6 Common Environmental Toxins in Food and Water That Can Harm Your Health

This may come as a surprise to many, but environmental toxins are a pervasive presence in our daily lives. They are found in the food we consume, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. 

These toxins originate from various sources—ranging from historical industrial practices to commonplace packaging materials. And while many of them may go unnoticed, their potential health risks can be significant. Understanding the consequences of environmental toxins is critical for making informed choices about our well-being.

In this article, we will explore six common environmental toxins found in food and water, their associated health risks, and ways to minimize exposure.

1. PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls)

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were once widely used in industrial and commercial products like electrical equipment, paints, and even carbonless copy paper. 

Unfortunately, despite being banned in the US since 1976, they’re still found in the environment, with around 10% of the approximately 2 million tonnes produced remaining in the environment today. These carcinogenic chemicals contaminate the food chain, accumulating in dairy products, and fatty fish like tuna and salmon.

Sadly, PCB exposure has been linked to a range of health problems, including multiple cancers, endocrine issues, liver disorders, developmental delays, and immune system and reproductive dysfunctions.

The increasing number of PCB-related illnesses resulted in the formation of a PCB exposure lawsuit. Recently, a group of former school employees was compensated $165 million for damages due to PCBs. The severity of this toxic compound cannot be understated. Hence, it is crucial to avoid and reduce its exposure.

To minimize PCB exposure, follow the guidelines below:

  • Avoid contact with contaminated soils and sediments
  • Consume smaller, younger fishes as they have little to no PCBs in them. Additionally, you can also reduce the intake of meat.
  • Wash vegetables and fruits before cooking them
  • Replace any old electrical equipment such as fluorescent lights, transformers, and capacitors. 

2. Bisphenol A (BPA) and Endocrine Disruptors

BPA is a carbon-based synthetic compound found in some plastic containers, canned food linings, and even receipts. It is shown to display hormone-mimicking effects, interfering with metabolism, reproduction, development, and neurological function.

Even small doses can be harmful because BPA is notorious for its endocrine-disrupting properties. Research links BPA exposure to an increased risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and disorders related to the immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, and neurological systems. While individual risk factors and exposure levels vary, minimizing BPA exposure through simple choices is recommended. 

Choose glass or stainless-steel containers over plastic, pick BPA-free canned goods when available, and avoid any unnecessary exposure to receipts to reduce any potential risks.

3. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of man-made chemicals that have been used in various consumer goods since the 1950s. These compounds are known for their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat, making them suitable for applications such as food packaging, cookware, and firefighting foams.

As Torhoerman Law describes it, PFAS form long molecular chains that do not disintegrate naturally and can take years or even decades to break down. This causes it to gradually cumulate in nature and the human body. Any prolonged contact with PFAS is linked to thyroid and immune system disorders, multiple cancers, and even decreased virility and vaccine response. 

Due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks, it is crucial to minimize exposure to PFAS. To reduce PFAS exposure, consider the following actions:

  • Choose alternative products: Opt for PFAS-free products, such as stainless steel or glass, instead of materials like Teflon or Gore-Tex.

  • Be mindful of food packaging: PFAS can be transferred from packaging materials into your food. Choose packaging made from materials that do not contain PFAS, and avoid microwaving food in plastic containers.

  • Dispose of old products: Properly dispose of items containing PFAS, such as old TVs or computer monitors, to prevent PFAS from entering the environment.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables: Always make a habit of washing your fruits and vegetables before consumption, to remove any PFAS particulates from its surface.

4. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

POPs like their toxic counterparts such as PCBs and Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were once widely used in industrial processes and pesticides.

POPs include various chemicals such as pesticides, industrial compounds, and any other unintended byproducts. They remain a permanent danger due to their ability to accumulate in the food chain and the human body. According to studies, even low doses of POPs are linked to reproductive problems, immune suppression, nervous system issues, disruptions in hormonal balance, and heightened cancer risks.

To minimize exposure to POPs, choose organic products, be mindful of food sources, use non-toxic cleaning products, and ensure proper of old electronic products such as TVs and computer monitors.

5. Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are a group of metallic components with higher atomic weights. Examples are lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and zinc. These metals can be found in various sources, including air, water, soil, and food, and can pose significant health risks when present in high concentrations. 

According to Consumer Reports, every one in three common spices and herbs contains a concerning amount of heavy metals. 40 of the 126 products contained high enough concentrations of arsenic, lead, and cadmium. This is alarming because our bodies can’t process them naturally. This is alarming because our bodies can’t process them naturally.

Moreover, exposure to heavy metals is linked to skin inflammation, headaches, dizziness, weariness, and impaired coordination. They can also cause loss of sight, neurological disorders, kidney damage, and reproductive and respiratory issues. Instances of liver damage, anemia, cancer, depression, anxiety, irritability, lower IQ scores, and cognitive deficits have also been documented.

To minimize exposure to heavy metals, use sustainable seafood, and water filters, and wash the vegetables and fruits before eating. Moreover, avoid using products that contain heavy metals, such as lead-based paints and certain cosmetics.

6. Microplastics

Microplastics refer to minuscule plastic particulates measuring less than 5 mm. Often invisible to the naked eye, these toxins have infiltrated our environment, including the water sources and even the air we breathe.

The smaller particles emerge either from the disintegration of larger plastic items or are manufactured on purpose for some particular goods. Their small size enables absorption across intestinal walls and accumulation in bodily tissues over time. Research links microplastic consumption to cytotoxicity, oxidative stress, inflammation, and even microscopic tissue injury.

To reduce the exposure to microplastics, avoid packed food, and select reusable and eco-friendly products. You should also advocate for proper waste management, as it helps mitigate the spread and impact of microplastics on both the environment and human health.

In conclusion, environmental toxins are an unavoidable reality that must be confronted to safeguard our health and the environment.

By understanding the risks associated with these toxins and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, we can make a significant difference in our well-being and contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.

Remember, every conscious choice, can have a lasting impact. So, the next time you’re out shopping, think about the products you’re using and make the right choice to choose healthier options. 

Together, we can create a future where conscious choices lead to a healthier, toxin-reduced environment for us and the generations to come.