At times, protecting the environment is a hot-button topic, but what’s not up for debate is our desire to protect ourselves and our families from the adverse effects of environmental health concerns. These environmental issues have a direct and sometimes severe impact on your and your family’s well-being.
Below, we outline the top environmental health concerns today and how they impact you, your family, and your children.
What Environmental Issues Can Affect Health?
There’s a wide range of environmental concerns in the world today. Within all these issues, seven stand out as some of the most critical environmental issues affecting public health.
Air pollution can come from a range of sources, some of which you may not even realize. Air pollution falls into two main categories — indoor and outdoor.
Outdoor air pollution:
Indoor air pollution:
Insect and animal allergens
Mold and pollen
Many companies use flame-retardant materials to help increase the safety of our homes and clothing. These materials help slow the rate at which items burn, helping keep our families and us safe. However, many of these retardants include chemicals that can cause various health issues.
These retardants, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), and organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs), often include harmful substances, such as bromine, chlorine, phosphorus, nitrogen, metals, or boron.
We encounter these substances in many ways in our daily lives, including:
Decades ago, lead was a common material in everything from gasoline to cosmetics to paint. It was even in our pipes. Today, we understand the risk of lead and have taken steps to eliminate it by removing old paint and repainting it with nonleaded paint and replacing leaded fuel with unleaded.
However, there are still trace amounts of lead that can lead to exposure. These trace amounts can be found in:
Older homes with lead-based paint
Water from old leaded pipes
While nanomaterials’ definition is debatable among experts, they are commonly characterized as tiny objects measured in nanometers, which is one-millionth of a millimeter or 100,000 times smaller than a human hair.
These nanometers can be helpful in the world, but engineered nanomaterials’ health risks remain a bit of a mystery. While many materials pose no risk to humans in their normal size, they may have a different reaction in nano size, as they can be easily absorbed into the body and have a completely different reaction.
You risk exposure to nanomaterials every day in the following products:
While an overall focus on health has resulted in a steady decline in smokers, plenty are still out there. And when they smoke, whether it’s inside or outside, they are filling the surrounding air with numerous toxic chemicals, such as:
At least 69 of the over 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes are known to be harmful.
Pesticides have been a part of industrial farming for decades as farmers look to mitigate damage caused by insects, rodents, bacteria, invasive weeds, and mold. While these pesticides are designed to help us, and we’re taught to wash our fruits and veggies before eating them, we still ingest trace amounts of these potentially harmful chemicals.
How Do These Environmental Issues Impact Human Health?
While helping the environment is an obvious benefit to limiting environmental issues, there’s also human health. Many of these concerns are either known to cause health problems or could potentially negatively impact a human’s well-being.
Let’s look at the most critical environmental health concerns and see how environmental exposure can potentially adversely affect humans.
Air pollution not only leads to climate change; it can also have negative health impacts on humans. Pollution can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in human cells, potentially resulting in chronic diseases and even cancer.
Here are some of the health impacts poor air quality can have on human health:
Increased risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Reduced good cholesterol
Increased risk for heart disease
Blood pressure fluctuation
Increased risk of asthma and emphysema
Potential chronic bronchitis
Increased risk for other respiratory diseases
Flame retardants are great for helping keep our families safe, but research has shown they can cause some health issues. These potential issues include endocrine and thyroid disruption, immune system issues, reproductive toxicity, and even cancer.
Lead, while a supremely useful element, has been found to cause many health problems. These health issues can be acute or long term, depending on the time and frequency you were exposed to lead.
The acute (short-term) health concerns with lead are as follows:
Loss of appetite
Pain or tingling in the hands or feet
Long-term lead exposure can lead to longer-lasting issues. These issues include:
Prolonged abdominal pain
High blood pressure
Nanomaterials are great for many reasons, but there may be some adverse health issues regarding nanoparticles. However, no concrete evidence exists that nanoparticles are any worse than their larger counterparts.
But some experts believe that inhaled nanoparticles can travel from the lungs to other organs and potentially cause issues. Research suggests carbon nanoparticles can induce lung swelling, similar to asbestos.
In some settings, cigarette smoke is seemingly unavoidable, as “smoking” sections often bleed into non-smoking sections. Or they’re outright ignored altogether. You may think that as long as you’re not smoking the cigarette yourself, you’re safe. However, some of the most harmful smoke that comes from a cigarette flows from the lit end.
According to health professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand smoke causes about 34,000 premature deaths annually and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 25%-30% and 20%-30%, respectively. It also increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 20%-30%, leading to over 7,300 lung cancer deaths yearly.
Pesticides are helpful but can also be rather dangerous. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), health effects vary based on the pesticide, but organophosphates and carbamates are known to impact the nervous system, causing it not to function properly. This is no surprise, given it’s also used in nerve agents.
Keep in mind, even if you’re not near where pesticides are sprayed, you may still suffer the consequences. If the chemicals are mismanaged, they can leech through the soil and into the groundwater and make their way to the water supply, potentially harming the drinking water quality in your area.
Other serious issues with long-term pesticide exposure include cancer, as some are known carcinogens, and hormone or endocrine system problems.
Of course, this all varies with the exposure level. If you only encounter a pesticide once in a while, you’re likely fine. However, frequent chemical exposure to pesticides can lead to more long-term issues.
How Do These Environmental Issues Impact Infant and Child Health?
While children and infants generally have stronger resistance to many ailments, environmental health concerns don’t discriminate by age. In fact, in some cases, infants and children have higher risk factors and vulnerabilities and benefit even more from a healthy environment.
Let’s look at how these top environmental issues impact the health of children and infants.
In children, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that air pollution increased short-term respiratory infections, leading to more school absences. The NIEHS also found children living in high-ozone areas and playing several outdoor sports were at higher risk of developing asthma.
Kids dealing with high air pollution also were more likely to develop asthma regardless of sports participation and bronchitis.
Children will suffer significantly more than adults from the chemicals used in flame retardants. According to the NIEHS, this is because their brains and organs are still growing and developing. This is also because children more frequently have hand-to-mouth activities and are closer to the floor, which leads to higher concentrations of these chemicals in their bodies.
Lead has many of the same health impacts on children as it does on adults. However, the big difference is the severity. Children tend to suffer lead poisoning at lower levels than adults. In fact, studies show some children suffered lead poisoning from lead dust from the workplace on a parent’s clothing.
Lead is also known to cause intellectual disabilities in children.
Nanoparticles are still under-researched, especially in regard to infants and children, but the NIEHS found no concrete evidence that nanoparticles impact kids more than adults.
Secondhand cigarette smoke can have significant impacts on children. According to the CDC, these can include:
More frequent illnesses
Susceptibility to pneumonia and bronchitis
Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath
More frequent ear infections, sometimes resulting in manual ear draining
More frequent and severe asthma attacks
Pesticides can impact people of all ages, but children have some additional potential health concerns when exposed to these chemicals. Research indicates that even low levels of pesticide exposure can negatively impact a child’s neurological and behavioral development. There is also a link between pesticides and neonatal reflexes, psychomotor and mental development, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Environmental Health Concerns Impact Children and Adults Alike
Whether its air pollution, pesticides, cigarette smoke, or just nanoparticles, environmental hazards can impact the short- and long-term health of adults and children. Sure, these environmental factors may have only minor negative health outcomes, like abdominal pain, but some can lead to long-term health and development issues. This is why you must be an advocate for lowering these environmental health concerns and promoting an overall healthy environment.
Looking to do your part to help limit environmental health concerns? Check out Terrapass’ carbon footprint offsets.
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