Nowadays, when we take a deep breath, we are likely to be breathing in polluted air. Compared to the air in Beijing, which is typically smoggy, the air in the United States may seem relatively clean. However, there can be many invisible pollutants in our air, including toxic substances, radiation, and infectious agents. Numerous pollutants may also appear in our water and soil.
Today, on Earth Day, let us reflect on how our environment plays a vital role in public health. This includes our risk of contracting cancer, because environmental factors such as exposure to air pollution have been found to be associated with this dread disease. This of course includes smoking, both active and passive, since smoking is one of the most common causes of cancer, accounting for about 30% of cancer deaths in the United States due to exposure to cancer-causing substances in tobacco products.
Other sources of environmental contaminants that you should be aware of include:
- hazards from the gaseous, vapor, and particulate phases of the atmosphere
- sun rays (UVA/UVB)
- bacteria and viruses that are pathogens
- chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens that may be hidden in your food, your cleaning and other household products, and in the air and water in your home and workplace
Pollutants are all around us, many of them man made. One danger of these pollutants is that they can cause DNA damage, which is known to be a critical initial event in the development of cancer. It is disturbing to learn from Asia studies that children in major cities of developing countries have an increased risk for cancer as a consequence of exposure to genotoxic substances in their environment. Evidently, factors outside the body change the components and systems inside the body over time.
Many of these cancers can be prevented by environmental control and lifestyle choices. Making wise choices for all of our family is crucial because we have a responsibility to safeguard not only our own health, but that of our children.
I hope we all strive to make every day an “Unpolluted Air Day”. A healthy earth with a healthy environment promotes healthy living for each and every one of us.
Image Credit: By jurvetson