taught to do dripped lead sculpture, where we literally used welding torches to melt bars of lead near our faces and drip the hot lead into our molds.  We all came down with what appeared to be "flu."  My flu included uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea.  As is typical, these symptoms did not occur during the work but some hours later since lead fume takes time to dissolve in the lungs.   I felt rotten and was losing weight, just like you.  After I stopped doing this work, I got better over time.  And like your cat, I have lived a long time and I am still rather bright.  But I know, from the massive amounts of data on this subject, that I lost a few IQ points during that period that will not come back. It is also likely that my high blood pressure today is related. I also know, that none of this would have changed for the better with chelation.  And there is significant evidence that chelation would have caused more harm than good.         



Amy from Manhattan

I'm glad to hear that the precautionary principle is followed in Europe, & I hope market forces will lead the US to change its laws, or at least lead US corporations to change their practices. But I've been hearing about a proposed trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which among other things would allow private companies to sue gov'ts. that enact laws banning toxic manufacturing practices & toxic chemicals in food & other products. Has Ms. Rossol heard about this, & if so, what does she think about it?

Nov. 27 2013 12:40 PM

Amy, you can rejoice!  Every employer in the US is required to retrain their workers who use chemical products in the new labeling and safety data sheet system being used in the EU.  And the law you are talking about is another attempt to try to stop this kind of progress.  They will have a hard time since the new system adopted by the EU has also been adopted by almost all major countries including China and Japan.  And now our own OSHA has put it into law.  

There are also three bills that would stop individual states from passing laws restricting or banning chemicals in products. Those I am more worried about.  Because waiting for our legislators to pass any chemical safety bills is futile.



jf from DYSTOPIA


Nov. 27 2013 12:39 PM

Dear JF.  

Bio or not, the fuel in a diesel engine is combusted to create the large volume of gases needed to cause the engine to run.  And while it is better to use biofuels, the amount of carbon created in burning either fuel is roughly comparable.



Curtis from Bronx

Is it also the case that poor people's bodies contain more toxins because poor people tend to live in areas, neighborhoods, that contain factories and industrial complexes.

Nov. 27 2013 12:38 PM

Dear Curtis,

Absolutely.  Read the whole study and you will see how they looked at a number of factors.  But it is interesting that living in the world of the rich also contributes significant amounts to one's blood levels of toxic chemicals.



genejoke from Brooklyn

Lead poisoning? "LET IT HEAL ON IT'S OWN." Next caller ...

Nov. 27 2013 12:38 PM

Dear gene,  

No, it doesn't "heal."   But don't make the problem worse by getting the lead out of the bones, into the blood stream, and back to your brain, kidneys and other organs.  And we also know that a significant portion of the chelated lead also goes back into the bones.  I wish dearly it were not so.  I wish there were effective and safe treatments for all of the pollutants.   Sadly, there are not.



Flame retardants

here is the series:

[[Chemical companies, Big Tobacco and the toxic products in your home
The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.]]

Nov. 27 2013 12:37 PM

Right on!   And every generation of babies carries more flame retardants, PCBs, DDT, phthalates, dioxins, etc., etc.,  than then last because babies are born carrying about the same body burdens as their mothers.  It is a good reason we need to become active on this issue.





In my Utopia, people know how to turn CAPS LOCK off.

Nov. 27 2013 12:36 PM

Dear JF, 

I agree about the caps.  No need.  Actually, it was the editors at Wiley & Sons that chose the title.  They know how most people interpret words.  That's good enough for me.  And I'm sure people would not have understood the subtitle if we said "how our mad dash to chemical dystopia....."  Hell, I wouldn't have even understood that.



Flame retardants

Has the author seen the Chicago Tribune reporting on flame retardants in furniture that are hazardous and the DON'T actually slow down fire?

Nov. 27 2013 12:34 PM

Yes, there are a number of studies that show they are ineffective in some types of flame ignition scenarios.  I have mixed emotions here, because of the work I do.  On stage, it is vital that all fabrics, flats, drops, and sometimes costumes (e.g., when flame effects are used on stage), be fire retarded.  History is full of terrible theater and nightclub fires with piles of bodies involved.  I also was one of the expert witnesses for one of the people involved in the Rhode Island nightclub fire in which 100 people died due to ignition of a non fire retarded plastic foam used to line the band shell area.  So I hope these people have REALLY thought this through. 

And I hope these activists stay away from the issues in my theater and entertainment.  Strange things go on stages.   Besides, there are inorganic fire retardants that can be used in theater that do not have the hazards of the brominated chemicals these people are concerned with.



Molly from NYC

Because the people who work in the gov't regulated orgs that are supposed to protect the public, EPA, USDA, are from the corporate sector beholden to corp interests. It's not a mystery why all these chemicals are allowed into our environment, before they are tested or even allowed into our products.

Nov. 27 2013 12:33 PM

Dear Molly,   

Well, don't be too hard on EPA or USDA.  Neither have the budgets or the mandates needed to do their jobs well.

EPA in particular is supposed to abide by the rules in the Toxic Substances Control Act which only gives them jurisdiction over a portion of the chemicals that might be used and then they can only demand an industry do tests if they can PROVE that the chemical poses a significant risk.  Now just how can EPA prove a chemical which has never been tested for toxicity poses a significant toxic risk?    So you see, the framers of this legislation never wanted it to work in the first place.



Hal from NYC

Please explain, for the benefit of the gullible woo-woo types, the difference between the actual toxins the guest is referring to, and the metabolic by-products that new age quacks refer to as 'toxins' when they try to sell a variety of bogus 'detoxification' treatments, snake oils and therapies.

Nov. 27 2013 12:27 PM

Dear Hal.  

The best place for that is the Centers for Disease Control's website.  One of their publications, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (yes, there actually is a publication with this name!) covers every year recalls of herbal products that have caused serious injury in a number of people.  Remember, FDA has no jurisdiction over the supplement world until there is a documented problem.  So they have to wait for a body count before they can act. 

If you want to see an interesting collection of information on liver damage from herbal medicines, google  using some of the following bits of information.

West J Med. 2002 January; 176(1): 39–44.

PMCID: PMC1071652


Evidence-Based Case Reviews


Making a diagnosis of herbal-related toxic hepatitis


Christine A Haller,1 Jo Ellen Dyer,2 Richard Ko,3 and Kent R Olson4

After you do that, you can do the same for kidneys, lungs, or any other organ or system--your choice.



Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Leonard: Perhaps you are speaking to the lowest common denominator, but, yes, it is best to use (well-cleaned) glass for storage (plastic is porous and things spoil faster in plastic than in glass), and yes, it is best to eat natural and organic. We depend too much on chem labs for production of foods that should not be made in chem labs. Food is something that is grown in the earth - or, in the case of meat, grazed on plants that are grown in the earth - and the closer we get to that primordial state of food, the healthier we will be. Of course, this also means that chem labs should not be permitted to pollute the soil, air or water, because there is runoff that can spread to the most pristine environments, but as industrialization seems to have contamination as its parallel, we are all doomed unless this pollution is stopped.

Nov. 27 2013 12:25 PM

Most of what you say I agree with.   Be sure the glass is a soda, lime, boron, type of composition.  There are lead glass containers still in production.  And recycled glass usually contains a mish mash of types of glass. Many antique glass containers also may be radioactive.  But most glass food containers made in the US for this purpose will be fine.


When getting food "grown in the earth," remember that most farm land is already so contaminated that it still will not be contaminant free even after the 4 year period required by some of the organic standards.  Further, over the years all of the ground water in the US is no longer deemed fit to drink due primarily to pesticide, fertilizer, and animal waste runoff.  So even if the farm is organic, there are still going to be soil  and ground water irrigation contamination of the products.  It might be better, but never perfect.

We just need to do the best we can while being realistic that there is nothing perfect out there.




Corporation are making these things. Corporations are dispersing these things. They are poisoning us. They don't care. They are poisoning us. They are murdering us. They are destroying our thinking processes by destroying our brains. WHEN WILL WE GET JUSTICE? WHEN WILL THEY BE PUNISHED? EVERY MAJOR CAUSE OF DEATH IS CORPORATE. CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE, PSYCHOPATHS AND THEY NEED TOP BE LOCKED UP, AND NOT ALLOWED TO POISON AND MURDER US.

Nov. 27 2013 12:17 PM

I recognize your caps. But it is true that the problem is the corporations.



Evan S Cowit

Yes, Leonard, poor people have Teflon. And no, Ms. Rossol, they don't all buy things from late night television.

Pompous, elitist snobs.

Nov. 27 2013 12:17 PM

Oh Evan, we ARE the poor so we have the right.  I don't know who you think I am, but being on the consumer side of chemistry rather than working for industry is the quickest way I know to end up poor.