All posts by Miles Fitzpatrick

Environmental Contaminants and Endocrine Disruption

Because of human activities, contaminants are continually being introduced into the environment, and this has dangerous public health implications. Some environmental contaminants are termed as “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) because they have the ability to affect the normal function of the human body’s endocrine system. Even with minimal exposure, EDCs can have dire impacts on human health. These effects are more pronounced in young children and expectant mothers (EDCs can lead to birth defects). In this article, we discuss the effects of EDCs on human health, how EDCs are introduced into the environment, and what we should do to limit our exposure to EDCs.

What you need to know about the endocrine system

The endocrine system is a well-balanced network of organs, glands, and hormones which controls crucial body functions, including growth and development, metabolism, neurological functions, and response to environmental stimuli. This system governs sleep patterns, insulin production, blood pressure, and the ability to reproduce. The glands in the endocrine system produce hormones such as estrogen, insulin, testosterone, the thyroid hormone, and at least 50 others. The hormones travel to cell receptors throughout the body, triggering specific biological actions. The endocrine system is highly sensitive, meaning it can produce the right response even with extremely low concentrations of hormones.

The effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on the human body

EDCs are chemicals which interfere with the normal working of hormones and the endocrine system in general. They can mimic certain hormones, affect their production, block them, prevent their movement through the body, or affect how they are metabolized. EDCs get into the body when we breathe in contaminated air, drink contaminated water, eat food with traces of EDCs, or if our skin comes into direct contact with them.

Because EDCs prevent hormones from working normally, they can cause serious health complication to any body parts or functions that are serviced by the endocrine system. This means that EDCs could cause neurological, endocrine, reproductive, or metabolic complications. They can cause thyroid disorders, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, infertility, asthma, cancer (prostate or breast), ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, among many other diseases and conditions.

Effects of EDCs can be manifested even if the body is exposed to a very low concentration of endocrine disrupting chemicals. The effects of EDCs also tend to vary depending on the concentration, which makes them hard to predict. If you are exposed to EDCs, it could take years, even decades for the effects to be manifested. In some cases, the effects of EDC exposure could even be hereditary.

How EDCs are introduced into the environment

EDCs can be found in everyday products, including personal care products, industrial chemicals, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceutical products, and construction materials. However, most synthetic EDCs come from by-products of unconventional fossil fuel exploration and processing. Oil and natural gas extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling introduce several types of EDCs into the environment. The fracking process produces millions of gallons of wastewater that’s contaminated by salts and radioisotopes which have endocrine disruption properties. The wastewater comes back to the surface as “flow-back” and it may end up in water bodies. Some of it may remain below the surface and migrate over long distances, contaminating the groundwater in the surrounding area. In a study carried out in the USA, 24 fracking chemicals were tested, and 23 of them were found to be EDCs. Five different hormone receptors were also tested in the study, and all 5 of them were disrupted by chemicals found in fracking discharge.

What you can do to minimize your exposure to EDCs

As we’ve already mentioned EDCs get into our systems through water, air, food, or direct contact. We can minimize our exposure to EDCs by being vigilant. Ensure that you check the labels in your cosmetic and pharmaceutical products to ensure that they don’t contain EDCs. You can also ensure that the food you eat and the water you drink come from sources that you trust. At home and at your place of work, you can take measures to ensure that the indoor air isn’t contaminated with EDCs. If you are a business owner, you should consider hiring Environmental Consultants to assess the quality of indoor air in your offices to ensure your employees aren’t exposed to contaminated air.

Environmental Air Quality

Clean air is required to maintain human health and air pollution is a big environmental issue. The air we breathe impacts our well-being and is critical to supporting the amenity of everyone.

While Australia’s air quality is generally very good, there are ongoing challenges. Some pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone still exceed national ambient air quality standards in built up areas, and concerns over industrial emissions still affect many communities.

Environmental consultants play a vital role in maintaining air quality and addressing the impacts of air pollution on human health. One way environmental scientists help monitor air quality is by assessing the performance of businesses in achieving environmental approvals, and managing their ongoing operations and compliance with regulations designed to keep the community safe from air pollutants.

Atmospheric scientists with experience in air quality consulting, odour measurement, dust and odour impact assessments understand the key air quality issues faced by businesses and how best to provide solutions that meet the expectations of environmental regulators and the community.

This can require the monitoring of air quality in the workplace and gas sample laboratory analyses including soil vapour assessments; meteorological monitoring, modelling and data analysis; air and odour dispersion modelling and impact assessment  and the clear and concise reporting and communication of complex ideas and outcomes, to government regulators and community stakeholders.

An example of this kind of work in action is shown in the video below, where Melbourne based environmental consulting company Atma Environmental demonstrate the application of soil vapour testing, to measure the seeping of volatile contaminants present in soil or groundwater, into the atmosphere, which is particularly dangerous in buildings and enclosed spaces. If these toxic chemicals are not identified and mitigation or clean up managed, people suffering from prolonged exposure can aquire chronic health problems or terminal illnesses.

Consulting environmental scientists can identify actions that can be taken to deliver strategic approaches to address air quality, and one area where this is particularly relevant is in the development of systems to maintaining air quality in industrial, mining and manufacturing environments.

In these circumstances environmental consultants specialising in the design, use, deployment and monitoring of air quality systems to control dust, fumes and other toxic air pollutants in workplace environments.

One example of this is the use of materials extraction systems which use industrial ducting components to build Fume extraction, dust extraction, and dust collection systems, which keep employees safe when they are working in environments which are potentially hazardous air conditions.

In the beginning

No blog on Environmental Scientists would be complete without a little acknowledgement of the woman who was at the very beginning of environmental science, in fact the whole environmental movement itself really was brought to light form her work; Rachel Carson. I know that I for one am grateful for what she uncovered and shared with the public through her book Silent Spring.Environmental-Science-SilentSpring-Carson That began our understanding of the devastating effects of DDT and the harm we as humans can inadvertently do to the environment and each other through the use of chemicals that were meant to make our lives better. I think that creed that you hear from the medical profession “First do no harm” might well be employed in the chemical industries. I think the world would be a different place if were enlightened enough to take that approach. There’s certainly a mind boggling number of chemicals that get approved with minimal testing, we won’t truly know their effect possibly for generations and even then it’ll be the effect of unknown chemical cocktails. As much as I appreciate the work of my fellow environmental scientists working in clean up operations there is a limit to what they can accomplish. I suppose all progress is slower than what we’d really like. I am glad for the increasing awareness that is resulting in more jobs in these fields, that is a good sign atleast.

Enviro Scientists Down Under

I’ve been over in Australia recently and met a few enviro scientists in my travels. One of them was Steven Molino he works at Molino Stewart

These guys cover an interesting range of environmental work. Working in NSW around Sydney they provide environmental consulting services for getting your land ready for development whether just for your esa or for land remediation for soil contamination and the like. They also specialise in natural hazard management; that is working on a large scale to help in situations that are what they term bushfire (wildfire) prone or flood prone to help minimise the risk and also manage it in the event of these emergency situations. This is clearly something that is going to be needed more as we get an increase in the quantity and intensity of severe weather events due to global warming. Another area of environmental science they specialise in is ecological assessments. Ecological assessments differ from environmental assessments in that it focuses more on living things that is flora (plants) and fauna (animals) rather than more inert things like chemicals in soil, air and water. So for an ecological job they would assess habitat and species present they would look for rare species, quantity of individuals and what needs they have so they can provide a report that helps to create an educated skoala-ecological-consultantsolution for managing the needs of the environment as well as human needs.

When I was down in Melbourne I met another guy Glenn Berry from Atmaenvironmental. Lovely guy, from Canada originally. He was flat out in his business. He mainly focused on site assessments and contaminated land. He’d put together a great series of onsite videos for his clients to get a much better idea of what they do, if you’re needing this kind of work done they’re definitely worth a look even if you’re not in his neck of the woods. I’ve put this one in here on (whatever it is) but check out his youtube channel too here.

Then of course there’s another branch of environmental science that leans a bit more toward psychology and that is helping businesses reduce their waste by providing analysis and better infrastructure and education for staff and clients to more effectively sort their waste. One of Glenn’s friends, Peter Hosking from Great Forest Australia works in this area and I must say it’s quite impressive how much money a reasonably large organisation can save simply by engaging these guys to direct more waste away from landfill which really adds up when you’re talking large office buildings or shopping centres. Have a look at their video, I think you’d be surprised how much trash there is on a daily basis, yeah I know, sounds like fun viewing doesn’t it?! It’s better than it sounds and I think you’d agree after watching it, letting them sort it out seems like a pretty good deal!