Environmental Toxins Affect Your Health

We are exposed to toxins more often and consistently than we might realize, and that exposure can have serious effects on our health.

There are situations where toxin exposure comes from your occupation. For example, firefighters, military members, people who work in oil or gas, and airport personnel are exposed to something called Aqueous Film-Forming Foam or AFFF.

AFFF is used to extinguish liquid-based fires, and it can be dangerous to humans and is considered carcinogenic.

Even if you don’t work in a high-risk occupation, you may be regularly exposed to environmental toxins, and the following are things to know.

What Are Environmental Toxins?

Environmental toxins interrupt our endocrine systems and they are cancer-causing chemicals. Environmental toxins can occur naturally or be human-made. Some naturally occurring environment toxins include:

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Radon
  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Cadmium

Human-made chemicals that are environmental toxins include:

  • Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • BPA

General effects and health conditions that are linked to environmental toxins include:

  • They may cause cancer – in particular, benzene, formaldehyde, and radon are linked to cancer
  • BPA, pesticides, and phthalates are endocrine disruptors
  • They may cause developmental problems or organ failure – especially lead, cadmium and mercury

Lead toxicity is perhaps one most of us are familiar with.

Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are natural and human-made substances that interfere with your cell signaling and hormone systems, producing potentially harmful effects developmentally, on the reproductive system, neurologically, and on the immune system.

Endocrine disruptors tend to act like estrogen, and they are found in products such as:

  • Detergents
  • Toys
  • Cosmetics
  • Pesticides
  • Plastic containers and bottles
  • Flame retardants

There’s one compound, in particular, BPA, that may be most risky.

Endocrine disruptors tend to be the most harmful during prenatal development and early postnatal development when a child’s neural and organ systems develop.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding you should be especially aware of potential endocrine disruptors.

See also: 7 Benefits of Educating Young People About Environmental Health

Understanding BPA

As was touched on, BPA is one of the most concerning but also prevalent endocrine disruptors. It’s used in a great deal of packaging for food and drinks, and it’s in baby and water bottles, bottle tops, metal can lining, and more.

BPA exposure is linked to:

  • Infertility
  • Obesity
  • Early puberty onset
  • Aggression
  • Hormone-dependent cancers like breast and prostate cancer
  • Lower sperm production and testosterone

You can be exposed to be BPA when it leaches from the product into water or food, particularly when plastic is heated or washed. Infants and children have the highest daily intake of BPA.

To reduce exposure, consider the following tips:

  • Avoid using plastic containers marked on the bottom with #3 or #7
  • Don’t microwave plastic food containers
  • Don’t wash plastic containers in the dishwasher or using harsh detergents
  • Reduce canned food usage
  • Use stainless steel, glass, or porcelain when possible
  • Use BPA-free baby bottles or glass bottles
  • Look for toys labeled as being BPA free


Pesticides are another type of environmental toxin we’re regularly exposed to. Pesticides are used to kill certain types of animals that are considered pests. Pesticides can include herbicides, insecticides, and disinfectants.

The U.S. uses more than 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides a year.

Food production also commonly uses pesticides, so your diet may be exposing you to low levels.

Insecticides can contribute to neurological symptoms and may increase the risk of developing diabetes. The research found that people exposed to pesticides had a 70%  higher likelihood of Parkinson’s than people who reported no exposure.

Children may be particularly at risk for ill effects linked to pesticides, likely because they eat more relative to their size and spend time on the ground and in the dirt.

To reduce pesticide exposure, try to eat organic fruits and vegetables, and wash and scrub all you consume. You can also reduce your exposure by growing your own produce.


Finally, another environmental toxin to be particularly aware of are phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that soften plastic, and they’re in cosmetic bottles, lotions, shampoo, and deodorant. They are gradually being phased out in the U.S. and Europe, however.

The NIH links prenatal phthalate exposure to issues with genital development. Phthalate exposure may also lead to thyroid dysfunction in adults.

To reduce exposure, try to avoid plastics that have the #3 recycling code, and use PVC-free containers. Choose phthalate-free toys and beauty products.

You can’t necessarily avoid environmental toxins altogether, but you can empower yourself with knowledge and information so you can reduce your exposure and choose products accordingly.

About The Author:

Susan Melony is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and entrepreneur based in Kansas City. She often travels while working, and is passionate about the digital nomad lifestyle.

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