How to Avoid Environmental Toxins: “The Tacks Laws”

By Charles Hinshaw, M.D.

The Tacks Laws sprang from the pen of Sidney Baker, MD. These laws furnish us a good introduction to the subject of environmental toxins; think of a tack as an environmental toxin.


1. If you are sitting on a tack, it takes a lot of pain killers to make it feel good. The appropriate treatment for tack sitting is tack removal.
2.If you are sitting on two tacks, removing one does NOT produce a 50% improvement.

In this analogy a tack is an environmental toxin. Environmental toxins (tacks) are responsible for many of the chronic illnesses plaguing us. The essential questions are where do we encounter them and how do we avoid them?

Environmental toxins are found in air, food and water. The following illustration reveals the many types of toxins and where they are encountered. Note that the barrel represents the human body and as the barrel fills with toxins, overflow eventually may occur resulting in chronic illness. This is known as environmental overload.


  • Air Contamination

Outdoor: sulfur compounds, nitrous compounds carbon monoxide, particulates, EMF-fields, ozone, lead, cadmium, mercury, pesticides, molds, algae, etc.

Indoor: natural gas, oil, coal, pesticides, formaldehyde, fumes, solvents, carpets + glues, etc.

  • Water

pesticides – herbicides, solvents, chlorine, gasoline + additives

  • Physical

EMF, radar, radon, microwave, sun spots, heat, cold, positive ions

  • Food – Man Made

pesticides, coloring, dyes, preservatives, cooking, transportation

  • Food – Natural

botulism – bacteria, parasites, virus, solinine, night shades, glycosides, etc., mold

  • Biological

pollen, molds, foods, parasites, virus, bacteria

  • Specific Environmental Overload

i.e., Streptococcus hemolyticus, chlorodane, ionizing radiation



Once the sources of toxins are recognized, avoidance becomes easier. The best way to avoid toxins in foods is to eat only fresh, certified organic foods. These foods are not always readily available and are often expensive. Exterior surfaces of meats, fruits and vegetables can be cleaned of pesticide residues and color enhancers, etc. by gentle scrubbing and rinsing using mild detergents and warm water, or as with meats, by soaking for 30 minutes in a dilute solution of water and bleach, one quart of water per one ounce of bleach. Unfortunately, cleaning procedures cannot deal with the problem of pesticide spraying of immature plants, and injections or feeding of antibiotics and hormones to livestock and poultry. In the instance of aquatic animals, we have learned that the flesh of most large salt-water fish is contaminated by mercury and that most bottom feeders, e.g. shrimp and lobster, may contain toxic metals. All of these food toxins are bioaccumulative, meaning that over time numerous small exposures may eventually add up to toxic levels in humans, an environmental overload, which is a disadvantage of being at the top of the food chain.


Water pollution by industrial and agricultural chemicals, by microorganisms, and even by toxic elements found in soil and rock, is an ongoing world-wide problem. Fortunately, in Wichita (where
the Riordan Clinic is based) and indeed throughout most areas in all 50 of the United States, we have readily available sources of fairly good water for drinking and cooking. This is not by accident and our Public Health officials, engineers, doctors, law-makers, scientists and technicians are to be commended. However, even though the water flowing into your home is of high quality, at the faucet it may contain unsafe levels of lead or copper leached into the water from your home’s water pipes.

In Wichita, for example, our city water contains a number of organic chemicals that are industrial and agricultural in origin. Wichita’s source of pure water, the Equus Water Beds, has been slowly depleted over several decades. This has caused encroachment of nearby ground water that contains notably higher levels of salt, which is not a good thing for those on a low salt diet. Our other source of water is from Lake Cheney, a body of water subject to surface run-off of agricultural chemicals and microbes. Indeed, analysis of Wichita water shows low levels of these chemicals and microbes that are believed to be safe. Beyond the safety of drinking water, we need to be wary of eating fresh-water fish caught in Kansas and other states. Many rivers and streams in Kansas have been found to be so contaminated that official warnings, that are issued annually, advise sports fishermen to not eat fish caught in those streams, including the Arkansas River as it flows through Wichita.

How can we avoid the environmental toxins that may be present in our drinking water? Home water filters, whether by or under the kitchen sink, or whole-house, offer a ready and affordable means to clean our homes’ water. Most brands perform at acceptable levels;  whole-house water filters have the advantage of removing chlorine from shower and bath water. The alert consumer is advised to compare one brand or type to another in order to best fulfill his needs.

Finally, be careful when purchasing water supplied in the popular small plastic bottles. Labeling of these products is often incomplete or misleading. Some of these brands do come from natural springs and some from tap water. Almost all, by one means or another, have been filtered to remove toxic chemicals and microbes from the water. Testing by The Environmental Working Group in 2009 revealed that of the ten brands tested, each contained an average of eight contaminants/toxins. A total of 38 different low-level contaminants were identified, including disinfectants, caffeine, Tylenol, nitrates, industrial chemicals, arsenic and bacteria. Also, the plastic bottles themselves are a recognized source of toxins, including cancer causing PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acids), flame retardants (PBDEs), which may alter thyroid function, reproductive toxins (phthalates), and estrogen mimics (EPAs). This all leads to a final recommendation: drink and bathe in home-filtered tap water, it will be better for your health and your wallet.


Air pollution is a long-recognized problem in all industrialized societies. We tend to visualize industrial smokestacks belching clouds of particulate contaminants and not-so-obvious chemicals. We visualize crowded freeways choking in a haze of exhaust fumes. Our politicians are now wrestling with the idea of rising and arguably dangerous levels of invisible carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. These pollutants are overwhelmingly toxic to humans as well as many other life forms. Respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution are a major concern. Fortunately, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other Federal agencies are working with these problems in the US and our levels of air pollutants are diminishing. Unfortunately, advances in the control of air pollution are off-set by air pollution in heavily industrialized nations in Europe an Asia, since prevailing winds often move pollution across continents and oceans.

A second type of air pollution that is much less recognized is indoor air pollution. Over forty years ago, Dr. Theron Randolph, the first environmental physician, testified in a Congressional hearing that the air in our homes is ten times more polluted than the outdoor air surrounding the house. His testimony, then scoffed at, has now been proven by numerous studies. The sources of indoor air pollution are easy to find and fortunately they are relatively easy to do something about.

First, think about where indoor air comes from: outside air. This means that, for all intents and purposes, untreated indoor air cannot be less polluted than its source, outdoor air. Second, consider that in the name of energy efficiency we are making our homes airtight. This type of construction has lead to the illness referred to as “Tight Building Syndrome”. Add airtight construction to the many sources of indoor air pollutants/toxins and it soon becomes apparent why indoor air, on average, is many times more polluted and toxic than the outdoor air surrounding the house.

Sources of indoor air pollution include fumes from gas stoves and from improperly maintained gas furnaces and water heaters. Fresh wall paints outgas fumes from the solvents used in their manufacture. Plywood and particle board contain high levels of glues which again outgas fumes from solvents. Synthetic fabrics, especially those with polyester content, outgas petroleum-based fumes. Other air pollutants can include perfumes, fabric softeners, detergents, plastics and aerosols. The list goes on and on. By building and furnishing with natural materials; painting with low solvent products, such as paints that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs); heating with electricity or making sure your gas furnace and water heater are well maintained; and considering the use of an indoor air cleaner/purifier, we can reduce indoor air pollution.

RESULTING ILLNESSES. Food sensitivities, for example, are linked to migraine headaches, arthritis, and even an irregular heartbeat. Food contaminants may include, but are not limited to mercury, as previously mentioned. Contaminated water can lead to anemia and gastric problems, cancer (nitrates), and infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Air pollution caused by Tight Building Syndrome can lead to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and conditions associated with exposure to solvents, including leukemia.

The Riordan Clinic emphasizes avoidance of these toxins whenever possible. With our specialized lab testing, we study levels of toxins in the body. If you believe your health issues could be caused by environmental toxins, schedule an appointment with a Riordan Clinic physician today. Remember, don’t sit on tacks!