Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Could Be Triggered by An Overactive Immune System

An overactive response from the immune system might have something to do with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, according to a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Patients with Hepatitis C infections were treated with injections of interferon alpha, a naturally-occurring protein known for provoking an immune response. This treatment is normally associated with feelings of fatigue, but a third (18) of the 55 people observed in this study had fatigue levels higher than normal six months later, which is termed “persistent fatigue,” a precursor to chronic fatigue syndrome. According to lead researcher Dr. Alice Russell from King’s College London,

For the first time, we have shown that people who are prone to develop a CFS-like illness have an overactive immune system, both before and during a challenge to the immune system. Our findings suggest that people who have an exaggerated immune response to a trigger may be more at risk of developing CFS.”

Related: Holistic Guide to Healing the Endocrine System and Balancing Our Hormones

Chronic Fatigue and the Immune System

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is characterized by tiredness that isn’t improved with rest and persists for more than six months. Scientists and doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. It all begins with the microbiome. That also pertains to the immune system. Those who experienced an immune response were more likely to exhibit the precursors of chronic fatigue syndrome. The microbiome controls the immune system. There is a connection between our microbiome and CFS. Researchers at Cornell University discovered a link between inflammation, a lack of gut microbe diversity, and CFS. Another study from Columbia University detected elevated levels of certain bacterias in chronic fatigue sufferers. There is definitely a link between an unbalanced microbiome and CFS. That could also provide an explanation for the connections being made between the immune system and the condition. It’s all connected.

CFS and Women

We may not know what causes chronic fatigue, but we do know who it affects. Women are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop CFS than men. That’s true of most autoimmune disorders, and this study brings up a potential reason for that. Estrogen increases immune system activity while testosterone does the opposite. In fact, testosterone turns on a specific gene that decreases the immune system’s response. That supports the new research here. If an immune response is a factor in developing chronic fatigue syndrome, it would make sense that those who experience more immune responses are more likely to develop CFS.

Related:How to Detoxify and Heal the Lymphatic System

Dig A Little Deeper

The immune response itself is not the cause of CFS. Only a third of those provoked in this study reported persistent fatigue. There’s also the fact that an immune response can be a good thing. There are microbes we want the immune system to respond to, keeping us from getting sick. But an immune system that’s constantly on alert creates stress on multiple body systems. Eventually, the immune system will falter.

For more on the immune system, check out: Make Your Immune System Bulletproof with These Natural Remedies

Editor’s Note:

I don’t really buy into the concept of an “overactive immune system.” When someone has this condition, in almost every case, the gut is unwell and is leaking undigested proteins, chemicals, and pathogens into the bloodstream. I recommend How To Heal Your Gut for anyone dealing with an autoimmune condition.


Chemicals In Personal Care Products Bring About Early Puberty in Girls

There are several animal studies linking phthalates, parabens, and other personal care product chemicals to endocrine disruption, and a study published in the journal Human Reproduction shows that humans are not exempt from that group. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley looked at 338  children from birth to adolescence, obtaining urine samples to determine chemical levels and looking for signs of puberty development at nine-month intervals from the age of nine. The study shows that every time a mother’s phthalate levels doubled in concentration, their daughters grew pubic hair 1.3 months earlier than expected. Kim Harley, lead author of the study and associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley says,

There has been considerable concern about why girls are entering puberty earlier and hormone disrupting chemicals like the ones in personal care products that we studied have been suggested as one possible reason…”

Endocrine Disruptors

Many of the chemicals measured in this study are known endocrine disruptors. Phthalates, parabens, and triclosan have all been found to have numerous negative effects on the body, and they’re very stable. This study found that endocrine disruptors measured while a child was still in utero had a link to abnormal hormonal events occurring a decade later. The chemicals are also measured in tiny amounts, parts per billion, indicating that a little goes a long way (or causes a lot of damage). Here’s a look at where to find these chemicals and why you should avoid them.

Related: How to Detox From Plastics and Other Endocrine Disruptors


Phthalates are nearly impossible to avoid. This group of chemicals is used to make plastics more flexible, and in addition to being present in virtually every type of plastic packaging, you can also find phthalates in computer cords, toys, cars, personal care items, detergents, and flooring. Phthalates are also found in various foods, though oils, dairy, and meat (especially chicken) have consistently registered high levels of the chemicals.

This is bad news for the endocrine system. It’s also a potential factor in other health problems. A 2014 study from researchers at Columbia University found a marked increase in asthma among children exposed to large concentrations of phthalates in the womb. Phthalates have also been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, and autism spectrum disorders.


Parabens are used in preservatives, and you’ve probably seen them in the ingredient list of products like deodorants, shampoos, lotions, and other personal care products. Many conventional products have more than one type of paraben. These chemicals effectively prevent the growth of bacteria and are also used to preserve food and beverages like beer, sauces, desserts, sodas, processed fish, jams, pickles, frozen dairy products, processed vegetables, and flavoring syrups. A study conducted in Albany, New York in 2013 collected a range of food samples and found parabens in 90 percent of them.

The biggest controversy regarding parabens and health has to do with the chemical’s classification as xenoestrogens. This means they imitate estrogen in the body. This, in turn, disrupts the endocrine system. While a 2004 study in the U.K. that found parabens in malignant breast cancer tumors was hotly disputed, a more recent study (2015) from the Silent Spring Institute and the University of California Berkeley also suggested a significant link between parabens and cancer cells. Dale Leitman, a gynecologist and molecular biologist at UC Berkeley, is the study’s lead investigator.

Although parabens are known to mimic the growth effects of estrogens on breast cancer cells, some consider their effect too weak to cause harm…But this might not be true when parabens are combined with other agents that regulate cell growth.”

Related: Holistic Guide to Healing the Endocrine System and Balancing Our Hormones


Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal chemical that’s frequently added to soaps, toothpaste, toys, kitchen materials, yoga mats, cosmetics, and athletic clothing. Interestingly, the chemical was initially registered as a pesticide at its introduction in 1969. Until 2016, it could also be found in hand sanitizers. Triclosan has since been banned for use in sanitizer products by the Food and Drug Administration. That ban has not stopped the public from being exposed to triclosan through a myriad of other means.

The antibacterial qualities of triclosan disrupt gut bacteria, and the chemical has been linked to chronic colon inflammation and colon cancer. It’s also been shown to alter hormone regulations in animal studies. This new study indicates that triclosan behaves the same way in humans as well.

New Normal

You can try your best to avoid these chemicals. This involves avoiding all plastics, anything that came into contact with plastics, any products with artificial fragrances, filter all of the water in your house, avoid food sprayed with any kind of chemicals, and stay away from any and all Bisphenol products, among other things. Unfortunately, the only way to accomplish a few of the items on that list requires checking out of modern life. All of this poses a huge challenge for understanding puberty – what do we do when what we know changes?




U.S. Court of Appeals Says Almond Milk Is Milk

Almond milk producers are allowed to call their product milk, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court agreed with another court dismissal of a class action lawsuit filed against Blue Diamond Growers, makers of the best selling almond milk in the United States. The lawsuit alleged that the company was misleading consumers and subsequently advocated for labeling plant-based milk as “imitation milk” due to their inferior nutritional content. This is not the first time nut milk has found itself fighting to use the term milk, as the dairy industry is using all avenues available to them to deal with a culturally, ethically, and environmentally shifting world.

Ongoing Saga

The initial lawsuit against Blue Diamond Growers was filed in January 2017. the almond thing has been in court since at least 2017. The case was dismissed with prejudice in 2017, and the case was then appealed by the plaintiff in 2018. After the second dismissal due to the lack of proof that consumers would be misled by almond milk’s nutritional claims and information, it seems unlikely that almond milk manufacturers will need to change their labeling practices based this lawsuit. They will, however, need to reconcile this issue with the Food and Drug Administration sooner rather than later.

In a statement released in September 2018, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed sentiments remarkably similar to those in the case against Blue Diamond Growers.

The wide variety of plant-based foods that are being positioned in the marketplace as substitutes for standardized dairy products has been the subject of much discussion in our initial work on the Nutrition Innovation Strategy. The rising demand for plant-based products, like soy-based alternatives to cheese and nut-based alternatives to milk, has created a growing number of new food choices in supermarket aisles. However, these products are not foods that have been standardized under names like “milk” and “cheese.” The FDA has concerns that the labeling of some plant-based products may lead consumers to believe that those products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products, even though these products can vary widely in their nutritional content. It is important that we better understand consumers’ expectations of these plant-based products compared to dairy products.”

It’s comforting to hear that the FDA is paying attention to and invested in the changing nutritional needs of the public. Still, recent studies have found that milk doesn’t provide nearly the health benefits either, especially if you’re unable to easily digest it. Yet the FDA references the nutritional superiority of dairy with the phrase “key nutritional attributes.” Why is the government agency acknowledging new attitudes without making room for the possibility that we might not need milk like previous generations thought we did?

Related: Homemade Vegan Nut Milk Recipes

Dairy Farmers in Crises

The growing interest in relabeling milk alternatives has a direct correlation with the fortunes of the dairy industry. The dairy industry is in a particularly rough spot and has been for decades now. Dairy consumption has dropped by 40 percent since the 1970s, and that shows no sign of stopping. The dairy industry has received two separate bailouts within the last three years, including a billion dollar allotment in a budget agreement signed by the Senate in 2018 and a USDA purchase of 11 million dollars of surplus cheese in 2016. Previous efforts at combating the downward trend include the popular got milk campaign, but the current business strategy of blaming alternative milk for declining milk sales isn’t likely to fix the issues with the dairy industry.

Nut milk appeals to the lactose intolerant, the health conscious, the environmentally conscious, and vegans. The public is also paying more attention to how their food is produced, and several dairy industry practices make consumers less likely to support the dairy industry. These practices include but are not limited to separating mothers and babies less than a week after birth, dehorning cows, and keeping cows constantly pregnant.

In addition to shifting public perceptions, the dairy industry is also dealing with a problem of their own making. While the demand for milk and other dairy products has declined, dairy producers have continued to build their surplus. In 2017, the reported milk surplus was more than four times the amount of the actual consumer demand for milk. This imbalance also negatively effects dairy farmers, who are forced to sell milk for lower prices. Many farmers are subsequently going out of business.

Recommended: How To Heal Your Gut

Milking Nuts

All of this is good news for nut milk producers like Blue Diamond Growers, the defendant in this case. The dairy industry is losing its mojo, and this lawsuit and other stalling tactics are only increasing the whiff of desperation. The dairy industry may not like the competition from nut milk and other non-dairy alternatives, but that won’t change the fact that those products are here to stay.


GMO Labeling Explained – What You Need to Know About These Confounding, Loophole-Laden Rules

It has been two years since the U.S. Department of Agriculture passed the regulations mandating the labeling of genetically mandated ingredients. The finalized regulations that have recently been released leave much to be desired. Just Label It, a prominent organization devoted to mandatory GMO labeling, released a statement expressing their disappointment.

Specifically, we are deeply disappointed that the final rule does not clearly require the disclosure of all genetically engineered ingredients, including highly refined sugars and oils, and new GMO techniques like CRISPR and RNAi. The rule fails to require that foods be disclosed using terms that consumers understand like ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘GMO.’ And it leaves consumers in the dark if they live in rural places with poor cell service or don’t have smart phones.”

Related: Gluten Intolerance, Wheat Allergies, and Celiac Disease – It’s More Complicated Than You Think

Labeling Options

Companies have until 2022 to implement these regulations. There are a few GMO labeling options.

Companies can use clear wording to state the presence of genetically modified ingredients on their packaging. Instead of “G.M.O.’’ and “genetically engineered,” they can say “bioengineered” or “BE.”

Companies can use an electronic digital link like a QR code that consumers can read with a cell phone app that will inform the consumer of the ingredients. Such a link must be accompanied by the statement “Scan here for more food information,” or equivalent language.

The amended Act requires that the use of an electronic or digital link to disclose BE food must be accompanied by the statement, ‘Scan here for more food information’ or equivalent language’ – deemed too hard for shoppers. Regulated entities that choose this option are required to include a statement on the package that instructs consumers on how to receive a text message.”

Companies can use a friendly-looking symbol (and the symbol can also be black and white):

Additionally, a phone number or a web address to get more information are options for smaller manufacturers or for small packages.

There is also the “text message” option:

The NPRM proposed text message as an additional disclosure option if the Secretary were to determine that shoppers would not have sufficient access to digital or electronic disclosure. Food manufacturers and retailers that commented on this option were generally supportive of this option. Thus, AMS is adopting the text message option in § 66.108. Regulated entities that choose this option are required to include a statement on the package that instructs consumers on how to receive a text message.

Related: How to Avoid GMOs in 2018 – And Everything Else You Should Know About Genetic Engineering

There are companies like Campbell’s, Mars, Danone, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, and Unilever that will be labeling GMOs, regardless of the lax new regulations. Many international corporations, especially those that do business in Europe, already provide those labels. But there are many corporations that haven’t made that same commitment.

Confusing Regulations With Loopholes

The new labeling system seems designed to frustrate all but the most bureaucratic-loving individuals. Companies have to sort through a myriad of expensive and time-consuming labeling conditions. Consumers aren’t offered a simple way to identify GMO ingredients. Some ingredients won’t even be labeled, including high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar beets, certain oils (like canola), and other refined products.

According to the labeling guidelines:

Thus, based on the available scientific evidence, refined beet and cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, degummed refined vegetable oils, and various other refined ingredients are unlikely to require BE food disclosure because the conditions of processing serve effectively to degrade or eliminate the DNA that was initially present in the raw agricultural commodity.”

While that may be true from a scientific standpoint, it only makes the new regulations problematic in the eyes of consumers. When corn is an ingredient it’s almost always a GMO, and informed shoppers will know that. How much faith will they have in non-organic products containing corn that are not marked BE? This also ignores the possibility of customers choosing non-GMO products for environmental reasons. The refined product may not have any engineered DNA left in the final product but the corn (or beets) will still have been grown with the increased pesticides and other environmentally harmful practices associated with genetically modified crops.

And there are other exclusions.

Incidental additives will not require labeling.

Such an item will only trigger disclosure when it is used as an ingredient that is included on the ingredient list, not when used as an incidental additive.”

To-Go foods are exempt.

Salads, soups, and other ready-to-eat items prepared by grocery stores are exempt from the disclosure requirements.”

Meat and dairy from animals fed GMOs are exempt.

The amended Act prohibits a food derived from an animal from being considered a bioengineered food solely because the animal consumed feed produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered substance.”

Companies will be allowed to use the same equipment on GMO and non-GMO crops.

Gene-edited foods like CRISPR will be exempt.

Businesses with annual sales are less than $2.5m are also exempt.

Related: How To Heal Your Gut

Foods like cheese or yogurt that are made with bioengineered yeasts or rennet are not exempt.

Nothing New

Sixty-four countries worldwide have managed to implement GMO labeling. But the new GMO labeling for the U.S. does the opposite of what it should do. These regulations are not convenient or clear. If anything they’ll probably make grocery shopping even harder for many people.


Flu Season is Here

It might have taken longer to arrive than last year, but flu season has officially arrived for 2018-2019. Two states, Colorado and Georgia, are currently reporting high levels of influenza-like illnesses (ILI). The average length of flu season is 16 weeks, so expect to be inundated with flu shot notifications until April. The severity of the season remains to be seen, although seven deaths of children due to flu complications have been reported thus far.

This and Last Year

The 2017-2018 flu season was a particularly difficult one. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it officially lasted for a longer than usual 19 weeks and was the first flu season to be classified as high severity among all age groups. Last year was also notable for the number of children who died from the flu, the highest number of pediatric deaths registered during a normal flu season.

Related: How To Detoxify and Heal From Vaccinations – For Adults and Children

Although the CDC doesn’t have final numbers, the flu shot in 2017-2018 is estimated to be 40 percent effective. But that percentage changes based on the strain of flu. Last year’s flu shot was the most powerful against the H1N1 strain of influenza A, with a 65 percent effectiveness rate. The flu shot had a 49 percent effectiveness against Influenza B and a 25 percent effectiveness versus H3N2. Yet the flu shot was the least effective against the most dominant flu strain of the season, H3N2.

A study from Rice University predicts that the flu shot will be 19 percent effective this year. According to numbers from the CDC, that percentage of effectiveness would be the lowest the flu shot has been since 2014-2015. As of right now, influenza A(H1N1) is the most prevalent flu strain.

The Flu Shot

The CDC heavily recommends the flu shot. As the season continues, flu vaccine reminders will follow you everywhere you go, pushing the idea that even a slightly reduced chance of getting the flu is worth the physical pain, headaches, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and other potential vaccine side effects.

The flu shot might not even afford you full protection for a full month, let alone through the entire flu season. A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in September 2018 found that the likelihood of getting the flu even after vaccination increases by 16 percent every 28 day period after the initial shot. According to the authors of the study,

Although our results suggest that some number of influenza cases may be averted by delaying vaccination, any changes in recommendations regarding the timing of vaccination should be approached with caution.”

In addition to timing your flu shot to get the full protection, you also have to contend with the period of time after vaccination when the flu shot protection hasn’t kicked in. The CDC cautions that it takes two weeks for the flu shot to provide full protection. If the CDC and this study are accurate, there is a two week period where the individual who received the vaccine is fully protected. Worth it?

Related: How To Heal Your Gut

All Risk…Any Reward?

Flu vaccine inserts for popularly used products like Afluria, Fluzone, Fluarix, and Fluvirin report that the most commonly experienced adverse reaction is pain at the injection site. Manufacturers also mention headaches, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Serious side effects can also occur, like brain inflammation, convulsions, Bell’s palsy, paralysis of limbs, neuropathy, shock, asthma, wheezing, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and other respiratory issues.

The flu is no laughing matter, but there are better, less harmful alternatives to the flu shot. Check out this article for some great ideas.  Do your self and your immune system a favor. Don’t damage it with the flu shot this year.


Infection, Antibiotics, and Mental Illness in Children

A recently published study found a connection between a range of infections, their treatments, and mental illnesses like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers in Denmark looked at national registries associated with severe infections requiring hospitalization and less severe infections requiring antibiotics or anti-parasitical and found that both of those treatment modalities for infections resulted in an increased risk of mental illness later in life. Going to the hospital resulted in the highest increase in the likelihood of receiving a mental health diagnosis and also receiving a prescription for it. The study also noticed a particular connection between the prescription of antibiotics and greater risk. Accounting for the children’s genetics and home environment didn’t erase the increased likelihood of a mental health diagnosis. That points to a definite link between infections, their treatment, and mental illness. According to Dr. Ole Köhler-Forsberg of Aarhus University Hospital, a neuroscientist and one of the authors of the study,

That’s also another finding that made us more confident that there is some link between infections, or the immune system and mental disorders…And also we found that the more the infections, and the more severe the infections, then the risk increased as well…So there is this load of infection that seems to impact the brain and mental disorders.”

Break It Down

Children admitted to the hospital for the treatment of a serious infection were 84 percent more likely to be hospitalized for mental illness and 42 percent more likely to be prescribed anti-psychotics. Those who received a prescription for an antibiotic or similar medication were 40 percent more likely to be hospitalized for mental illness and 22 percent more likely to receive antipsychotic scripts. Researchers found that antibiotics were more likely to bring about these changes.

The percentage of children diagnosed with mental illness was small, with 4 percent of subjects diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and personality disorders. Four percent doesn’t seem like much, but those numbers are based on treatment for a single infection. A study by researchers from Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia found that children were given antibiotics an average of 2.3 times before the age of 5. Sixty-nine percent of the nearly 70,000 studied received an antibiotic prescription before the age of two.

Related: Can You Take Probiotics While Taking Antibiotics or Chemotherapy?

Antibiotics and Hospital Settings

Antibiotics in a hospital setting do damage even if you aren’t the one taking them. They greatly disrupt the microbiome, eliminating the beneficial bacteria that balance harmful pathogens, and hospitals are hotbeds of antibiotic activity. Studies have found that a person in the same room as someone who has received antibiotics is more susceptible to serious pathogens like C. diff. A 2016 study found that one out of every two patients checked into the hospital is given an antibiotic. The Danish study ties these two together, linking changes in the children’s mental state with a hospital visit or taking antibiotics. In fact, those treatment methodologies seem to leave some of the children in the study in a more challenging place than they were before.

Fragile Brains

It’s plausible that we’re seeing an increase in mental health issues, inflammation, infections, and other chronic health conditions because of our increased evaluation capabilities. But it’s not likely.

Related: How To Heal Your Gut

Studies like this one point a healthcare system that has wrongfully equated quick fixes with actual solutions, without fully understanding the consequences of said fixes. Even worse, the system is set up to financially reward the use of those fixes, making the move to a healthier way of dealing with infections and chronic illness an uphill battle. Children are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of antibiotics, making it more crucial than ever to look for alternative solutions whenever possible.


Wildfires, Air Pollution, and the Fire Retardant’s Toll On the Ecosystem

The wildfires in California have dominated the headlines lately. The devastation has been serious, but it’s easy to forget about the what this means for the health of those both caught in the fires and trying to live their lives normally in spite of the high levels of air pollution they’re currently dealing with. Those in California are being exposed to hazardous air conditions, and air pollution can cause serious health issues. Additionally, a new study from the University of Texas has found that poor air quality has reduced global life expectancy by 2 years. The severity of these wildfires is another sign of how close we are to this kind of climate event becoming our new normal, leaving us fighting environmental and medical battles on multiple fronts.

Quality of Life

Life won’t return to normal for CA residents for a while. During the peak of the smoke and air pollution from the fires, the air quality index (AQI) in areas of CA was registering as high as a 313. For some context, good quality registers from 0 to 50. Numbers are down from their peak, but parts of Northern CA are still dealing with air unhealthy for sensitive groups. Vulnerable populations include children, the elderly, those with heart or lung conditions, and pregnant women.

Air pollution can have a serious impact on health. A recent study from the University of Texas examined air pollution data from the Global Burden of Disease Study in an effort to understand the consequences of atmospheric particulates. Joshua Apte is an assistant professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and in the Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health.

The fact that fine particle air pollution is a major global killer is already well known…And we all care about how long we live. Here, we were able to systematically identify how air pollution also substantially shortens lives around the world. What we found is that air pollution has a very large effect on survival – on average about a year globally.”

The Great Outdoors

2018 is the most destructive wildfire season recorded in California, with over 1.6 million acres burned and 2.9 million dollars in damage costs. The previous holder of that title was 2017, and that isn’t a new trend. All of the conditions needed for an intense fire season are there: dry conditions due to little rain, the hottest summer on record, warm winds that regularly exceed 50 miles an hour, and plenty of fuel for the fire to consume. Those conditions are also creating an increasingly longer wildfire season. According to Scott McLean, deputy chief of communications for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, that trend will likely continue.

It’s progressively been getting longer. We don’t even call it a season anymore, to be frank with you. We’re seeing wildfires every week of each year right now…We’ve basically taken the season aspect out of the equation.”

The Red Stuff

There are also environmental concerns with the way we fight forest fires, namely Phos-chek, the weapon of choice for modern firefighters. Previously owned by Monsanto (the product is now produced by Israel Chemicals Ltd.), Phos-chek is frequently seen streaming out of planes like a crimson waterfall. Although the formula is kept secret, the fire retardant is composed primarily of fertilizers like ammonium phosphate combined with clay or guar thickeners designed to keep the solution from dispersing in the air. Phos-chek use in the state of CA has multiplied rapidly over the last few years, going from 9 million gallons sprayed in 2014 to 19 million gallons used in 2016. That trend promises to continue, as more than a million gallons of the chemical were used on the Mendocino Complex fire this year.

There wasn’t a serious look at the environmental impact of Phos-chek until a Montana judge ordered a thorough examination of the product in 2014. Previous attempts by the U.S. Forest Service to determine the environmental impact of the fire retardant have proclaimed it safe, despite marine plant and animal deaths recorded after the use of the chemical. In 2002, fire retardant chemicals dropped in the Fall River in Oregon killed 22,000 fish in one day. Now, reports maintain that Phos-chek does no harm if it’s used correctly and well away from bodies of water, which are highly susceptible to phosphate pollution.

The Feedback Loop

Proponents of Phos-chek and other phosphate-based fire retardants mention that the chemicals perform a service beyond fire containment – fertilization. But how does that actually work? Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant growth, but too much of it is detrimental to plant health. Excess phosphorus, which remains in the soil for 3 to 5 years, causes plants to develop yellowing leaves due to an inability to properly absorb nutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc. It also harms root funghi, interfering with a plant’s ability to absorb water.

Firefighting organizations are dumping 19 million pounds of this phosphate-based fertilizers a year, and that’s also harming native plants. According to Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics,

Phosphate fertilizer, e.g., Phos-Chek, can have adverse effects on plants adapted to nutritionally poor soil by increasing competition from invasive species better suited to growing in the newly-fertilized soil. For this reason, the U.S. Forest Service bars aerial fire retardant from being used in critical habitat of many threatened or endangered plants.”

In many ways, we keep telling the same story. We eliminate the natural systems that keep our bodies and environment healthy. We look for the most likely cause and often accept the first plausible explanation.  It’s not that simple and the longer we think it is, the likelihood of actually addressing climate change drastically decreases.