Diseases caused by pollution may affect any of us with potentially devastating effects. According to a Cornell University study, about 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by environmental pollution (including water, air, and soil pollution) – see the article published by Chronicle Online on August 2, 2007. Knowing more about what causes these diseases and how they manifest will help us prevent or minimize exposure as well as identify pollution episodes and potential associated health diseases early. We hope that the general information provided here will help you in this respect.
What Are Pollution Diseases and What Causes Them? Polluting the environment means spreading new man-made chemicals in the environment or re-distributing and concentrating natural substances/chemicals due to human activity. The main problem with pollution is that it may affect human health eventually resulting in medical conditions usually referred to as pollution diseases (since they would not have occurred in the absence of pollution). The health problems caused by pollution are not some rare types of illnesses happening to few exposed individuals, but rather they could be common and well-known diseases with symptoms as trivial as nausea, headache, cough, or difficulty in respiration! Additionally, pollution diseases are not affecting only people who directly handle pollutants; they may affect any one of us without even knowing it. This is because pollutant concentrations that should raise health concerns are usually not easily perceived by any of our senses, but may create long-term health effects.
Below are the main pollution diseases classified based on the polluted media causing them – you can find more by clicking any of the links below:
Living in a contaminated environment may sensitize the human body, weakening our defense against a large number of medical conditions, including cancers, arteriosclerosis, hepatitis, heart disease, asthma, and tuberculosis – to name just a few.
Plants and animals may also be affected and sometimes provide clues for pollution episodes:
Did you know that environmental pollution can increase your risk of developing mesothelioma? Asbestos, a group of toxic minerals which occur naturally in the earth, has been heavily mined and employed by numerous industries in the U.S. throughout the last century, which resulted in unprecedented contamination. Multiple national and international agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classify asbestos as a known human carcinogen.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which preponderantly affects the outer lining of the lungs, although it can develop in other regions of the body as well. Approximately 3,000 people in the U.S. are annually diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for over 80% of mesothelioma cases. When fibers become airborne, they can easily be inhaled or ingested by whoever is in the proximity of the pollution source. The human body is not inherently designed to eliminate asbestos and thereby, particles which have accumulated in the lungs can cause severe inflammation in time and may subsequently lead to mesothelioma.
The Most Common Environmental Sources of Contamination:
Skin cancer is the cancer of skin cells, consisting of changes in skin appearance or abnormal growth of skin cells in affected areas. The affected skin areas look different than the rest of the skin, involving skin growth (like bumps or mole-looking growth) of various types and/or rough areas of skin (of various colors) - with or without bleeding – that fail to heal or disappear. This type of cancer is easy to detect by our naked eye since it usually develops in the outermost layer of skin (also called epidermis). This is why only a minor percent of affected people actually die of skin cancer (with the exception of melanoma type discussed here).
Skin cancer is perceived as a direct result of prolonged sun exposure. Yet, many other risk factors exist, some of which may be – in specific cases - more prevalent than sun exposure. This explains the documented cases of skin cancer in areas with little to no exposure to the sun. Between the potential risk factors other than sun exposure, exposure to environmental pollution could substantially increase the risk of developing skin cancer regardless of sun exposure or other risk factors.
Melanoma is probably the most dangerous type of skin cancer, although it is a less common form of cancer (but its incidence is increasing). It occurs more in white people after the age of 60, but it may affect younger non-white people too. While melanoma may appear in any individual, there are certain well-defined situations enabling the identification of individuals at high risk for developing melanoma (mainly including: people with melanoma cases in the family, people with fair skin and/or a large number of moles and freckles, people with prolonged sun exposure episodes, and/or people exposed to certain environmental pollutants). Melanoma is usually manifested through skin lesions, moles or nodules which become cancerous resulting in asymmetrical shapes, changing colors, and rapidly evolving (e.g., in dimension). Because in most cases, there is no associated pain and it is usually hard to distinguish between non-cancerous and cancerous (melanoma) skin lesions, nodules, or moles – melanoma is considered asymptomatic. Nevertheless, some general distinctions have been pointed out mainly consisting of irregular and rapidly observable changes of existing skin conditions. Such distinctions are helpful for early identification and successful treatment of existing melanoma, as well as for prevention of future occurrences (by identifying high-risk individuals).
Melanoma seems to have a series of causes including:
While most melanomas are asymptomatic, there are a series of signs one can watch out for, which may indicate potential melanoma or potential for future melanoma development.
The following are indications (signs) of potential melanoma (please note that none of these signs necessarily imply melanoma and any of these signs may still be associated with non-cancerous skin conditions – however, these signs indicate a melanoma risk):
If you experienced any of the above-mentioned signs/symptoms, it is highly recommended that you consult a dermatologist. As with any cancerous conditions, early detection is essential for successful melanoma treatment.
While above we described signs and symptoms that usually indicate high melanoma risk, below are some reassuring signs, indicating a low melanoma risk and usually not requiring medical analysis (however, please always keep in mind that a low risk does not equal no risk and the only way to be certain is through medical control and analysis):
High-risk individuals – more sensitive and prone to develop some type of melanoma - include:
Note: Although, as shown above, some individuals are more sensitive and more at risk to develop melanoma than others, good preventive measures against melanoma are generally easy to apply and should be applied by all of us.