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Dealing with Toxicity in the Workplace

When living with liver disease in one of these (or similarly toxic) occupations, it is important to take precautions. Find out the four primary routes for welcoming toxins into the body while in the workplace and which 13 jobs are known to expose workers to a considerable amount of toxicity.

Living with liver disease is equivalent to having an impaired toxin filter. With this decreased ability to cleanse the blood of pollutants, there are more potentially hazardous substances circulating and making contact with all of your body’s tissues. In order to prevent the cascade of health problems arising from toxins in the bloodstream, people with liver disease must be aware of the toxins they encounter, aim to minimize their exposure, and help their liver neutralize the poisons that have already gained bodily access.

Since Americans average approximately 40 hours per week at work – a number rivaled only by the amount of time spent sleeping – toxicity in the workplace is a valid concern for people with liver disease. Statistics estimate as many as 650,000 hazardous chemical products are found in workplaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimate that over 32 million workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals. Evidence collected by OSHA indicates that chemical exposure occurs in every type of industry.

In the workplace, there are four primary routes for welcoming toxins into the body: inhalation, skin contact, eye contact and ingestion.

  1. Inhalation – Breathing a substance into the lungs is the most common way to be exposed to toxins. The lungs consist of branching airways (bronchi) with clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli) at the bronchi ends. In addition to oxygen, the alveoli can absorb inhaled chemicals into the bloodstream.
  2. Skin Contact – Forming a protective barrier to keep chemicals out of the body, the skin can absorb some of the chemicals it is exposed to. The skin is particularly vulnerable if it is cut or cracked. Once a substance is absorbed into the skin, it enters the bloodstream directly.
  3. Eye Contact – While some chemicals may burn or irritate the eyes, direct eye contact with a toxin can result in its absorption and entrance into the bloodstream. Since the eyes are easily harmed by chemicals, any eye contact with chemicals should be treated as a serious incident.
  4. Ingestion – The least common source of exposure in the workplace is toxin ingestion. This is most likely to occur if the chemicals are left on hands, clothing or facial hair, or accidentally contaminates food, drinks or cigarettes. Ingested toxins enter the bloodstream via the digestive tract.

Once a toxin enters the bloodstream, it is just a matter of time before it reaches the liver.

Advances in technology and industry have led to brilliant developments in the world’s economy and structure. Unfortunately, these advancements typically come at the liver’s expense. Mere exposure to materials such as asbestos, dry cleaning fluids, pesticides, plastics, solvents and metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and more, put an unwelcome strain on an already overburdened liver. While this list of toxin-susceptible occupations is not finite, the following 13 jobs are known to expose workers to a considerable amount of toxicity:

  1. Painters
  2. Miners
  3. Plumbers
  4. Dry cleaners
  5. Silk screeners
  6. Construction workers
  7. Nail salon workers
  8. Janitors
  9. Semi-conductor manufacturers
  10. Plastic manufacturers
  11. Waste management workers
  12. Agricultural workers
  13. Chemotherapy-administering healthcare workers

When living with liver disease in one of these (or similarly toxic) occupations, it is important to take precautions. While an extreme precaution may include a career change, more conservative measures involve identifying possible toxins, minimizing exposure to them and neutralizing the toxins already absorbed.

  • Identifying Possible Toxins – First, it is important to be aware of what you might encounter during your job with toxin potential. In order to determine the health risks of substances you use or may be exposed to on the job, and how to work with them safely, obtain information from many sources including material safety data sheets (MSDSs), medical and monitoring records and reference materials. The law requires employers make much of this information readily available.
  • Minimize Toxin Exposure – Based upon the toxin’s route of entry, make sure to take appropriate provisions for minimizing its absorption. This might include taking extra steps for ventilation, wearing a mask, goggles or gloves, or shortening the time you are in contact with the offending toxin.
  • Neutralize Absorbed Toxins – Once toxins have been absorbed into your bloodstream, consider detoxification to protect your liver from the extra burden. While many strategies exist to neutralize toxicity, some of the more popular components include: drinking only water with fresh squeezed lemon, juice fasting, detoxification programs and taking an herbal detoxification formula. Whenever a person with liver disease embarks on a detoxification program, professional consultation is advised.

If you find your profession puts your liver in even further jeopardy than liver disease already has, get smart about managing toxicity. Although it may not be necessary to find a new occupation, learn how to best support your body’s toxin filter. Find out what toxins you might encounter on the job, how they gain access to your body, reduce the likelihood of their absorption and neutralize those that have gotten through your attempts. Knowingly supporting your liver by managing the chemicals in your environment is one way to live a long, healthy life with liver disease.


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www.cdc.gov, Acute Pesticide Poisoning in the U.S. Retail Industry, 1998–2004,
Geoffrey M. Calvert, MD, MPH, et al, Public Health Reports, Centers for Disease Control, March/April 2007.

www.colorado.edu, High-Tech Environmental Racism: Silicon Valley’s Toxic Workplaces, David Naguib Pellow, Lisa Sun-Hee Park, University of Colorado at Boulder, Retrieved 2013.

www.dhs.ca.gov, Understanding Toxic Substances, California Occupational Health Branch, Retrieved 2013.

www.jqjacobs.net, Is Your Job Killing You?, James Q. Jacobs, Retrieved 2013.

www.news.newsamericamedia.org, Toxic Chemicals Pose Silent Health Risk to Nail Salon Workers, Ngoc Nguyen, NHA Magazine, Pacific News Service, Retrieved 2013.

www.panna.org, Fields of Poison: California Farmworkers and Pesticides, Margaret Reeves, Kristin Schafer, Kate Hallward, Anne Katten, Pesticide Action Network North America, Retrieved 2013.

www.resource4thepeople.com, Occupational Disease and Toxic Torts, Resource 4 the People, Retrieved 2013.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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