10 Chemicals that Pose a Significant Public Health Risk
Updated: May 4, 2020
Hello! Today I'm going to tell you about a group of chemicals that are formidable in the potential risks they pose to public health. Not only to us humans but often to the devastation of the environment too. It's no secret that chemicals are all around us. You and I are made up of chemicals, and so is the computer or smartphone you're reading this article on. In fact, everything on our planet, living or exanimate, is made up of different combinations of chemicals. They are a part of us, our history and necessarily our future. Without chemicals humanity's leaps in technological advance wouldn't have happened. It's obvious that when used in controlled instances and with proper attention to potential risks, chemicals have and will continue to massively contribute to the betterment of our health, well-being and quality of life. But what about when there are no control measures present? Accidents inevitably happen. It happens frequently across the world, and there are a select group of 10 chemicals that have been deemed a top risk for public health and safety. Asbestos
It's true that asbestos has been made illegal to use in many countries, but it's still in use in a frightening amount of places. Every type of asbestos poses a significant risk to human health and can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and fibrosis of the lungs. Exposure occurs through inhalation of the fibres from the air in a workplace, or just the ambient air around factories working with asbestos. The most worrying thing is that people are still living in housing built with asbestos materials. Asbestos is known to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and it's thought that there are currently 125 million people around the globe who are exposed to asbestos at their workplaces every day. Several thousands of those deaths came from nonoccupational exposure to asbestos too; So, you don't actually need to be working with it to Arsenic
There are two forms of arsenic; organic and inorganic. You probably come across organic arsenic all the time, especially if you're into seafood since most of it is packed with organic arsenic compounds. Our bodies handle these compounds quickly and efficiently so, thankfully, organic arsenic isn't too dangerous to you and me. Inorganic arsenic, however, is a completely different beast. It is soluble that is acutely toxic to humans and is often found in natural groundwater and food grown and prepared using water sources that are high in arsenic. Exposure to inorganic arsenic over a protracted period of time is likely to lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. There are several other illnesses that can be caused by inorganic arsenic depending on the level and period of exposure. The effects of these illnesses can take a long time to appear and include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, skin lesions and peripheral neuropathy. Air Pollution
A variety of pollutants that clog up our precious air have been associated with a wide range of detrimental effects on human health, including cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer and respiratory infections. Air pollution is thought to be answerable for up to 3.1 million premature deaths worldwide, EVERY YEAR, and 3.2% of all diseases across the globe, with more than half of that burden borne by the populations of developing countries. Cadmium
Cadmium is naturally present in some of the environment, but we produce it too, as a byproduct of mining, smelting and refining and it has been used in many industries over the years. Cadmium, however, is classified as a human carcinogen and the use of it has been reduced over several years because of its toxicity to humans and our environment. Our industries have also made environmental levels of cadmium rise dangerously. It can have adverse effects on our kidneys and respiratory and skeletal systems. You are exposed to cadmium regularly in very small concentrations in your cereal, starchy roots like potatoes and other vegetables and it also accumulates in molluscs and crustaceans. Higher levels are where cadmium becomes dangerous and exposure can occur through inhalation of tobacco smoke and contaminated food. Workers in the non-ferrous metal industry are regularly exposed to high levels are cadmium pollution. Benzene
Benzene is a highly volatile, organic chemical compound that is created through natural environmental processes such as forest fires and volcanoes. It is one of the worlds most used chemicals, generally as a starting ingredient for making a variety of different chemicals like lubricants, dyes, pesticides and plastics. The main risk of exposure to humans is through the use of benzene as a cleaning solvent in the industrial sector and tobacco smoke. It was also commonly used to dissolve or extract other substances and as a gasoline additive. Benzene exposure has been linked to a range of acute and long-term detrimental effects on our health including aplastic anaemia and cancer.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding fluoride for some years because high exposure risks causing enamel and crippling skeletal fluorosis. You and I are exposed to controlled amounts of fluoride in our water supplies and toothpaste as it's said to reduce the incidence of dental caries. Populations of people in areas with no established water distribution systems are generally given this controlled amount through salt or milk fluoridation. It's quite scary, however, to think that the ranges of intake that produce these conflicting effects are so small. It's not entirely clear how prevalent skeletal fluorosis is across the globe, but it's estimated that exposure to drinking water that has a very high fluoride concentration has been the cause of tens of millions of cases of it around the world. Lead
Unfortunately for us, and our environment, lead was commonly used in various industries for many years. It is a cumulative toxicant and has been the cause of large-scale environmental contamination and health problems for millions across the globe. It affects several of our body's systems including, the renal, cardiovascular, hematologic, gastrointestinal and neurological systems. Now that we have learned the severe dangers to human health and our environment inherent in the use of lead it has reduced significantly. Except, however, for developing countries where there are still considerable amounts of lead in use. While there is no known level of exposure to lead that is considered safe, children and pregnant women are especially at risk which makes the fact it's still in use in developing countries a big worry. Dioxins
Dioxins are persistent organic pollutants and are highly toxic to human health and the environment. There are also dioxin-like substances which are just as toxic. They are both byproducts of natural combustion and a variety of different industrial processes like smelting, or chlorine bleaching. The production and use of dioxins and dioxin-like substances have been highly restricted by the Stockholm Convention treaty. This treaty was signed in 2001 and is meant to eliminate the use of persistent organic pollutants. But while the restriction on the manufacture of persistent organic pollutants is in place, there are still releases into the atmosphere through the disposal of waste, including large-scale electrical equipment. There are a range of toxic effects linked to exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like substances, including developmental and neurodevelopmental effects, immunotoxicity and changes in steroid and thyroid hormones and reproductive functions. Pesticides
Highly hazardous pesticides have been in widespread use for many years and have caused a high number of health problems and deaths in many parts of the world. It's thought that pesticides can cause acute and chronic toxic effects to human health, children especially, and the environment. There is not enough available data to estimate the true global detrimental effect that pesticides have on human health but it's estimated that suicides from preventable pesticide ingestion are up to 186,000 deaths per year. Mercury
The major threat from mercury comes in the development of a child whilst in utero or early in their life. It's highly toxic to human health and comes in various forms, including organic, inorganic and elemental. The different forms of mercury have different toxic effects on our nervous system, the digestive and immune systems and on our lungs, skin, eyes and kidneys. It's thought that among certain subsistence fishing peoples, many of the children show cognitive health problems caused by eating fish that is highly contaminated with mercury. Mercury can be released into the environment through human work processes, including heating systems, waste incinerators and as a result of mining operations across the world. Once it's been released, mercury is naturally converted into methyl-mercury which then accumulates in fish and some shellfish.
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