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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Common Harmful Chemicals

Modern lifestyle is fraught with all sorts of hazards, beginning with the food we eat, the household products we use, and the environmental pollution that attends most of our activities.
Of utmost concern are the chemicals that have become a part of modern existence, what with the fact that virtually every manufactured product we use contains one chemical or the other!
Experts say when properly deployed, many chemicals can significantly contribute to the improvement of our quality of life, health and overall well-being. However, they warn, other chemicals are highly hazardous and can negatively affect our health and the environment when improperly managed.
The World Health Organisation lists about 10 chemicals which, though are found in all sorts of items we use, they are highly hazardous and humanity might be better off without them, considering the harm they unleash on the environment and bodily system.
What are these chemicals? Read on.
According to the web portal,, arsenic compounds are used in making special types of glass, while it could also serve as a wood preservative, among others.
Experts say arsenic also occurs naturally on earth in small concentrations; and it may be found in the soil and natural minerals, while it may enter the air, water and land through wind-blown dust and water run-off.
Again, scientists say, through human activity, large volumes of arsenic are released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.
However, Arsenic is reputed to be one of the most toxic elements that can be found, what with the fact that when humans are exposed to it through food, water and air; or when the skin comes into contact with soil or water that contains arsenic, it can wreak havoc on health.
Experts also warn that levels of arsenic in fish and seafood may be high, simply because fish absorb arsenic from the water they live in. When such arsenic-ridden fish is eaten, experts say, it can have health implications.
Again, arsenic can contaminate stream and groundwater. And when such water is used to irrigate farms, they enter the food chain and linger there.
Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology, Oladapo Ashiru, says the effects of exposure to inorganic arsenic can take years to manifest; but when it does, it can lead to infertility and miscarriages among women; while it can cause skin disturbances among the sexes, declined resistance to infections, heart disruptions and brain damage.
Worse still, Ashiru warns, this element can damage the DNA and result in fatal diseases, including cancer; it can cause diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and peripheral neuropathy (a result of nerve damage, often causing weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet, but it may also occur in other areas of the body).
The WHO notes that all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer affecting the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body), cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).
Experts say exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing crumbly asbestos materials.
According to the WHO statistics, currently, about 125 million people globally are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. “In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 disabilities,” the WHO intones.
Generally used for industrial purposes, including battery production, this metal is regarded as human carcinogen (cancer-causing agents). Scientists warn that cadmium exerts toxic effects on the kidney, the skeletal and the respiratory systems.
The fear surrounding cadmium is such that, in 2006, a sale of old seats from Arsenal F.C.’s old stadium in Highbury, London, was cancelled because they were discovered to have trace amounts of cadmium.
Again, reports of high levels of cadmium use in children’s jewelry in 2010 led to a United States Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, and subsequent recall of jewelry found to contain the metal.
Scientists say cadmium can travel long distances from the source of emission by atmospheric transfer. “It is readily accumulated in many organisms, notably molluscs and crustaceans. Lower concentrations are found in vegetables, cereals and starchy roots such as yam, cassava, sweet potato and potatoes. Human exposure occurs mainly from consumption of contaminated food, active and passive inhalation of tobacco smoke, and inhalation by workers in the non-ferrous metal industry,” the WHO says.
Highly hazardous pesticides
Generally, pesticides are used to get rid of pests, insects and weeds and may not be ideal for human health. However, some pesticides are highly hazardous, and they pose exceptional dangers to humans and animals exposed to them. Indeed, the Pesticide Action Network International — a civil society organisation that stridently advocates effective international action towards the elimination of hazardous pesticides — notes that this category of pesticides are known to cause high incidence of severe or irreversible adverse effects to humans.
Experts say while these pesticides pose huge risk to children, “environmental contamination can also result in human exposure through consumption of residues of pesticides in food and, possibly, drinking water.”
While it has mostly industrial use — including being deployed as a component in petrol additive, benzene is also found in household products such as glue, paints, furniture wax and detergents.
Those living around waste sites or petrol stations have cause to fear, scientists say, because the air around these places may contain higher levels of benzene.
The health effects of this organic chemical compound are scary. For one, benzene can be measured in breath, blood or urine within the first 24 hours of exposure; and the two important pathways for transmission of benzene are water and soil.
Again, experts warn, people can be exposed to benzene through tobacco smoke, exhaust from vehicles and through industrial emissions.
Benzene targets the liver, kidney, lung, heart and the brain, experts say; warning that human exposure to benzene carries health risks such as cancer (including leukemia), irregular menstruation, decrease in the size of ovaries, neural birth defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly (the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp that occurs during embryonic development).
In men, it can cause abnormal amount of chromosomes in the sperm; it can also impact fertility and foetal development.

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