Protecting your body from harmful toxins
You come into contact with chemicals every day.
This is called chemical exposure. Although some chemical exposures are safe, others are not. A certain amount of a harmful chemical must enter your body to make you sick. Harmful chemicals can get into your body if you breathe, eat, or drink them or if they are absorbed through your skin. This booklet explains some links between chemicals and other harmful substances and their possible health effects. People respond to chemical exposures in different ways. Some people may come into contact with a chemical and never be harmed. Others may be more sensitive and get sick. Sometimes illness happens only if you are exposed to a harmful substance for a long time.
Health Effects of Some Chemicals on Your Body Systems
The RESPIRATORY SYSTEM’s function is to supply oxygen to the body and remove carbon dioxide. It includes the nasal passages, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs.
Possible health effects of the respiratory system include asbestosis, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, fibrosis, emphysema, and decreased oxygen supply in blood.
Possible Contaminants where do you find these? Asbestos Old insulation Radon The ground Cadmium Old batteries Benzene Degreasers Carbon monoxide Car exhaust, unvented or faulty furnaces Soot Furnaces, wood burning stoves.
The RENAL SYSTEM’s function is to rid the body of waste, to regulate the amount of body fluids, and to regulate the amount of salts in the body. It includes the kidneys, the urethra, the bladder, and the ureter. Possible health effects of the renal system include decreased formation of urine, decreased blood flow to kidney, decreased ability to filter the blood, prevented urine flow, kidney tissue damage, and kidney cancer. Possible Contaminants where do you find these? Cadmium Old batteries, cigarette smoke Lead Old paint, outdated plumbing Mercury Thermostats, thermometers, some fish Uranium Food & water, proximity to nuclear testing sites Chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents Degreasers, paint removers, dry cleaning solutions.
The CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM’s function is to move nutrients, gases, and wastes to and from the body, to help stabilize body temperature, and to fight diseases and infections by transporting white blood cells to important areas. It includes the heart, blood, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Possible health effects include heart failure and the inability of blood to carry the necessary oxygen to the body. Possible Contaminants Where do you find these? Carbon monoxide Car exhaust, unvented or faulty furnaces Carbon disulfide Industrial production Nitrates Fertilizers Methylene chloride Auto part cleaners, paint removers
The REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM’s function is to produce egg and sperm cells, to nurture a developing fetus, and to produce hormones. For males it includes the testicles, seminal vesicles, prostate gland, and the penis. For females it includes the uterus, bladder, vagina, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the cervix. Possible health effects of the reproductive system include decreased ability to have a baby, increased baby deaths, increased birth defects, and infertility (the inability to have children). Possible Contaminants Where do you find these? Methyl mercury Some fish, coal-burning power Carbon monoxide Car exhaust, unvented or faulty furnaces Lead Old paint, outdated plumbing
The NERVOUS SYSTEM’s function is to transmit messages from one part of the body to another. It includes the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system. Possible health effects of the nervous system include inability to move, loss of feeling, confusion, and decreased speech, sight, memory, muscle strength, or coordination. Possible Contaminants Where do you find these? Arsenic Pressure treated wood Cadmium Discarded batteries Carbon monoxide Car exhaust, unvented or faulty furnaces Cyanide Rat poison.
The SKIN serves as a barrier to germs and other substances, prevents dehydration, and regulates body temperature. Possible health effects of the skin include irritation, rash, redness or discoloration, dermatitis, and health effect related to other systems and organs due to contamination through the skin. Possible Contaminants Where do you find these? Nickel Cement Mercury Thermostats, thermometers, some fish Arsenic Pressure treated wood Chromium Paints, industrial production Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Industrial waste, fish from contaminated water VOC (volatile organic compounds) Fumes from gasoline, paint, adhesives, building supplies
The HEPATIC SYSTEM’s function is to break down food and store nutrients, to make proteins which are essential for blood to clot, and to purify the body of drugs, contaminants, or chemicals. It includes the liver and its veins. Possible health effects of the hepatic system include liver damage, tumors, accumulation of fat (steatosis), and death of liver cells. Possible Contaminants Where do you find these? Carbon tetrachloride Adhesives Methylene chloride Auto part cleaners, paint removers
Health Effects of Chemical Exposure
Some diseases get worse when you come into contact with a harmful substance, and some diseases are caused by exposure to chemicals. A few examples of diseases caused by an exposure include smog and asthma caused by exposure to smog, mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos, and learning disabilities caused by exposure to lead. You can reduce your contact with harmful chemicals by
• Being aware of chemicals in everyday products
• Being aware of any contamination, pollution, or hot spots (areas known to have harmful amounts of contamination) around your home or work
• Washing your hands
• Washing fruits and vegetables
• Reading labels that warn you about chemical exposure
• Not burning treated wood
• Keeping your home ventilated
• Following proper disposal guidelines for electronics, batteries, paint, and other harmful chemical-containing products
• Limiting intake of fish high in mercury and following local fish advisories (But remember: Consuming lowmercury fish is part of a healthy diet!)
• Avoiding cigarette smoke.