January 27, 2012
By Danna Norak
“As much as you try, it’s nearly impossible to not consume some type of toxin and here is a perfect example how we are all bombarded with garbage every day.” –KTRN
Formaldehyde is one of the most toxic chemicals that can invade the human body. It is a known carcinogen and tissue irritant. Yet the chemical is still allowed in “safe” concentrations in certain products we touch, put on our skin or hair, and inhale every day.
Formaldehyde is used for a variety of industrial purposes, but most of us know it as the funky smelling liquid that preserved the dissection subjects in biology class. Long term preservation is just one of its functions. It serves as a disinfectant, embalming agent, chemical preservative, and solvent.
Formaldehyde in the air we breathe
Breathing formaldehyde is likely our biggest risk of exposure to this toxic chemical. That new car smell that everyone seems to love is largely due to the formaldehyde content in the materials that comprise the interior of the vehicle.
Formaldehyde is also used heavily in the construction industry. Unless you are purchasing or building a “green” home you likely are being exposed to formaldehyde fumes years after a home is first built. This is due to the heavy industrial use of the chemical in treating wood used in foundations, plywood, particle board, and other common materials that make up a home and its furnishings.
Cigarette smoke gives off fumes of the chemical also. Formaldehyde is often a by-product of the chemicals and tobaccos used in cigarette making when burned. Exhaust fumes from cars also contain the chemical. New carpet, paint, certain types of glue used in home building and other adhesives, putties and structural materials contain the chemical as well. The fumes are at their worst for the first five years and tend to lessen in concentration over time.
Formaldehyde, as well as a host of other chemicals, give new homes the smell of “newness”. Anyone particularly sensitive to chemicals may experience headaches, itchy or swollen eyes, nasal and throat irritation and other discomforts until the fumes dissipate with time. It has also been linked to pulmonary dysfunction and asthma.
Many of the hair treatments on the market today contain the chemical. Hair stylists who often work with permanent hair straightening or curling treatments are heavily exposed to varying levels of formaldehyde fumes. Stylists have reported symptoms such as bloody noses, difficulty breathing, throat and eye irritation and headaches when working in close contact with the chemical.
February 5, 2010
By David Gutierrez
Exposure to air pollution in the womb can significantly reduce a child’s IQ, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health in New York and published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers conducted the experiment on pregnant, non-smoking black and Dominican American women between the ages of 18 and 35 who were living in the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem, South Bronx or Washington Heights. The participants wore personal air monitors during pregnancy, providing the researchers accurate data on the women’s exposure to a class of air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The participant’s children were then subjected to standardized IQ tests at age five.
“These results provide evidence that environmental PAHs at levels encountered in New York City air can affect children’s IQ adversely,” the researchers concluded.
PAHs are produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other organic materials, including tobacco. The major source of PAH pollution in urban areas is automobile exhaust.
The researchers found that after adjusting for other factors that might affect IQ, children of mothers who had high PAH exposure during pregnancy had IQ scores an average of 4.31 points lower than children of mothers with lower exposure. The difference in verbal IQ scores was even higher, with children of high-exposure mothers scoring an average of 4.61 points lower. This IQ difference is equivalent to that seen in children with low-level lead exposure.
“These findings are of concern because these decreases in IQ could be educationally meaningful in terms of school performance,” lead author Frederica Perera said.
High PAH exposure was defined as higher than the participants’ median exposure level, 2.26 nanograms per cubic meter. It was a comparative measure used for the purposes of the study only, and not linked to any health recommendations.
Previous research has already suggested that PAH exposure can cause cancer and damage the neurological and reproductive systems.
July 22, 2009
by Lindsey Tanner
Researchers for the first time have linked air pollution exposure before birth with lower IQ scores in childhood, bolstering evidence that smog may harm the developing brain.
The results are in a study of 249 children of New York City women who wore backpack air monitors for 48 hours during the last few months of pregnancy. They lived in mostly low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They had varying levels of exposure to typical kinds of urban air pollution, mostly from car, bus and truck exhaust.
At age 5, before starting school, the children were given IQ tests. Those exposed to the most pollution before birth scored on average four to five points lower than children with less exposure.
That’s a big enough difference that it could affect children’s performance in school, said Frederica Perera, the study’s lead author and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.
Dr. Michael Msall, a University of Chicago pediatrician not involved in the research, said the study doesn’t mean that children living in congested cities “aren’t going to learn to read and write and spell.”
But it does suggest that you don’t have to live right next door to a belching factory to face pollution health risks, and that there may be more dangers from typical urban air pollution than previously thought, he said.
“We are learning more and more about low-dose exposure and how things we take for granted may not be a free ride,” he said.
While future research is needed to confirm the new results, the findings suggest exposure to air pollution before birth could have the same harmful effects on the developing brain as exposure to lead, said Patrick Breysse, an environmental health specialist at Johns Hopkins’ school of public health.
And along with other environmental harms and disadvantages low-income children are exposed to, it could help explain why they often do worse academically than children from wealthier families, Breysse said.
“It’s a profound observation,” he said. “This paper is going to open a lot of eyes.”
The study in the August edition of Pediatrics was released Monday.
In earlier research, involving some of the same children and others, Perera linked prenatal exposure to air pollution with genetic abnormalities at birth that could increase risks for cancer; smaller newborn head size and reduced birth weight. Her research team also has linked it with developmental delays at age 3 and with children’s asthma.
The researchers studied pollutants that can cross the placenta and are known scientifically as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Main sources include vehicle exhaust and factory emissions. Tobacco smoke is another source, but mothers in the study were nonsmokers.
A total of 140 study children, 56 percent, were in the high exposure group. That means their mothers likely lived close to heavily congested streets, bus depots and other typical sources of city air pollution; the researchers are still examining data to confirm that, Perera said. The mothers were black or Dominican-American; the results likely apply to other groups, researchers said.
The researchers took into account other factors that could influence IQ, including secondhand smoke exposure, the home learning environment and air pollution exposure after birth, and still found a strong influence from prenatal exposure, Perera said.
Dr. Robert Geller, an Emory University pediatrician and toxicologist, said the study can’t completely rule out that pollution exposure during early childhood might have contributed. He also noted fewer mothers in the high exposure group had graduated from high school. While that might also have contributed to the high-dose children’s lower IQ scores, the study still provides compelling evidence implicating prenatal pollution exposure that should prompt additional studies, Geller said.
The researchers said they plan to continuing monitoring and testing the children to learn whether school performance is affected and if there are any additional long-term effects.