Cancer-Causing Toxins Overview
Cancer-causing toxins, also known as carcinogens, are found throughout the environment. While some cancer-causing toxins occur naturally, many more are manmade chemicals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 87,000 chemicals have been approved for manufacturing since the 1970s.
Yet only slightly over 1000 of these chemicals have been tested to determine if they cause cancer. And yet, of those 1000 chemicals, half, or 500 of them, are known or suspected to be cancer-causing toxins.
With all the risks for exposure to potential carcinogens, which ones are the worst? Five of the top cancer-causing toxins in the environment might surprise you.
In many large cities, smog warnings are issued when the air pollution levels are elevated. You can see smog and other forms of air pollution outside your window. But that’s not the only type of air pollution that causes cancer. According to multiple studies, air pollution includes:
- Vehicle and Industrial Emissions
- Natural Disasters
- Natural Toxins from Soil and Rocks
- Indoor Air Pollution
Vehicles that burn gasoline and almost any type of industrial manufacturing process send millions of particles of cancer-causing toxins into the air every day. Studies conducted by the EPA show that vehicle and industrial emissions account for almost 75% of the air’s hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons like carbon monoxide are known as cancer-causing toxins. Natural disasters like forest fires release high levels of hydrocarbons and other toxins into the air, raising cancer risk in affected areas.
The earth produces cancer-causing toxins that are stored in soil and rocks. For example, radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can seep from the soil into homes through basement foundations. Radon exposure can lead to lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society found that premature death and disability from lung cancer have the highest economic impact of all cancers. Scientists are discovering that the risk from indoor air pollution is growing.
According to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey published in the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, people in developed countries spend 90% of their time indoors.
While indoors, people are exposed to cancer-causing toxins in the air from building products, cleaning supplies, and personal care products. From carpets to oven cleaners to shampoos, many household products contain chemicals that leach into the air.
These chemicals combine with dust that coats surfaces throughout a home, allowing exposure by touch and ingestion. The more ways people are exposed, the greater the risk for toxic build-up and cancer.
The bacteria H. Pylori comes from contaminated water and causes stomach cancer. According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health perspectives, bacteria may also contribute to cancers by infecting and inflaming tissue in the body. More studies are needed to determine the full impact of bacteria on cancer.
Cigarettes are made with 70 chemicals that cause cancer. According to a United States Department of Health and Human Services report, 9 out of every 10 lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoke. Directly inhaling tobacco smoke or breathing second smoke from another person’s cigarettes also cause other cancers, including:
- Mouth and Throat
While many building materials can release cancer-causing toxins, asbestos is one of the most well-known occupational cancer-causing toxins. According to studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), the general population also has a high risk for exposure to asbestos because of building products made with asbestos that are still in place in older homes and buildings.
The human body needs sunlight to thrive. But Ultra-Violet (UV) light from the sun is a known carcinogenic. According to a study in the British Journal of Dermatology and publications from the American Cancer Society, the two most common skin cancers are caused by UV light. Limiting your time in the sun, wearing a hat, and using sunscreen are recommended to decrease cancer risk from UV light exposure.