How can environmental toxins harm your health?
It’s impossible to avoid them since they’re everywhere, as much as we don’t see them. Could environmental toxins be a threat to human health?
Let’s find out.
What are environmental toxins, and what problems do they bring to us?
Environmental toxins are substances that can negatively affect one’s health. Many people believe environmental toxins are only artificial. But some natural substances and organisms can be just as dangerous.
Although we can’t see them, environmental toxins are everywhere. In the food we eat, in the water we drink, our clothes, our houses, and even in the air we breathe.
There’s no reason for panic, as limited exposure is usually harmless. But things can change with the growth in industrialization, fossil fuel consumption, and agrochemical use. This increased exposure can bring health risks from mild skin irritation to illness and death.
According to The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, toxic pollutants are responsible for about 15% of premature deaths worldwide.
You must be thinking. Okay, so all we have to do is eliminate these toxins. But many essential products for the modern lifestyle contribute to environmental pollution, so it may not be so easy to get rid of them.
Still, we must limit human exposure and reduce the incidence of illness and death caused by environmental toxins.
What are the types of environmental toxins?
We can classify environmental toxins according to where you find them. So, we have three types, toxins in water and food, toxins in household items, and toxins in the air. Read on to see examples of each and their effects on our health.
Toxins in water and food
- Atrazine – one of the most common pesticides worldwide. It can cause hormonal problems and congenital disabilities.
- Arsenic – long-term exposure can cause skin problems, liver and kidney damage, red blood cells shortage, fatigue, increased risk of infections, and even death.
- Dioxins – a byproduct of industrial incineration, forest fires, and volcanoes. High levels are linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans.
- Lead – typically comes from leaching in distribution or plumbing lines. It can damage the brain and kidneys and interfere with red blood cells production.
- Mercury – it results from industrial pollution that reaches the lakes, rivers, and oceans. Nearly all fish and shellfish we eat contain traces of Mercury, which is highly toxic to animals’ and humans’ brains.
- PFAs – it is an industrial chemical used in clothes manufacturing and cooking surfaces for its ability to resist heat and stains. PFAs may affect human growth and reproduction and damage the liver, thyroid, and immune systems.
- BPA (bisphenol A) – it’s a chemical used in plastic production and can leach into your food from the coatings of food containers and water bottles. BPA exposure may cause hormonal problems.
- Phthalates – phthalates are chemicals that make plastic more durable. You can find them in numerous household items such as shampoos, soap, water bottles, and cosmetics. Phthalates may damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
- Radon – it’s a naturally radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.
- Asbestos – this mineral fiber is used in insulation and building materials.
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – these are gases that our household products release, including paints, solvents, aerosol sprays, cleansers, and disinfectants. They can cause eye irritation, headache, nausea, and increased cancer risk.
- Cigarette smoke – this environmental toxin is responsible for 90% of all lung cancer deaths and 80% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Particulate matter – solids like black carbon and mineral dust mixed with liquid droplets suspended in the air. They usually come from power plants, manufacturing facilities, and motor vehicles. Particulate matter exposure can cause heart disease, aggravated asthma, impaired lung function, and death in people with heart or lung conditions.
- Ground-level ozone – the primary component of smog. High concentrations can impair lung function.
- Noxious gases – they result from pollution, which contributes to ozone formation and acid rain.
They say the only difference between medicine and poison is the dose. Environmental toxins are part of modern life. However, with population growth and elevated industrial activity, human exposure is likely to increase, causing harmful health effects in the long term.
Environmental Toxins: Health Impacts and the Role of Public Health Professionals. Tulane University, 2021. Available: https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/environmental-toxins/. Access: 04/09/2022.