In this second part of the post I am going to detail which are the main harming pollutants I have previously mentioned.
1. Toxic chemicals: Endocrine disruptors are chemicals commonly used in industry, agriculture and at home. These substances are very resistant to biodegradation and are present in our diet and in the environment, they accumulate in the body, especially in fat, and humans and animals are not designed to eliminate them. I would recommend you to watch the documentary “In small print” (“La letra pequeña”), where several international specialists from different disciplines share their opinion about this phenomenon.
These chemicals have been created by humans in recent decades: pesticides, plastics, paints, varnishes, detergents, etc. They are dioxins that detach from garbage incinerators, from the dyes of clothing or the ink from printed letter, from anti mould sprays, etc. They can be found in food, drinks and in the air. Nature doesn’t know how to metabolise nor how to degrade them.
Imagine a piece of plastic in the sea or synthetic microfibers that come off from washing a fleece (nonylphenols): they remain forever, and the components accumulate in the fishes that we then eat. Animals and human beings are not ready either to metabolise, for instance, methacrylate or Bisphenol, present in hard plastic from CDs, internal coating of food cans, feeding bottles (it comes off when heated) or phthalates in toys. Carpets or sofa fabrics, for instance, have flame retardants that reduce the risk of fire.
As I was saying, these substances were created for us to live better, but their risks where unknown. Now that its harmful effects on health are in the public domain, a change is required.
2. Hydrocarbons. Ozone is a gas that has positive effects on the stratosphere as an air purifier and a filter for ultraviolet radiation from the sun; without the ozone layer life on earth would be impossible, but in the troposphere (atmosphere in contact with the earth) it is a pollutant because it acts as an oxidising agent.
The balance of ozone in the stratosphere is affected by pollutants, such as chlorofluorocarbon compounds (hydrocarbons). They go up into the high atmosphere and destroy the gas, piercing the ozone layer.
High ozone levels can cause respiratory problems, damage vegetation and affect crops and forest growths. Furthermore, ozone is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the warming of the atmosphere.
The main causes of air pollution are related to burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. The combustion of these raw materials occurs mainly in the processes or in the operation of the industrial and transport sectors by land, sea or air.
Of course, in our society, means of transportation are necessary, but it is imperative to assess new alternatives.
When my friends ask me how to eat healthy, I do not know what to answer. Come to think, for example, where to find unpolluted fish, surely we would say that in idyllic places like the North Pole. Well, look, the sea currents make it the dump of the planet. In 2010 we took part in the North Pole Marathon dressed as a spermatozoon to expose this fact.
If, on the other hand, we think that healthy fish can be found near our shores, then we are wrong again, since this will depend on the waste that is poured into those waters. For example, in Tarragona, fishes suffer a change of sex after passing certain areas polluted by petrochemical industries.
In 2010, the environmental association from Tarragona “L’Escurçó”, filed a complaint in court accompanied by the data derived from our study, urging them to study the causes of the bad sperm quality of the area. Their goal was to know whether the chemical industry in the area was the main causing factor, and in that case sue the companies responsible for pollution.
In 2011 the judge dismissed the complaint, but the Court of appeal in Tarragona proved the prosecutor right in the appeal. I’ve been to testify several times. They still seem surprised when I tell them that the emitted toxins or the waste, so abundant in this area, home to a huge petrochemical industry, are responsible for many of the health issues of the population: infertility, children born with genital malformations, miscarriages, etc. In 2013 the case was dismissed but it was reopened in 2015, at the behest of the district attorney in charge of the environment.
There are many geographical differences regarding pollution: to demonstrate this, we analysed the concentration of endocrine disruptors in breast milk in two Spanish communities with great differences regarding sperm quality: Galicia and Catalonia. We studied the presence of 38 toxins in the milk of women who had grown up in A Coruña and in Barcelona. In the first case, the analysis came back negative and in Catalonia, positive. The causes were established in the largest industrialisation existing in Catalonia and to certain lifestyle habits such as the intake of processed food. Also DDT, an insecticide banned by the EU for many years, was found in all cases except in one. This study was carried out to scientifically demonstrate that environmental toxins transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding can be one of the keys of male infertility. The results do not mean that women cannot breastfeed, but they do reveal that the damage has already been done, as the toxins reach the embryo through the mother’s placenta.
Regarding water, both tap and bottled one are polluted (it might be polluted with pig slurry filtered from nearby farms). Soft drinks are made with water coming from the area where they are sold. Tap water tastes worse because of chlorine and the amount of minerals it has, such as calcium and magnesium. Using chlorine filters or leaving water in an open glass bottle in the fridge to evaporate chlorine is the greenest option. Water bottled in plastic is worse because this material is itself a pollutant, and in the production of glass bottles toxins are released.
As for medicines, many lies are also told: taking omega-3 acid in pills as a nutritional supplement can be harmful, since its main source is fish and it can contain persistent organic pollutants. Same goes for drugs that contain cod liver oil as an excipient, because we ignore the state of those cods.
In short: people need to be made aware of the effects of toxic environmental pollution. More and more experts are joining the complaint of its consequences on the citizens’ reproductive and general health.