Toxic Chemicals and Exposure in Children
Toxic chemicals are substances that lead to serious illness, symptoms of poisoning, chronic disease, birth defects, cancer and even death when they enter the body through the skin, ingestion or inhalation.
Chemicals have become a necessary part of our life and exposure to toxic chemicals is inevitable. Chemicals, both natural and synthetic are used for innumerable purposes ranging from insecticides, pesticides, medicines, furniture, technological gadgets and cloth fibers. Although the toxins in the chemicals are harmful to all, children are particularly vulnerable for the following reasons -
- Proportion of exposure to chemicals based on their body weight is higher
- Organs are immature to eliminate the chemicals from the body effectively
- Brain is more likely to be affected since the blood-brain barrier which normally helps prevent chemicals from reaching the brain is not well developed
- Many exposures are incidental and occur over prolonged periods and remain undetected
This article will deal mainly with toxins that affect the developing brain of children. A list of environmental and industrial toxins that could cause neurological and developmental issues was published in 2006. The list included arsenic, lead, mercury, engine coolants and toluene, an organic solvent.
Recently 12 more chemicals were added to the list including those found in pesticides, dry cleaning solvents and fire extinguishers bringing the total number of neurotoxic chemicals to over 200.
Key Facts and Figures about Toxic Chemicals
- Sources of toxic chemicals include products we use every day such as toys, clothing, cosmetics, cleaning agents, household waste, exhaust fumes from automobiles, factories and industrial waste
- Toxic chemicals produced by various processes are present in the soil, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and even plants and animals are contaminated
- The severity of effects depends on the type of chemical, amount of exposure, duration (how long) of exposure and frequency (how many times) of exposure
- A personís susceptibility to toxic chemicals is influenced by factors such as age, sex, genetics, underlying health conditions and pregnancy
- Our body can tolerate a certain amount of exposure and the liver and kidneys have the capacity to eliminate the harmful toxins. Based on the amount of contaminants that can be handled by a healthy individual, governments and health agencies have come up with values of various toxic chemical exposure which if exceeded pose a serious health risk
- Every second more than 300 kgs of toxic chemicals are being released into the environment by industries worldwide
- This translates to 10 million tons of toxic chemicals per year of which more than 2 million tons are capable of causing cancer
- At present, over 300 types of chemicals or their derivatives can be estimated in human blood and/or urine samples