Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Environment and your health

When it comes to health, nothing is more important than the environment in which we all live. Our environment dictates every aspect of our health, from the air we breathe to the water we drink. Even the slightest exposure to a hazardous environment could jeopardize our safety and well-being, moreover, it could pose a serious threat to those of us who are more susceptible to disease or injury. Improving our environment ameliorates our societal health and lowers overall propensity for morbidity and mortality. It is imperative to establish strong policies in order to preserve our environment and sustain our resources.
The most important aspect of our environment is our air quality. Whether it is outdoor air or the ventilated air we commonly breathe indoors, it remains the top priority in sustaining life. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012), exposure to substandard air quality can lead to diseases, such as; cancer, respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, and is even linked to premature death. While over 187 outdoor air pollutants, such as perchlorethlyene released by dry-cleaning facilities, are monitored and controlled by the EPA, other air pollutants still exist and remain unregulated. Many emissions originating from automobiles and stationary sources, including factories and commercial buildings, contribute considerably to poor air quality, (Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/pollsour.html).
As for indoor air quality, pollutants can reach harmful concentrations if circulated air throughout the ventilation system remains inadequately maintained. Such ventilation could mean the mechanical systems (HVAC) heating, ventilation, air-conditioning; or it could be manually provided through windows, doors, or other natural means by which air is moved through a space. Pollutants, such as; CO2, cigarette smoke, mold spores, and vehicle exhaust can all become trapped within a ventilation system, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/indoorenv/BuildingVentilation.html).
One way in which air pollutants can be introduced in a building is through the use of hazardous chemicals. Hazardous chemicals can not only be found in industries and factories, but even in the average home, where on average 62 toxic chemicals can potentially emit fumes into the air, (Steinman & Epstein, http://www.go2greenliving.com/docs/safe_shoppers.pdf). It is imperative that regulations be put into place to properly educate consumers on the potential hazards of these chemicals they are introducing.
Like air, water is another important life-sustaining resource in our environment. Unfortunately, the water has a potential to be contaminated with pollutants. When this is the case, we become susceptible to hazardous chemicals and deadly microbes. One particular study found a cocktail of toxic household chemicals and residues from pharmaceuticals in both Cape Cod and surrounding resident wells, probably resulting from septic system wastewater seepage,
(Silent Spring Institute, http://www.silentspring.org/news/press_releases/study-finds-27-contaminants-cape-cod-drinking-water-wells). Other contaminants from agriculture, construction, manufacturing plants, and mining also leach into the water, posing serious risk to the U.S. population. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens, while others can potentially disrupt the endocrine system, (Laffall & Kripke, http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf); and yet other chemicals have been proven to promote obesity in youth, (Mount Sinai Faculty Practice Associates, http://www.mountsinaifpa.org/about-us/news-archive/chemical-in-personal-care-products-may-contribute-to-childhood-obesity?goback=.gde_2350595_member_119623042). Recently, Professor Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the University of California Irvine, discovered that some of these chemicals found in a contaminated environment can disrupt the body's ability to store and utilize adipose tissue, (Developmental & Cell Biology, http://devcell.bio.uci.edu/faculty/bruce-blumberg/). Heavier regulations must be put in place in order to preserve this precious resource.
Another important environmental factor relies on the substances we utilize daily and the support for a cleaner environment. Toxins and hazardous chemicals found in our homes, workplace, outdoor environment, and recreational facilities pose detrimental threats to the health of humans, pets, wildlife, and even our ecosystem. Due to the fact that chemicals have become a common mainstay within our society, unintentional poisonings deaths increased substantially to approximately 87 people per day in 2009 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Poisoning/index.html). Although the main problem to this high death rate is drug overdoses, some 9% is due to the exposure to hazardous chemicals. According to the Household Products Database, hazardous chemicals such as sodium hyperchlorite, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, diethanolsamine, naptha, and orthophenylphenols are found in various household products and can cause severe adverse health problems, including death. One of the most common disinfectants used in homes, recreational facilities, government buildings, nursing homes, day cares, schools, and hospitals is the toxic chemical dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, which is a registered pesticide. A similar chemical, didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride combined with alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride was used during a 21 day dermal toxicity study on guinea pigs and concluded that 1,000 mg/kg of a 1:5 dilution on the shaved dorsal trunk caused elevation of basophils, eosinophils, serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase (SGPT), and serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase (SGOT), skin irritation and sloughing which caused dermal defatting and subsequent weight loss, (Hazardous Substances Data Bank, http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/f?./temp/~DhLrIw:4).
Hazardous and toxic chemicals can be found in personal care items as well. Most recently, Johnson & Johnson admitted that their baby shampoo contains the preservative quaternium-15, a substance which releases formaldehyde to kill bacteria in order to increase the product's shelf life, but has been linked to rashes, skin inflammation and even cancer, (Sorensen, et. al, http://blogs.webmd.com/health-ehome/2011/11/new-report-finds-johnsons-baby-shampoo-not-so-pure.html?goback=.gde_2132857_member_118658127 ) . Since most manufacturers' products are not currently regulated, they are not required to list the ingredients in their products' packaging, ergo consumers are not as informed as they should be.
Whats more, most manufacturers who claim to provide green products are still using synthetic, sometimes toxic, ingredients. One such cleaning line is Proctor & Gamble's Seventh Generation cleaning products and detergents. They claimed that they used all natural and safe ingredients in their product line, however voluntarily discontinued that marketing claim after Proctor & Gamble and Seventh Generation admitted to NAD that they indeed use hazardous ingredients in their products, (Bardelline, http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2010/09/09/pg-disputes-seventh-generation-green-claims).
For consumers, this kind of advertising can be misleading. Product information is ambiguous at best, thus consumers rely on advertising and company loyalty to buy and use products. Nonetheless, those who need to find a responsible, green manufacturing company, discover such a task can be quite difficult because the industry is severely under-regulated. In a perfect world, policies and regulations would be put in place to eliminate the use of harmful and toxic ingredients used in products. For now, stronger policies should be put in place to require all products to provide all ingredients and contain bold-faced warning labels which are clearly displayed on the face of their packaging.
Unmistakeably, our homes and communities are our primary environment where we are subject to an onslaught of indoor air pollution, poor ventilation, structural integrity issues, and other environmental hazards. More regulations involving industry, agricultural, and construction standards guarantee safer places to live and provide a better outcome for future generations. Moreover, our environmental and community infrastructure are important aspects of our livelihood. It is imperative more standards are put in place to ensure that our response to environmental hazards, epidemics, and overall public safety are kept intact.
Ultimately, our health and safety is paramount and protecting the environment in which we live should be our top priority. Since our health is determined by the health of our environment, it is imperative to establish strong policies which guard our natural resources from hazardous chemicals and harmful pollutants. Setting such policies today will assure our future generations have an abundance of clean, natural resources within a comfortable and safe earth to live on tomorrow.


Bardelline, J. (2010). P&G Disputes Seventh Generation's Green Claims. GreenBiz.com, New York, NY. Retrieved from http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2010/09/09/pg-disputes-seventh-generation-green-claims

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Workplace Safety & Health Topics: Indoor Environmental Quality. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/indoorenv/BuildingVentilation.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Home & Recreational Safety: Unintentional Poisoning. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Poisoning/index.html

Developmental & Cell Biology. (2011). School of Biological Sciences: Bruce Blumberg. Irvine, CA. Retrieved from http://devcell.bio.uci.edu/faculty/bruce-blumberg/

Environmental Protection Agency. (2009). Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Web Site: Pollutants & Sources. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/pollsour.html

Hazardous Substances Data Bank. (2012) Didecy Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride. Retrieved from http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/f?./temp/~DhLrIw:4

Laffall, L; Kripke, M. (2010). Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. President's Cancer Panel: U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualreports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf

Mount Sinai Faculty Practice Associates. (2012) Chemical In Personal Care Products May Contribute To Childhood Obesity. New York, NY. Retrieved from http://www.mountsinaifpa.org/about-us/news-archive/chemical-in-personal-care-products-may-contribute-to-childhood-obesity?goback=.gde_2350595_member_119623042

Silent Spring Institute. (2011). Study Finds 27 Contaminants in Cape Cod Drinking Water Wells. Newton, MA. Retrieved from http://www.silentspring.org/news/press_releases/study-finds-27-contaminants-cape-cod-drinking-water-wells

Steinman, D; Epstein, S. (1995) A Safe Shopper's Bible. Retrieved from http://www.go2greenliving.com/docs/safe_shoppers.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). HealthyPeople.gov: Environmetal Health. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=12

Sorensen, J; Sarnoff, R; & Gavigan, C. (2011). New Report Finds Johnson's Baby Shampoo Not So Pure. WebMD Expert Blogs. Retrieved from http://blogs.webmd.com/health-ehome/2011/11/new-report-finds-johnsons-baby-shampoo-not-so-pure.html?goback=.gde_2132857_member_118658127

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