Let’s face it — modern life isn’t always easy. With work pressures and home pressures, everything feels like it’s so easy to pile up and stress us out.
In the rush and flurry of daily life, it can be easy to lose sight of what really matters. But when it comes down to it, the most important things in life are the simplest: the comforts of home and the love of family.
But home is not always the haven it should be, and our families are not always as safe as we need them to be. The fact is that every day, we’re exposing ourselves and the people we love most to countless chemical substances, more than a few of which may be toxic. Perhaps even more troubling is that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it.
It might be true that we’re living in the technological age. But we’re also living in the chemical age. When considering all of those products that make life simpler, more convenient, more beautiful, and simply more fun — it’s likely they’re all derived from chemicals.
The nature and the effects of those chemicals, however, are still little understood, though environmental scientists are working hard to rectify that. Unfortunately, the process is an arduous one. For example, testing a single chemical substance for possible carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects can take up to 2 years and can cost around $4 million on average.
And yet we’re exposed to countless chemical substances each and every day, whether in our homes, our workplaces, or our communities. Additionally, the effects of exposure to those chemicals can vary widely from one person to the next, depending on the person’s sensitivity level, the length and nature of the exposure, and the type of chemical involved.
How Exposure Happens
Because chemicals seem to simply be a fact of modern life, as common to our physical environment as air or light, most of us are being exposed in some way pretty much all of the time. Exposure can range from the perfumes and lotions we use to the cups we drink from to the compounds being released into the air by our paints and our carpets and furnishings. Even the most seemingly harmless child’s toy may contain harmful levels of lead or other substances, and chronic exposure has the potential to impact a child’s neurological development, liver function, or endocrine system, just to name a few.
Studies show, in fact, that we’re being exposed to chemicals even before we’re born, as chemicals found in mother’s blood have the potential to pass through the placenta or umbilical cord to the fetus, and while many of these may cause no discernable harm to the fetus or newborn, the lifelong impacts of prenatal exposure are still not clearly known.
Unexpected Sources of Exposure
It might not be surprising that some of the most common household products are brimming with chemical substances. Anyone who has caught a whiff of the chemical smell of plastic packaging or inflatable toys, or who’s had their breath taken by the household cleaner aisle of the local grocery store knows these items aren’t exactly made from the gentlest and most natural substances.
But exposure can happen even where we assume the highest of purity and safety standards. Our national food supply, for example, is a site of extreme exposure risk simply due to our current manufacturing processes. Sanitation, for instance, is a huge issue in food processing, particularly because the financial and public health risks of food-borne illnesses are so great. But processes for sanitizing food production equipment can actually increase the risk that these surfaces will corrode, leaching heavy metals and other toxic substances into the food supply.
Even the public water supply isn’t immune. By now, the travesty of the contamination of Flint’s water system is widely known. But while the lead exposure in Michigan is perhaps the most egregious example of water contamination in recent history, it is far from the only one.
The challenge, however, is that examples of water pollution are not always so clear-cut. For instance, nearly 3/4 of the nation’s water supply is fluoridated. The vast majority of researchers and public health experts argue that not only is fluoride safe for consumption at levels higher than those of public water systems and tout the significant oral health benefits of fluoridated water for both children and adults.
Others, however, argue that the long-term effects of routine fluoride consumption, even at low levels, are not yet known. Further, they point to a small but not insubstantial body of evidence suggesting a possible link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
We live in a chemical world. But for all the ways these substances improve our lives, they’re not without risk. From even before we are born, we’re being exposed to a myriad of environmental pollutants, the long-term impacts of which are still not entirely certain. Nevertheless, thanks to continuing advances in environmental science, we are becoming more informed and empowered to help mitigate the risks of chemical exposure to ourselves and our loved ones.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.