While technology has radically improved our day-to-day existence, one area of our lives is still deteriorating – our living environment. Environment pollution is one of the most pressing concerns of the 21st century and one that currently poses the greatest threat to humanity and its lifestyle.
Environmental exposures refer to the exposures of people to pollutants found in their environment. Although some environments may contain pollutant agents in amounts that aren’t hazardous to human health and are technically legal, prolonged and frequent exposure to these agents may cause severe, chronic and acute health problems.
In this article, we will focus on the environmental exposures, the ways they happen and some of the most common environmental pollutants, in order to raise awareness and help you protect your health.
Exposure refers to the contact with pollutant agents. Basically, if we don’t make contact with hazardous substances, they are not a threat to our health. Moreover, even if we are in contact with such substances, their level of severity depends on their amount.
When we are evaluating the dose of a certain dangerous substance, bodyweight is an important factor to take into consideration. For example, when a child is exposed to the same amount of some substance as an adult, it may harm them more.
The larger the amount of the substance we are exposed to, the bigger the chances it will affect our health. Even if some substance is normally not considered dangerous, in large amounts it can become toxic.
Routes of environmental exposures
The term “routes of exposure” refers to different ways toxic substances can enter our body or just come into contact with it.
For instance, inhalation of dust, vapors or gases is one of the most common routes. This way chemicals enter through our nose, go through the air passages and then end up in our lungs. After they are absorbed in the lungs, these chemicals enter the bloodstream and are distributed to the rest of our body.
Direct contact is when substances are absorbed through our eyes or skin, after which they enter the bloodstream. With people who have cracked or cut skin, these substances are more likely to enter the body.
Ingestion is when we absorb the chemicals found in food, drinks, cigarettes etc. by swallowing them. Children are more likely to get poisoned this way, as they often put their fingers in their mouths. Just like with the other routes, after they are ingested, the chemicals enter our bloodstream and then spread through the whole body.
These routes of environmental exposures can determine the level of toxicity of a certain substance. For example, touching lead is not dangerous at all, while swallowing it can cause some major health issues.
Furthermore, toxic chemicals can cause harmful effects right away or days, months and even years later. Short term exposures are called acute, while long term ones are called chronic.
Acute exposures are when our contact with a chemical lasts for a few minutes or a few hours. Chronic exposures are when we are making contact with a toxic substance repeatedly for a prolonged period of time. For example, if a certain chemical is used over and over continuously for a few years on the job, the exposure becomes chronic.
It’s a well-known fact that the pollutants from the air can be harmful to our health. Air in bigger cities is significantly more polluted than the air in rural areas, as it contains chemicals such as ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. EV cars, trucks, and transportation vehicles are leading the charge to combat air pollution. EV charging systems are now available for large fleets of transportation firms.
Lead is a metal frequently used in our environment, and it can be carcinogenic and neurotoxic – lead poisoning remains one of the most severe environmental hazards. When poisoned, all of our organs are susceptible to injury. Babies, children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to this substance.
BPA or Bisphenol-A is a chemical used to keep bacteria from food, hard plastic objects and prevent metal cans or other similar metal objects from rusting. It can be found in the products we use on a daily basis such as water bottles, food containers, cash register receipts etc.
Exposure to mold can be quite dangerous, especially when it comes to children. The human body can absorb mold in three ways: by eating food which contains mold, by touching mold, and by breathing in its spores. There are more than 200 different kinds of mold, and they usually grow in moist environments.
Although designed to kill unwanted pests, they can harm human bodies as well. Exposure to pesticides in the prenatal period can cause serious damage and change the way our biological system functions.
To sum up, these are only some of the toxic chemicals that can be found everywhere around us. It’s important to have a certain amount of knowledge about them and pollution exposures, in order to protect ourselves and our families. Even though we, in most cases, can’t really avoid using them or exposing ourselves to them, what we can do is to cut them down to a minimum.