Chemicals Affecting Human Health

Manmade chemicals are an integral and vital part of our modern lifestyle. They are found in a vast range of consumer products – from furniture, clothing and toiletries to electrical appliances, car interiors and cleaning products. While they have undoubtedly improved the quality of our lives, many would present you with serious health problems.

They can be harmful to health and many can persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people.

This has resulted in ecosystems and people all over the world being contaminated with a cocktail of manmade chemicals. Examples include the chemicals DDT (an insecticide) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls – used in electrical components), which despite having been banned for decades, are still found throughout the global environment.

In more recent years, modern chemical compounds such as brominated flame retardants (used to prevent fire in plastics e.g. TVs, computers and textiles e.g. furniture, carpets) and perfluorinated “non-stick” chemicals, (used for waterproof and stainproof coatings) have followed PCBs and DDT to all corners of the globe.

Some chemicals can also interfere with hormone processes in the body – these are known as “endocrine disrupting” chemicals (EDCs). Examples include phthalates, primarily used to soften plastics and found in numerous consumer products, from vinyl flooring to cosmetics.

There is a large body of scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of manmade chemicals on wildlife species. Research and studies have also consistently shown that humans all over the globe are too exposed to a cocktail of potentially hazardous chemicals including DDT and PCBs, as well as brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals (non-stick cookware), artificial musks (used as synthetic fragrances in many consumer products) and phthalates.

Many of these chemicals have been detected in young children as well as adults, and in some cases at higher levels in children than in adults.

Alongside this, there is growing concern over possible links between certain chemicals (particularly endocrine disrupting chemicals) and human health impacts such as cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, asthma, allergies, behavioral problems, disruption of infant brain development, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Many well known scientists are becoming increasingly concerned as there is mounting evidence linking persistent, accumulative and endocrine disrupting chemicals with negative health effects.

However, despite our exposure to these chemicals, there is currently insufficient health and safety data publicly available to assess the potential impacts of most of the chemicals in use today.

The short term exposure to these chemicals is unlikely to cause direct, immediate health effects, but there are concerns over the effects of long term, low level exposure to chemicals in the diet, especially on the developing fetus, infants and young children.

There is also the wider issue of the use of hazardous chemicals that continue to contaminate the global environment and the food we consume.

Until the persistent, bioaccumulative and endocrine disrupting chemicals are all phased out and replaced with safer alternatives there is no reason why we should continue to risk our health when safer alternatives exist.

Inform yourself about the chemicals in the products you are using and consuming daily and stop buying them and stop using them. Look for alternatives or safer products. If governments fail to change the industry by making it safer, consumers indeed can by simply buying safer alternatives that do exist.