CAT | Toxins and Health
A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency brings good news for public health. According to the EPA, in just over two decades the organization has taken great strides toward its goal of significantly reducing toxic air pollution as required under the 1990 updates to the Clean Air Act.
Even as the economy has grown, there has been a reduction in the emissions of six common pollutants (including benzene, mercury and lead) by an average of 72 percent nationwide—and Americans today breathe less pollution and face lower risks of premature death and other serious health effects.i Environmental damage from air pollution is also significantly lower; many plants and factories are cleaner; and countless new vehicles feature improved emission control technologies. (The EPA also hopes to reduce motor vehicle air toxin emissions by 80 percent by the year 2030.)
“It shows that we’ve made considerable gains in improving air quality across the country,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a recent article, though the organization says there is still much more work to be done. Among the major challenges are limiting climate change, reducing health and environmental risks from toxic air pollutants, and protecting the fragile ozone layer against degradation.
In working toward improving air quality and public health, the EPA says it also plans to increase public awareness about air pollution—in part by requiring companies that produce large amounts of emissions to report to EPA officials, who will then make sure the public has access to the information.
Before it was banned in 1972 for its damaging effects on human health, the pesticide known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (or DDT) was widely used on U.S. crops. The problem? DDT can take more than 15 years to break down in the environment, and in many parts of the world it is still used for agricultural and disease control purposes.
In addition to its probable carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects, DDT has been shown to affect healthy liver function, contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and cause damage to the human nervous and reproductive systems. Now, a new study involving mice reveals that DDT exposure may be linked to a higher risk of obesity and related conditions later in life—in particular among women.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis found that exposure to DDT in the womb leads to a higher risk in women of developing metabolic syndrome, defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “a cluster of conditions—increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels—that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”
More so than their male counterparts, the female mice exposed to DDT before birth showed signs of decreased metabolism and an inability to regulate body temperature, which study author Michele La Merrill said leads to more calories being stored instead of burned. In male mice, DDT exposure did not have the same effects and only caused a slight increase in blood glucose levels.