How chemicals are affecting human health

As technology has rapidly progressed in the past 60 to 70 years, chemicals are being extensively used in industries, agriculture and even homes. They have been beneficial in multiple ways, but now, more and more health hazards are also being linked to these chemicals by scientific studies.

The most common health problem occurring is that of allergy. Individuals vulnerable to allergic problems are known to develop recurrent cold, dry cough, skin rashes, one or more of these problems due to exposure to chemicals.  Attacks of asthma have been precipitated and aggravated. There has been increase in prevalence of asthma in the developed countries.  The fumes from petrol and diesel in motor vehicles, petroleum products used in body care products like Vaseline and lotions, chemicals used in food products as preservatives, colouring or flavouring agents, pesticides, and etcetera, are the ones responsible for it. There is a long list of such chemicals. Apart from asthma, many respiratory diseases, like chronic obstructive airways disease, is known to occur due to exposure to chemicals.

Scientific studies have proven that petrochemical products affect the immune system, weakening it. This makes a person more vulnerable to develop infectious diseases readily and in a more severe form. The blood brain barrier (protecting brain from microbes and harmful chemicals) is also affected, resulting in serious infections affecting the brain like encephalitis, brain abscess, and etcetera.

The genetic system is damaged by toxic chemicals. This is known to enhance ageing in individuals, weaken the nervous system causing neurological problems and early dementia.  Direct toxic effect on body cells has been linked to be a reason for several cancers. Heavy metals used in industry like asbestos, lead, cadmium, have been identified to cause lung and bladder cancer. Chemical exposure has been implicated in causing hormonal abnormalities and even infertility in both men and women.

Children are more vulnerable to be harmed by these chemicals as they have tender developing body systems, including immune system, which is not fully equipped to combat the harmful chemicals. Exposure during pregnancy can result in children born with congenital abnormalities.

Increase in juvenile delinquency, abnormal and aggressive behaviour in children is said to be due to brain affection when in the womb, by exposure of pregnant mother to organophosphorus pesticides and insecticides. Increase in childhood cancer, including blood cancers, is due to toxic effect of various chemicals.

Liver and kidney bear the brunt of harm caused by these chemicals, as they try to eliminate them from the body. This results in higher prevalence of liver and kidney failure.

Greater awareness needs to be generated in people regarding harms caused by toxic chemicals.   Preventive measures need to be adopted to avoid or minimise them.  One vulnerable to asthma should try using face masks when outside to avoid direct exposure to petrol fumes.  Technical check –up of vehicles in Rwanda is a very good initiative in this regard.  It helps to remedy vehicles that emit more smoke and fumes, creating health problems in vulnerable people. 

Face masks should also be used while spraying insecticides in the house or around. As far as possible, one should take freshly cooked food.  Ready-to-eat fast food containing chemicals should be avoided. Body care products containing chemicals can be replaced by organic or natural products.  Mattresses made of vinyl and polyurethane foam should be avoided.  The petrochemicals used in making of such mattresses are known to emit toxic fumes, even when one is sleeping, harming individuals.  As such, a thick foam mattress is not good for posture as well, being the cause for backache. These can be replaced by simple cotton mattress.

Persons working in any industry using heavy metals and or toxic chemicals should use protective gear like face masks, gloves and body aprons, while working. The owner should be responsible to provide these.