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Living in the pollutants world

Brian Chan, HK BioTek Intern


Our world is heavily polluted with metal and chemical pollutants everywhere, lurking in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and even the food we eat. These pollutants come from all sorts of sources - from factories belching out toxic fumes to cars spewing exhaust on the roads. And the worst part? Exposure to these pollutants can have serious health consequences. Therefore, it’s time to face it.


What is Heavy Metals?

There are different heavy metal pollutants surrounding our life. The common types are mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic. These pollutants are often found in industrial waste and can contaminate soil, water, and air. Exposure to these heavy metals can lead to a wide range of health problems, including neurological disorders, cancer, and organ damage. They can also have a significant impact on the environment, with long-lasting effects on ecosystems and wildlife. Due to the severity of their effects, it is important to monitor and regulate the release of these heavy metal polluta­nts into the environment to minimize their impact on both human health and the natural world.

Lead is considered to be one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants due to its ability to accumulate in the body over time and cause a wide range of health problems, even at low levels of exposure. Lead exposure can lead to damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system, as well as developmental delays in children. Additionally, lead exposure can also cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ levels, and even death in severe cases. Lead is particularly dangerous because it can be found in a wide variety of sources, including paint, soil, water, and air, making it difficult to avoid.


What can we do ?

Lead pollutants can have serious health consequences, so it's important to take comprehensive and detailed steps to prevent them in daily life. Firstly, test your home and soil for lead and avoid lead-based products such as old toys, jewelry, and cosmetics. Secondly, keep your home clean, remove your shoes before entering, and wash your hands frequently. Thirdly, choose lead-free plumbing fixtures, use safe cleaning products, and avoid smoking and secondhand smoke. Fourthly, be cautious of lead in pottery and ceramics, and avoid using leaded crystal glasses and decanters. Fifthly, encourage lead-safe practices in your workplace if you work in an industry that uses lead. By taking these comprehensive measures, you can reduce your exposure to lead and protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of lead pollutants. Remember to stay informed and advocate for better policies and regulations to reduce lead exposure in your community.


What are Chemical pollutants ?

Common chemical pollutants that pose a threat to human health and the environment include PM2.5, carbon group pollutants, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and methane. PM2.5 refers to tiny particles in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter and can penetrate deep into our lungs, causing respiratory or cardiovascular problems. Carbon group pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, are primarily emitted by transportation and industrial sources and are associated with climate change and air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide is a highly reactive gas formed by the burning of fossil fuels and can cause respiratory problems. Ground-level ozone, formed by the reaction of sunlight with pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, can irritate the lungs and worsen asthma. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas emitted by agricultural and industrial activities, and its concentration in the atmosphere contributes to climate change.


In between, carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, including gasoline, natural gas, propane, and oil. The sources of carbon monoxide pollution include motor vehicles, industrial processes, and residential heating systems. Carbon monoxide is dangerous and fatal in high concentrations because it binds to hemoglobin in our bloodstream, which prevents oxygen from being transported to the body's organs and tissues. This can cause a range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and ultimately death. The effects of carbon monoxide exposure can vary depending on the length and intensity of exposure, as well as the individual's age, overall health, and other factors. Children, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.


What can we do ?

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, it is important to take several precautions in daily life. Firstly, it is essential to ensure that all fuel-burning appliances in your home are properly installed, maintained, and serviced regularly by a professional. This includes furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and other appliances that burn fuel. Additionally, it is important to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, particularly near sleeping areas, and ensure that they are tested regularly and replaced every 5-7 years.


In addition to these precautions, it is important to avoid using gas-powered appliances indoors or in enclosed spaces, such as camping stoves or generators, as these can produce high levels of carbon monoxide. It is also crucial to never leave a car running in an enclosed space, such as a garage, even with the garage door open. Furthermore, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or someone else may be experiencing symptoms.


All in all, nowadays, there are different professional tests to check the level of pollutants inside your body and how to treat it. To be healthy, better understand what is inside your body.


References:

Balali-Mood, M., Naseri, K., Tahergorabi, Z., Khazdair, M. R., & Sadeghi, M. (2021, April 13). Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic. Frontiers in Pharmacology; Frontiers Media. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.643972

5 dangerous pollutants you’re breathing in every day. (n.d.). UNEP. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/5-dangerous-pollutants-youre-breathing-every-day

Jaishankar, M., Tseten, T., Anbalagan, N., Mathew, B. B., & Beeregowda, K. N. (2014, June 1). Toxicity, mechanism and health effects of some heavy metals. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 7(2), 60–72. https://doi.org/10.2478/intox-2014-0009

Townsend, C. L. (2002, October 1). Effects on health of prolonged exposure to low concentrations of carbon monoxide. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 59(10), 708–711. https://doi.org/10.1136/oem.59.10.708

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