Ever hear someone in the restoration or remediation industry, even the home inspection industry, go on and on about this or that toxic substance in the indoor environment? Ever go online and find a million different views on a toxic substance in the indoor environment? (Just search "toxic mold" in google. You'll find over 13 million pages; many of which don't agree with each other on what is and isn't toxic, symptoms, response techniques, and other important subjects.)
Recently, I helped two customers (one in Indianapolis, and the other in Terre Haute) in Indiana, who were suffering from different symptoms. Both felt the symptoms were worse in their homes than outside their homes. One was diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity, and the other with a toxic substance in her blood from exposure to a mold called Aspergillus fumigatus
. Yet, both were told, by different remediation companies, that the same issue was present and the same response was necessary to address those issues. This led them to ask, "Jason, can you explain more on types of toxic substances, the route of exposure and stuff like that in your blogs?"
So, here we go....
Now, it's important to understand that this topic is one of extensive research and years of higher education study. So, we cannot cover every possibility. What we can do is begin the discuss, and I will respond to any questions you might have.
Let's begin with the general classes of "toxic substances", as it's understood in toxicology (the branch of science concerned with nature, effects and detection of poisons). These classes include drugs, food additives, pesticides, industrial chemicals, environmental pollutants, natural toxins and household poisons. To help you understand, I'll give you a brief description of each of these classes, next.DRUGS:
Most people in the Western World consume drugs in some point in their lives. These drugs vary enormously in chemical structure and possess a wide variety of biological activities (i.e., planned and unplanned impacts on your biological system). On this later point, it is important to understand that drugs are designed, purposefully, to be highly potent in biological systems, making them an intentional toxin - one of the only foreign substances of known biological activities that we intentionally ingest. The range of a drug's biological activity (i.e., toxicity) may be due to a number of factors, including but not necessarily limited to: overdose, one's biological disposition in relation to the drug (e.g., a hypersensitivity to the drug), and other factors.
Examples of substances that fall into this class of toxic substances include but are not limited to: alcohol, the active components of cigarettes, and veterinary practices that may be found in some of the foodstuff we ingest. FOOD ADDITIVES:
On that last note, let's look at another intentionally ingested substance that may or may not include toxic substances (i.e., substances that will negatively impact our biology): foodstuff. While it is true that food additives are usually of low biological activity, it is also true that there are an increasing number of additives being added to our food each year. (Public awareness is starting to influence the preparation and manufacturing processes of food, increasing a number of products on shelves with a "no additives" label.) But, food additives aren't the only substances of concern. There are, also, naturally present components to some foodstuff which may be toxic to certain individuals, like peanuts for example.
While most of these substances, both natural and artificial, are found in very low concentrations (in most foodstuff), for the majority of these substances very little is known of their long-term toxicity (i.e., very little is known of their impact on us when consumed over a long period of time). This is why it is important to stay on top of your exercise and dietary plans in relation to current biology and goals.INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS:
While the most obvious place of exposure to industrial chemicals is in the workplace, history has shown us that the impact of unmitigated industrial practices has the potential to impact the environment around these workplaces. I recall a young man, in his early twenties, who worked on a carpet cleaning truck. After about five years of this, he began having chest pain and difficulty breathing. Thinking he was having a heart attack, he went to the emergency room; where, doctors found a chemical blockage in his lungs. He was okay. With treatment he returned to work. But, the long-term exposure to the cleaning chemicals in the truck - despite having the windows down most of the year - led to his illness, and cost him several weeks off-work.
Industrial chemicals include a huge range of chemical types and many different industries may involve the use or manufacturing of hazardous chemicals as their day-to-day operations. Some of these chemicals include fentanyl, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and fluoride, and other types.
Besides industry, some of these chemicals may also be found in homes, due to the application of various chemical interactions caused by some of today's technology; for example, ozone-generating Ultra-Violet (UV) lights and Electrostatic Precipitaters (EPs) in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems inject agents that cause un-natural chemical interactions in the built environment. (One has to be careful of their use.)
While general exposure to workplace exposure to these chemicals is controlled by law, realistic levels may still prove to be hazardous in the long-term (i.e., long-term exposure in the workplace hasn't been addressed adequately for many of these chemicals) and accidents still occur that may injure an employee or an environment. ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTANTS:
When we speak of environmental pollutants, we have to take care not to be fixated on sources of un-natural environmental conditions. Some natural conditions may also illicit an ill-effect in some biologies. The most obvious example of this are allergens; those agents that illicit an allergic response in a person. If one were to measure these allergens in various locations across the United States (U.S.) one would find that the environment does not stay consistent and in each location there are varying types of natural dispositions to the atmosphere. This is why one person living in the city may have issues with the air quality there but not in an agricultural location in Indiana while a majority do not; and, why the reverse is true of these same people when taken into the agricultural location. Our biologies differ from one another, as does our response to the dispositions of the environment around us.
That said, there are two main sources of un-natural environmental stressors (i.e., environmental pollutants): industrial processes and deliberate release of pesticides. These can impact the outdoor environments for miles and those buildings around them, as well as the materials we manufacture into our foodstuff and other products.NATURAL TOXINS:
Many plants and animals produce toxic substances. These substances are produced for both defensive and offensive purposes. Some of these substances are particles and others are gaseous. Some may contaminate the air we breath, the surfaces we touch, the surfaces they touch (e.g., stinging and biting), and even the food we eat. Some of these substances include but are not limited to: pyrrolizidine alkaloids
(such as those found in plans like Senecio
), which can cause liver damage, pennyroyal oil
, from the Pennyroyal plant and usd to induce abortions in the U.S., ricin
, from the castor oil plant (one of the most toxic substances known), hydrolytic enzyme toxins
in snake venom, aflatoxins
, from fungi like Aspergillus flavus
, and the botulinum toxin
, from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum
. HOUSEHOLD POISONS:
This class of toxic substances may include some substances in other classes, like pesticides, drugs and solvents; but also include cosmetics, cleaning agents, and other biological systems (e.g., persons, plants and animals). Air dispositions (i.e., the indoor air quality) can play an important role, too, when building design and operation is not adequate or compromised. The most obvious example of this is carbon monoxide, which results from sources like poorly ventilated stoves, fires and boilers, and running cars in our garages. IN CONCLUSION:
As you can see from this brief, the topic in question is one that is complex and lengthy to cover. So, for now, I'll leave it here, and let you digest this information. In the future I'll try to discuss some exposure routes and symptoms, and answer your questions.
If you have a question or require an inspection of your property, you can contact me at [email protected]