Environmental Exposures to Toxic Substances The “environment” is everything around us, indoors and outdoors. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground we walk on, and the food we eat are all part of the environment. Chemicals and other substances in the environment are often toxic and can cause serious health problems such as cancer, heart and lung disease and reproductive and pregnancy problems. We can be affected by these harmful substances if we breathe them in, taste, eat, drink or touch them. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are at a higher risk of having a poor birth result if they are exposed to these substances. We need to know what the toxins are so we can do our best to prevent their use and our exposure to them.
Whose health is hurt more by toxic substances? Adult’s or Children’s?
Children are more vulnerable. Developing fetuses, infants, children, pre-teens and teenagers are all especially vulnerable. Being exposed to even small amounts of toxic substances during important times of development can lead to death or disease early in life, later in life, or even across generations. Exposure to environmental toxic substances can harm the reproductive systems of females and males. Avoiding these toxic materials is important, especially before and during pregnancy. Go to “More Info” on protecting ourselves and our families from toxic substances. Check out “Toxic Matters”.
Can you name a couple of these toxic substances?
Some of these toxic substances are secondhand smoke, smog (air pollution), lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, pesticides, solvents, household chemicals, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, other street drugs and prescription drugs (especially addictive opioids), some herbs and more. These substances can increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, birth defects, infant mortality and other pregnancy complications. Go to “More Info” on the toxicity of almost any toxic substance.
Is secondhand smoke a toxic substance that should be avoided? Yes or No?
Yes. Secondhand smoke is linked to many health problems. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home, car or around children. Women who may get pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should stop any smoking in their presence or in a space that is theirs, even if they are not present. Secondhand smoke is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), birth defects, miscarriage, still-birth and more.
Mercury is a toxic, hazardous metal that has a damaging effect on the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses and young children. In which of the following foods is this toxin found?
- a) Vegetables
- b) Popcorn
- c) Some fish and shellfish.
c) Some fish and shellfish contain high levels of mercury that may harm a fetus or a young child’s brain and nervous system. The risk from mercury depends on the amount of fish and the type of fish eaten. The fish NOT TO EAT are shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, tile fish, and tuna (bigeye and ahi) and any local fresh or saltwater fish that are posted with a warning. Go to “More Info” on fish safer to eat.
Are there still mercury thermometers in homes?
Yes. You can dispose of your mercury thermometer through you county hazardous waste collection service and replace it with a digital one. If you have a mercury thermometer that breaks, clear everyone and pets out of the area and open all windows to the outside. Make sure no one walks through the mercury on the way out. Shut all doors to other parts of the house. Do not let children help with the cleanup. Call the poison control hotline for more instructions 800-222-1222.
Is salmon a good fish to eat? Yes or No?
Yes and No. Wild salmon is a good fish to eat. Industrial farm raised salmon, though low in mercury, has high levels of PCP’s, dioxins and other contaminants. Also, farm raised salmon are fed antibiotics and coloring to make their flesh more appetizing. Girls and women should avoid farmed salmon because of the effects of these contaminants which tend to stay in the body. They could affect a possible pregnancy and the quality of their breast milk. If you do eat farmed salmon, do not eat the skin which has most of the toxins.
Is there a vegetarian alternative to the healthy oils found in fish? Yes or No?
Yes. Vegetarian sources of healthy oils do not have the toxins of fish. The American Dietetic Association has stated that “…vegetarian and vegan diets (no animal products) are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle and ….can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health.” J. Am. Diet Assoc. July, 2009. Plant sources rich in healthy oils are flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, soy, pumpkin seeds and canola oil. Click below for a slide show on the importance of omega 3 fatty acids. http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-omega-3-health-benefits
What is the largest source of environmental mercury pollution?
- a) NASA’s Mercury Space Probe
- b) Coal-fired electric power plants
b) “Coal-fired electric power plants, according to the EPA, are the largest source of human-caused mercury air emissions in the U.S….accounting for 48% of the total U.S. man-made mercury emissions.” “Emissions” here means Find out what type of electric power plant you have in your region or what is being planned. Click below for more on mercury from coal fired plants and how this toxin is of special concern to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Check out the “Mercury Map” link at the bottom of the page to find out if there is a coal fired plant near you. You may want to share this map with friends and family throughout the U.S.
Lead is no longer considered a toxic metal that can cause health problems in children, adults and pregnancy results. True or False?
False. Lead poisoning from paint chips and dust and plumbing is a particular problem in neighborhoods that have homes built before 1978. Toddlers tend to put everything in their mouths including lead paint dust, chips and contaminated soil. Never use hot water from the tap for cooking or for baby formula because of possible contamination from the pipes. Run cold water for a minute before using it. Use a water filter certified by NSF International. Lead is also used in stain glass art, jewelry making and in some dinnerware. For more info on the pregnancy dangers of lead poisoning including the possible link to criminal behavior.
Name one thing that can be done to reduce lead exposure for your family?
Prevent children from eating dirt and paint chips or chewing on painted surfaces like windowsills. Hobbies or work that use oil based paints and paint strippers, solvents, heavy metal and activities that involve the melting and soldering of metals should be avoided by women who are pregnant or can get pregnant. Click below for ways to protect your family from lead and other toxins (Page 4).
Do you know a way to prevent toxoplasmosis, an infection that can cause serious pregnancy complications?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite. This is an infection that may not have any symptoms for the pregnant woman, but can cause serious eye or brain damage for the infant or health problems for the child later on. Infection can occur when: *Eating raw or undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables. *Touching cat poop. *Touching pets that are rodents, like mice, hamsters and guinea pigs. Rodents carry the virus LCMV, that can harm your pregnancy. *Touching kitchen utensils and cutting boards used to prepare raw or undercooked meat. *Touching dirt or sand. So use gloves and wash your hands with soap. Go to the link below to learn more on how to prevent toxoplasmosis.
Do you know a way to prevent being infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV), an infection that can cause serious pregnancy problems?
CMV is a common virus. This infection may not have any symptoms for the pregnant woman but can cause seizures, hearing loss and developmental disabilities for her infant. The virus is contracted through contact with the saliva and urine of young children. Hands should be thoroughly washed after the changing of diapers and any other contact with an infant or a toddler’s body fluids or any object that has the child’s fluids on it. Infection can also occur with sexual contact with an infected person.
Do you know a way to prevent listeria, an infection that can cause serious pregnancy problems?
Fever and muscle aches are the common symptoms most people have with this infection. Listeria during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, still birth, preterm labor, illness and infant death. The guidelines for the prevention of listeria are similar to those of salmonellosis and other food-borne illnesses. First – wash your hands with soap. a) Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water before cutting, cooking or eating. b) Scrub firm produce (melons, cucumbers, etc.) with a clean produce brush and dry. c) Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. d) Separate uncooked meats from other foods. e) Keep the kitchen clean. f) Cook meat thoroughly. g) Store foods safely and avoid unpasteurized milk products. h) Do not eat processed meats (hot dogs, luncheon meat, etc.) unless thoroughly cooked. i) Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood or soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Click below to learn how to prevent listeria.
Name a homemade non-toxic household cleaner?
Baking soda and white vinegar are two inexpensive items that are used in many homemade household cleaners. Click the link below for videos showing you how to make your own safe cleaners.
Do farm workers have the right to protect themselves, their families and their pregnancies from contact with agricultural pesticides, hormones and antibiotics?
Yes. You may not be a farm worker or even know anyone who grows our food and may feel that this does not concern you. But we as consumers are part of the food system that puts food on our table while putting farm workers at risk. Even before a farm worker’s pregnancy “exposure of pesticides have an effect on reproductive outcomes; such as spontaneous abortion, neural tube and other birth defects and even deviation from the expected ratio of male-to-female births.” Click on the link below on Reproductive Health Effects of Pesticide Exposure with farm workers.
Do we as consumers have the right to protect our families and future pregnancies from the effects of pesticides and other substances?
Yes. Research shows that a pregnant women’s exposure to commonly used pesticides might cause a preterm birth and a lower birth weight baby. “These are women exposed primarily through diet and pesticides used in and around the home.” There is a current study that shows a link between a pregnant woman living near fields that use pesticides and autism (search “autism pesticides”). Click below for the study on pesticides and preterm births; the link is in the article.
What is a chemical that is found in many plastic water bottles and liners of canned foods and other products that disrupts our natural hormone (endocrine) system and can harm fetal development?
BPA (bisphenol A) is an endocrine disruptor that may disrupt fetal development. Recent evidence shows that BPA may cause miscarriage, obesity and diabetes in children. The National Toxicology Program has stated “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.” Also, BPA “…may affect the development of the male reproductive system….” To reduce exposure, avoid all plastic bottles that have the recycle code 3, 6, or 7 and canned goods that have a plastic inner liner. Do not put plastic containers in a microwave oven or put hot food or drink in them. There is still debate on the use of plastic containers that may be considered “safe“. So use glass or BPA-free metal containers as much as you can.
What is one way I can protect myself and my family from the toxic pesticides, hormones and antibiotics used in growing and raising food?
Grow, buy, trade or barter for organically grown (no pesticides, hormones or antibiotics) food. There is likely someone growing food organically in your area. Always wash produce thoroughly. Peeling will reduce pesticides and bacteria, but the nutrients in the skin are lost. Ask the grower or farmer what chemicals, if any, are used in the growing of the produce or meat. Search “Local Harvest” for nearby Farmers’ Markets. Check out the videos.
Is the radiation exposure from cell phones something to be concerned about?
Yes, even if you feel the radiation from cell phones is harmless. Think about the amount of time every day and the number of years, from childhood on, that a person has the phone up against their head. Look for phones that give off the least amount of radiation. Use your phone to text, in the speaker mode or with a headset and hold the phone away from your body when using it. Make calls only when the connection is good. Do not use phones in any mode while driving! Phone use while driving, like drinking and driving, is a leading cause of car accidents. Check the link below on other cell phone safety tips and the use of cell phones by children.
Since we spend much of our time indoors, name one other source of air pollution, besides secondhand smoke, that may be in our home or place of work?
The most common indoor pollutants are radon, combustion products (gas or wood stove, etc.), biological pollutants (molds, pet dander and pollen), volatile organic compounds (paint and solvents vapors), lead dust and asbestos. Click below on how air pollution can contribute to a low birth weight baby.
Do you live near a toxic waste site or another possible source of air, water or soil pollution (a power plant, landfill, incinerator, factory, etc.)? Yes, No or I Don’t Know.
You can check with an environmental organization in your area and your local health department. If the organization you contact does not have the information you need, they will likely know who does. Also, you can do an internet search for: “your city or region, state, environmental organizations.”
Health hazards that are in the soil, water or air often come from a current or former:
- a) Zoo
- b) School
- c) Industrial site
c) Former or current industrial sites are possible sources of harmful pollution. Some former polluted sites are tracked on the US EPA’s National Priority Listed (NPL) site program. These sources of pollution may threaten the health of the people in the area by fouling the soil, water and air. To see if you live near a NPL toxic site go to “More Info” by state.
Toxic waste sites and other health hazards are more likely to be in low-income and primarily, minority communities? True or False
True. If you live in a low-income or minority population community you are more likely to have a source of pollution nearer to you as compared to a majority population community. This unfairness is because of a history in the United States of institutionalized, environmental racism. “More Info” on the nationwide study on Toxic Waste and Race at 20 Report 1987-2007.
What is a health effect of air pollution?
Air pollution can cause the eyes and nose to burn, throat to itch and breathing problems. Long term exposure at high levels can lead to cancer, brain and nerve damage, injury to the lungs and breathing passages and birth defects. Children are especially susceptible to the effects of air pollution. Preterm births, low birth weight babies and autism are linked to air pollution. Stay indoors when you can if the Air Quality Index (AQI) is not good. Vehicles, garbage incineration, coal and oil power plants and industrial operations are air polluters. You could live downwind from the source of the pollution. If you have a nuclear power plant in your area, be aware of its safety record. Go to the following link on the health impacts of air pollution. Note the reproductive problems.
How can I find out the Air Quality Index (AQI) for where I live?
Many newspapers, radio and TV weather forecasts include the AQI.
What is the name of at least one toxin often found in drinking water that may harm a pregnancy or anyone drinking it?
Chlorine is added in the treatment of water and it creates trihalomethanes. Other toxins found in water include nitrates, nitrites, arsenic, lead, mercury, pesticides, e. coli, other bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. These contribute to bad birth outcomes. Check out the link below for possible pregnancy and children’s health problems caused by contaminated drinking water.
Which is better: tap or bottled water?
Both tap and bottled water are usually the same in quality but some plastic bottles contain the toxic chemical BPA which can leach into the water. The single-use plastic bottles are a big environmental problem for many reasons with most bottles ending up as long lasting garbage.\n\n Check out http://www.thestoryofstuff.org for an animated video on The Story of Bottled Water and a recent video The Story of Solutions.
How can you find out about the quality of your water?
Contact your local water treatment facility and ask for their annual “Consumer Confidence Report.” They are required to provide it on request. This is usually found on their website. You can call the environmental health section of your local county health department and find the name or your water supplier and the labs that can test your water. This is suggested if you have well water. http://Ewg.org has information on “safe drinking water” and “baby safe water for bottles” Check out their “diagnose your drinking water tool”.
What is one thing someone can do to reduce water pollution at home?
Do not pour toxic material down the drain or dump it outside anywhere. For example, one car oil change can make one million gallons of water undrinkable. Storm water runoff is a major contributor to water pollution and this runoff water can carry anything we dump or use outside to local waterways, often the water we end up drinking. From dangerous chemicals to unused medicines contact your county waste management department for how to safely dispose of toxic materials.
Fracking for gas may be happening or about to happen near you. Hundreds of chemicals are used throughout all of the phases of fracking. Do you think any of these chemicals could potentially cause serious reproductive health problems for women and men and contribute to poor birth results? Yes or No?
Yes. According to the New York American Academy of Pediatrics, the reproductive health and birth outcome problems linked to fracking chemicals are: “miscarriage, still birth, low birth weight, delayed bone development, menstrual disorders, low sperm count, poor sperm mobility, neurotoxicants, attention deficit disorder and cranial-facial and limb anomalies.” For additional information about fracking chemicals and reproductive health, search the journal, “Endocrinology hydraulic fracturing.” Click below for the Academy of Pediatrics report on other harmful effects of many of these chemicals on human and environmental health.
Where can you find out more about how to stop environmental pollution in your neighborhood, city or region?
Know what’s happening in your community, Attend local government meetings. Read public notices in local newspapers. Watch out for potentially polluting projects.
Which of these jobs commonly use toxic chemicals that can cause reproductive health problems and poor pregnancy results?
- a) Laboratory and clinical healthcare
- b) Printing
- c) Dry cleaning
- d) Agricultural use of pesticides and herbicides
- e) Industry that uses heavy metals and solvents
- f) Cosmetology and nail salons
- g) Manufacturing
- h) All of them
h) All of them use toxic chemicals. If you work in any of these fields, use protective clothing and gear. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, ask for a safe alternate job. If someone else in your home has work clothes that may be contaminated with a toxic substance and you are pregnant or want to get pregnant, have someone else wash the clothing. Also, contaminated shoes and clothing should be kept out of the house or in a designated room. You have the right to work in a safe workplace. If you feel you are not safe, you can contact the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) for help by going to the link below or call OSHA at 800-321-OSHA.
Where can you find more information on how to deal with a problem with exposure to toxic material at work?
The first thing is to know the chemicals you are exposed to.
Where can you find a checklist of occupational environmental hazards that you can bring to your primary care provider or give to someone you know who works with toxic substances?
The link below contains an article that has printable attachments with the fields of employment and its associated toxic substances and checklists on preconception reproductive hazards. Scroll to “table” for fields of employment and then “figure” for the preconception checklist.
Where can you find a database that has the health facts on a huge amount of toxic substances?
Go to TOX-FAQ at the link below and with the name of the substance. You can learn how it may affect you, a child or the health of a pregnancy and much more.
What is one thing you can do to protect yourself from too much sun exposure?
SLIP on some sun protective clothing SLOP on SPF 30+ sunscreen, SLAP on a hat, SEEK shade SLIDE on some sunglasses Getting too much sun is not good. Sun bathing is not a good idea. Infants under six months should be kept out of the sun. People of all skin colors can get skin cancer so it is recommended that everyone do a monthly self-check of their skin. Since we get important vitamin D from the sun, restricting sun exposure will reduce the amount of vitamin D we need. Everyone should have their level of vitamin D checked by their primary care provider to make sure they are getting enough. A vitamin D deficiency, which is common, can be helped with a vitamin D supplement. Preventative skin exams are available free because of the Affordable Care Act from your primary care provider. For a cute Aussie video “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide” to prevent skin cancer Click below
Should we be concerned about climate change affecting our health and the health of our children and our children’s children?
Yes, we all need to avoid the health consequences of a warming planet. Health is a life-course goal and that means as we pass life onto our next generation, we need to be concerned about their health, and the health of their children, and on and on. This is our responsibility, even if some people deny the problem and our responsibility.
How can you reach any governmental agency?
The phone number is 800-FED-INFO for information on federal services. FED-INFO will also direct callers to a state agency.