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Environmental Toxins: Health Risks

Types of Environmental Toxins

The most typical environmental exposures occur from the following sources:

Pesticides – Dursban, chlordane, organophosphate, organochlorine

Solvents – Cleaners, gasoline, fuel oil, benzene, toluene, xylene, hexane

Heavy Metals – Lead, mercury, arsenic

Biological contaminants – Mold and mildew

Miscellaneous – Radiation, radon, electromagnetic fields (EMF)

Types of Exposure

Acute Exposure

This involves a one time exposure that may result in permanent damage.

Chronic Exposure

This involves exposure to a toxin over a period of time. Damage can occur as a result of minimal cumulative exposure occurring over an extended period of time. For instance, solvents are rapidly absorbed and rapidly eliminated, but this process may cause damage over a period of time. Damage may also occur as a result of a toxin accumulating within the body and causing injury when it reaches a toxic level. This is the usual mechanism of injury with heavy metals.

Chronic Exposure Followed by Acute Episode

This often occurs in the workplace. A worker is exposed to a chemical that produces sub-clinical damage or imperceptible damage. The worker is then exposed to a bolus or enormous dose of the same toxin that precipitates toxicity. Exposure patterns can be complicated by a mixed pattern of toxins and variations of acute and chronic exposures.

Types of Damage

Exposure to toxic substances has the ability to damage various organ systems including neurological, pulmonary and endocrine

Central Nervous System (CNS)

The most serious injury involves a toxic brain injury or a toxic encephalopathy.

Symptoms may include headaches, memory loss, personality changes or loss of impulse control, blurry vision, ringing in the ears and vertigo or dizziness.

Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)

Symptoms include numbness, tingling, or lack of strength in the arms or legs.

Chronic Fatigue, Fibromylalgia, or Chemical Sensitivity

These are overlapping illnesses. Chronic fatigue is characterized by fatigue that may manifest as muscle fatigue or drowsiness. Fibromyalgia involves muscle weakness. Chemical sensitivity involves a hypersensitivity to chemicals after a triggering event. For example, an acute exposure to pesticides may result not only in future sensitivity to pesticides but also other chemicals such as gasoline, cigarettes, perfume, cleaners, etc. Hence an offending triggering chemical results in a spreading phenomenon with other chemicals.

Upper Respiratory

Sinusitis and other nasal conditions.

Lower Resiratory

Toxic asthma and other respiratory difficulties.


Hyper or hypothyroidism. Adrenal difficulties.


Gastrointestinal (GI)

Dermatitis, rashes or allergies


Often the body will develop a weakened immune system or conversely attack itself in an autoimmune response. This may manifest in abnormalities in T Cells or other markers of a compromised immune system.

Birth Defects/Teratogenic

Birth defects or changes in the nature of cells of the body.


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