“Organic” Isn’t Always Good For You

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes it’s easy to discern dangers to your hearing: a loud jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing machines on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to convince people to use ear protection when they recognize that they will be near loud noises. But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s healthy for you? But how is possible that your ears could be damaged by an organic substance?

An Organic Compound You Don’t Want to Eat

To be clear, we’re not talking about organic things like produce or other food products. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, chemicals called organic solvents have a good chance of harming your hearing even with very little exposure. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic does not make reference to the type of label you find on fruit in the supermarket. The truth is, marketers utilize the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication that it’s good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that specific growing methods are used to keep food free of artificial contaminants. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. In the field of chemistry, the term organic refers to any compounds and chemicals that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a significant number of molecules and therefore practical chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they’re not potentially dangerous. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the dangers of hearing loss while doing so.

Where do You Find Organic Solvents?

Organic solvents are found in some of the following products:

  • Cleaning products
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Degreasing elements
  • Paints and varnishes

You get it. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by cleaning or painting?

Organic Solvents And The Dangers Associated With Them

According to the most current research out there, the hazards related to organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re exposed to them. So when you clean your house you will most likely be okay. The most potent risk is to those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or utilize organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well researched and definitively reveal that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Subjection to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. The issue is that many businesses are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These hazards are known even less by workers. So there are a lack of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a regular basis. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be discovered in its beginning phases.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Most guidelines for safeguarding your hearing from these specific organic substances include controlling your exposure along with routine hearing tests. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you have to be informed of the hazards first. It’s simple when the hazards are plain to see. It’s obvious that you should take precautions to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But when the threat is not visible as is the case for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Fortunately, as researchers raise more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are starting to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. For the time being, it’s a good idea to try to work with these products in a well-ventilated place and to always use a mask. It would also be a practical plan to have your hearing examined by a hearing specialist.

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