World Health Day – Our planet, our health

Author(s): Jess Thay, Source: WHO , Date: 08 April 2022

April 7th marks World Health Day, the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization back in 1948. The occasion is used to raise awareness of a health topic that concerns people worldwide.

For 2022’s World Health Day the theme is ‘Our planet, our health’ – encouraging people to focus on how our treatment of the environment impacts our health.

The WHO estimates that over 13 million people die each year due to avoidable environmental causes, the current climate crisis is also a major global health crisis.

The actions of man, and the burning of fossil fuels, has unequivocally enhanced climate change. Consistently rising land and sea temperatures, causes changes in weather patterns leading to more extremes of drought and flooding – displacing millions of people and threatening whole regional food systems. The accelerated desertification of marginal regions also leads to starvation, famines and displaced peoples.

Pollution of land, water and air – harming our planet and harming ourselves

While climate change has influenced weather patterns, pollution of the air and land through emissions, industry, heavy metals, particulate matter and microplastics also has a far-reaching impact on human health.

Microplastics have found their way into the human food chain and toxic chemicals from everyday plastic items leach into food and drink. (Nara 2018)

(Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm (0.20 in) in length, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency)

Air pollution is largely preventable

Air pollution is attributed to over 7 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the WHO. Outdoor pollution from household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities, agriculture practices and forest fires lead to over 4.2 million deaths – all of which are preventable.  

Research has shown that the constant breathing in of polluted air increases the risk of death from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

The WHO is urging policymakers and governments to limit the amount of air pollution and  curb air polluting practices. However, the vast majority of those breathing unclean air live in middle- and lower-income countries where there may be no viable alternative to burning fuel for energy.

The investing in clean air and changing procedures are extremely expensive, and developing nations often don’t prioritise lower emission initiatives and technology. But to protect the health of future populations, developing countries need to invest now.

Microplastics in the environment

Microplastics have been recently discovered deep in the lungs of living patients, as well as detected in patients’ blood samples. It is estimated that an individual from the US can consume up to 52,000 microplastic particles a year from their diet alone (Cox et al., 2019.) However, researchers say this is a conservative estimate, and that some research suggests that it could be much higher at 100,000 microplastic particles a day (Lim 2021).

The extent to which microplastics can impact on health is currently unknown, but previous studies have shown that chemicals leaching from plastics have the ability to influence hormones causing cancer (Campanale et al., 2020). 

Parts of the body most affected by microplastic consumption are the internal organs particularly the liver, the kidneys, the heart, the nervous system (including the brain) and the reproductive system.

 To search CABI Global Health for records about pollution use the string: pollution OR pollutants OR "air quality" OR "water quality" OR "indoor air" OR emissions OR  PP600 or plastic*

References:

Campanale, Claudia et al. “A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,4 1212. 13 Feb. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17041212 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/

Kieran D. Cox, Garth A. Covernton, Hailey L. Davies, John F. Dower, Francis Juanes, and Sarah E. Dudas Human Consumption of Microplastics Environmental Science & Technology 2019 53 (12), 7068-7074 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

Lauren C. Jenner, Jeanette M. Rotchell, Robert T. Bennett, Michael Cowen, Vasileios Tentzeris, Laura R. Sadofsky, Detection of microplastics in human lung tissue using μFTIR spectroscopy,Science of The Total Environment, Volume 831,2022, 154907, ISSN 0048-9697, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154907. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969722020009)

XiaoZhi Lim (2021) Microplastics are everywhere — but are they harmful? Nature 593, 22-25 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01143-3doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01143-3

Ramakrishnan Nara (2018) Microplastic Contamination of the Food Supply Chain. Food Safety Magazine https://www.food-safety.com/articles/6053-microplastic-contamination-of-the-food-supply-chain