Pollution: What Comes Around, Goes Around

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Pollution could be called the great equalizer of the world: Nobody can escape it – neither rich nor poor. All human beings suffer from the impact of pollution and statistics prove it. The numbers of diseases caused by pollution keep rising at staggering rates. Asthma, all kinds of allergies, cancer and mental disorders rise constantly in recent years. Pollution is there to stay. It simply does not go away and there is no end in sight for this downward spiral.

Pollution is everywhere: In the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the food we eat. Anything we come into contact with today is contaminated. You can reduce the amount of chemicals you ingest by using water filters and buying organic food but this protects you only a little bit. Water filters do not work perfectly. Chemicals in the rain and run off water contaminate even organic food.

Nobody can escape pollution because the environment works in cycles, carrying pollution everywhere. Moisture in the air soaks up airborne pollution from fossil fuels and other sources. Rain distributes them everywhere. Run off water contaminates all surfaces with chemicals and heavy metals from sewage, fertilizers, detergents etc. Rivers transport pollution into the ocean, which also absorbs chemicals from the air. Oceans suffer also from numerous oil spills and other environmental catastrophes.

Even in the United States, clean drinking water is a rare commodity. A 2010 report shows that nitrates, a harmful compound found in fertilizer, were too high in way more than half of shallow wells all over the USA.

From the water pollution finds its way into the food – not to mention all the harmful chemicals added to processed foods. Cosmetics, clothes and furniture, even the colors used for painting walls, add to the amount of pollutants we are exposed to.

In the human body, chemicals deliver a tidal wave of free radicals. These are unstable atoms, missing an electron in their outer shell. These free radicals rip apart other atoms wherever they find them, to stabilize their shell. This can lead to widespread damage in any part of the body. It is impossible to quantify and describe exactly how pollution impacts human beings. One thing is for certain though: The impact is immense.

Free radicals are held responsible for a large number of diseases, among them all kinds of inflammation, especially arthritis, damage to nerve cells in the brain leading to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer and allergies.

One major damaging element among heavy metals is mercury. This heavy metal, along with others like lead and zinc, accumulates in seafood, especially big fishes like tuna. Although seafood is one of the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids, vital for the development of the brain in unborn children, pregnant women are advised today to avoid most seafood.

Mercury affects the central nervous system, especially in children and unborn babies. If levels are sufficiently high, it also leads to tremors, mood changes and impaired motor function in adults.

Asthma is one of the few diseases that can be directly linked to air pollution. Since 2000, asthma cases in the USA have increased by one third. Scientists think that global warming contributes to this development. Higher temperatures lead to more pollen and longer pollen seasons. However, the main culprits seem to be gaseous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide and other emissions from power plants, industrial boilers and petroleum refineries.

However, asthma is only one part of allergic conditions that is on the rise. Food allergies have increased dramatically in recent years. In the UK, every second child nowadays is diagnosed with food allergies and the situation in the USA is similar. Experts are not sure what is more responsible for this: Pollutants in the food or added chemicals to processed foods.

All forms of cancer are another sad consequence of our polluted environment. The World Health Organization estimated in 2014 that cancer cases would surge more than 50 percent in the next 20 years. Cancer deaths are predicted to rise at a similar rate.

Not to forget about the exorbitant rise of mental health disturbances worldwide. In 2010, a survey of the US government discovered that one in 10 American children suffered from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a rise of 22 percent from 2003. One in five American adults suffers from mental illness according to a survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Between 1987 and 2007, the number of people with mental disorders receiving Supplemental Security Income increased about two and a half times in the USA.

Although it is difficult to prove beyond doubt that pollution causes this rise in mental disorders, it seems obvious that it contributes to this development. A rising number of experts links mental health disorders with chemicals in our food supply.

The impact of pollution on human beings is dramatic and there is no end in sight for this downward spiral. Although politicians try to reduce emissions, it is a slow process. It will take many decades, if not hundreds or thousands of years, to clean up the planet.

In the meantime, we can only try to steer clear of pollution whenever we can. Avoid smoking and alcohol and eat as healthy as you can. The antidotes to free radicals from chemicals are antioxidants, provided by fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.

 

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