Is it possible that your toenails can tell a story? Do toenails hold the key to your exposure to pollutants and contaminants? One University of Iowa student believes they do.

Smack-dab in the Heartland, PhD student Anna Proctor is collecting toenail samples. In a report from Pork, Proctor is conducting a chemical exposure study of farmers' bodies to learn about exposure to arsenic, pesticides, and other chemicals.

“I’m trying to see what kinds of chemicals have built up in farmers’ bodies as a result of them doing their job. Farming is a super diverse occupation and there’s a lot of occupational demands that may change daily,” Proctor says. “This can result in a lot of exposures to multiple contamination sources, and these contaminates can be stored in the body.”

For several decades, generation after generation, farmers have used fertilizers, insecticides, fuels, solvents, and many other products in their operations.

I'm sure you'll agree, that toenails are not at the top of the list when beginning a study like this. As Proctor points out,

“Toenails are a great noninvasive biomarker.”

They are stable so they’re easy to transport and store. They aren’t biohazardous material. further points out, that toenails can provide a 6- to 9-month record of a person’s exposure to contaminants. They’re also easier to collect, handle, and store than blood or urine, the typical samples used to determine environmental exposure.

If Proctor's focus is to improve the health of farmers, would you snip your toenails for this study?

Ladies, all the more reason to drag your spouse along when you have a pedicure!

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