Saving Our World–Appendix B–Real World Examples of Environmental Contamination

Environmental contaminants are chemicals that accidentally or deliberately enter the environment, often, but not always, as a result of human activities. Some of these contaminants may have been manufactured for industrial use and because they are very stable, they do not break down easily.

If released to the environment, these contaminants may enter the food chain. Other environmental contaminants are naturally-occurring chemicals, but industrial activity may increase their mobility or increase the amount available to circulate in the environment, allowing them to enter the food chain at higher levels than would otherwise occur.

A wide variety of environmental contaminants have been detected in foods. These range from metals and “ionic” species like perchlorate to organic (carbon-based) substances, including the so-called “persistent organic pollutants” or POPs (named for their ability to exist in the environment for prolonged periods without breaking down). Legacy POPs such as PCBs have been banned for industrial or agricultural use in Canada for many years, but remain in the food chain. Other POPs have been more recently identified, having been found in the environment and the food chain (for example, brominated flame retardants).




Brominated Flame Retardants

-Chlorinated Naphthalenes

Dioxins and Furans




Perfluorinated Chemicals in Food

Oil impacts to the beach environment of Grand Isle, Louisiana. Oil and other chemicals can get into sediments, impacting large coastal areas, threatening human health, and reducing the economic well being of regions that depend on a healthy coastal environment.

Our ocean and coastal areas provide us with a lot – from food, places to boat and swim, and wildlife to enjoy…the list goes on. So when these areas become polluted and unhealthy, it isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s also bad for us. At NOS, scientists, economists, and other experts are busy monitoring, assessing, and working to clean up contaminants in the environment.

The source

A wide range of chemicals can contaminate our water, land, or air, impacting the environment and our health. Most contaminants enter the environment from industrial and commercial facilities; oil and chemical spills; non-point sources such as roads, parking lots, and storm drains; and wastewater treatment plants and sewage systems. Many hazardous waste sites and industrial facilities have been contaminated for decades and continue to affect the environment.

The impact

Contaminants in the environment can look and smell pretty nasty, but their impacts go beyond just aesthetics. Some pollutants resist breakdown and accumulate in the food chain. These pollutants can be consumed or absorbed by fish and wildlife, which in turn may be eaten by us. Chemicals can also get into sediments, impacting large coastal areas, threatening human health, and reducing the economic well being of regions that depend on a healthy coastal environment.

Evaluation tools

Being able to clean up and restore areas that have been impacted by contaminants requires tools tailored to the needs of specific regions. NOS has developed a range of tools to help coastal communities meet their needs. For example, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA worked with partners to launch the Environmental Response Management Application Gulf Response, an online mapping tool that delivers environmental resource managers the near-real-time information and data necessary to make informed decisions for environmental response. The site uses the Environmental Response Management Application, a web-based geographic information system platform developed by NOAA and the University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center. NOS also offers a number of assessment tools and guidance to help coastal decision makers understand the implications of contaminated sediments.

Testing toxicity

Harmful chemical pollution and excess nutrient runoff are serious threats to the coastal environment. NOS scientists are conducting research to help detect and predict how this pollution will impact coastal resources. For example, at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, scientists are evaluating the effects of single contaminants and contaminant mixtures, conducting toxicity-testing with single species, and conducting research in controlled conditions to assess contaminant impacts on biological communities. Scientists are also looking at how environmental and human stressors impact bottlenose dolphin populations.

Responding to contaminants

When contaminants threaten or harm aquatic species, make them unsafe to eat, or degrade their habitat, NOS experts work with partners to evaluate risks and injuries, develop strategies to reduce contaminant loads, and reduce the risk to species. The experts also monitor the effectiveness of cleanup actions and design and implement projects to restore natural resources. At larger waste sites and after oil spills, NOS scientists and economists conduct natural resource damage assessments to determine the nature and extent of harm to natural resources and restoration necessary to bring the resources to a healthier state. NOS works with the parties responsible for the contamination to ensure that injured coastal and marine resources are restored.

Nonpoint pollution

When pollution comes from a source that can’t be tied to a specific location, we call it “nonpoint source pollution.” This kind of pollution occurs when leaking septic tanks or stormwater runoff that has picked up things like sediment, fertilizer, pet waste, or oil drain into streams and rivers that empty into our estuaries and coastal waters. To address this polluted runoff, NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly administer the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. Under the program, all states and territories with approved coastal zone management programs are required to develop and implement coastal programs to reduce the amount of nonpoint source pollution entering our waterways.

Exposure to Environmental Contaminants

What are the trends in human exposure to environmental contaminants?

Importance of Monitoring Human Exposure

Trends in human exposure are important for several reasons:

-Understanding the extent to which human populations are being exposed to environmental contaminants helps identify:

+Contaminants of potential public health concern.

+Population subgroups (e.g., by age, race, ethnicity) who may be disproportionately exposed to contaminants or uniquely vulnerable.

For example, children may have disproportionately greater exposures to environmental contaminants because they drink more water, breathe more air, and eat more food per pound or kilogram of body weight than adults. They may also be more vulnerable to some environmental contaminants at certain stages of development.1,2

Tracking the levels of environmental contaminants in a population enables assessment of how exposures to those contaminants are changing in that population over time.

Measures of Human Exposure

Human exposure to environmental contaminants can be measured in the ambient environment (air, water, land), at the point of human contact, or after contaminants have entered the human body through entry portals such as the eyes, skin, stomach, intestines, or lungs.

Different approaches are used to measure or estimate the extent of possible human exposure, each with advantages and disadvantages. These approaches include ambient concentration measurements, exposure modeling, personal monitoring, and biomonitoring.

Ambient concentrations: Measurement of ambient concentrations provides information about how much of a contaminant is present in the environment (air, water, food, or soil), but not how much of the contaminant humans actually come in contact with. In some cases, ambient concentrations may be modeled or estimated rather than measured.

This type of exposure estimate has provided a valuable foundation for many of the regulatory and non-regulatory actions that have been taken to limit exposure to ambient contaminants. Measurements of ambient concentrations of contaminants are presented in AirWater, and Land indicators, but cannot be directly linked with the biomonitoring indicators presented to address the ROE exposure question.

Exposure modeling: Exposure models estimate exposure by combining information about environmental contaminant concentrations with information about people’s activities and locations (e.g., time spent working, exercising outdoors, and sleeping; food consumption) to account for potential contact with contaminants. This approach requires data on contaminant levels where people live, work, and play, as well as knowledge of their day-to-day activities. Exposures can also be modeled to account for the relative toxicity of environmental contaminants within a particular chemical group (e.g., types of pesticides). Exposure indices may be developed to evaluate relative changes in environmental contaminant exposure over time.

Personal monitoring: With personal monitoring, an individual wears a monitoring device during normal day-to-day activities. Personal monitoring provides valuable insights into the source of contaminants to which people are being exposed. It is most commonly used in workplaces.

A challenge with personal monitoring (as with biomonitoring) is ensuring that the extent of sampling is sufficient to be representative of the population being studied. No national-scale personal monitoring data are available.

Biomonitoring: Biomonitoring measures how much of a contaminant—or its metabolite(s) or reaction product(s), referred to as “biomarkers”—are present in the human body. Measurements are most commonly made in blood or urine, but can also be taken from a variety of other body compartments, such as feces, breast milk, hair, nails, and exhaled air, as well as tissues obtained through biopsy or autopsy.

Several environmental contaminants, including heavy metals, some pesticides, and other persistent organic pollutants, can accumulate in the body. Biomonitoring has been used to characterize exposure to lead and some other metals for many years. More recently, advances in biomonitoring have enabled measurement of many other environmental contaminants.

ROE Indicators

The ROE presents one exposure modeling indicator (reported as an exposure index) and seven human biomonitoring indicators to address the question What are the trends in human exposure to environmental contaminants? Pesticide Exposure in FoodBlood CadmiumSerum CotinineBlood LeadBlood MercurySerum Persistent Organic PollutantsUrinary Pesticides, and Urinary Phthalates.

Exposure Modeling Indicator

To support dietary risk assessment, EPA models pesticide exposure to food using vetted data sources, tools, and methods. Using this same approach, EPA develops modeled exposure indices, which allow comparison of relative exposure to selected pesticide groups in food to a base year. This integrative approach considers multiple factors that influence exposure to pesticides, including toxicity, measured pesticide residue levels, and food consumption information. The indices reflect when there are exposures to pesticide residues that are more toxic, are more frequently detected at higher concentration, or are present in more highly consumed foods. The index values for each year are relative to the base year and do not directly estimate exposure, risk, or cumulative risk. These index values offer a means to assess relative change in pesticide exposure over time. EPA continues to explore the same types of holistic approaches in evaluating other environmental exposure trends.

Biomonitoring Indicators

By directly measuring environmental contaminants or their metabolites in human fluids or tissues, biomonitoring takes into account the complex set of physiologic and metabolic factors that govern how contaminants are absorbed and distributed within the body.

The biomonitoring indicators (which rely on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s [CDC’s] National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveyEXITEXIT EPA WEBSITE [NHANES]) provide an overall representation of the levels of selected contaminants, or metabolites of contaminants, in human blood and urine across the U.S. population. These indicators enhance understanding of the extent to which exposure to individual substances has occurred on a national scale. Measurable levels of many of these contaminants appear in at least some subset of the populations tested.

Although ROE biomonitoring indicators show the relative amounts of environmental contaminants in people and in subpopulations over time, by themselves, biomarkers of exposure do not:

-Provide information about the contaminant source.

-Predict whether the presence of the contaminant in the body will result in biological alterations or harmful health effects, either acting alone or in combination with other contaminants.

-Provide information on when, where, and how exposure occurred. For example, lead in children’s blood may come from exposure to airborne sources, contaminated water or food, or contaminated soil or dust.

-Explain possible differences among some subpopulations.

Also, there are still many contaminants for which no biomonitoring indicators exist, and others that are simply not feasible to analyze using current technology or data collection methods. These include radon, most criteria air pollutants (e.g., ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter), and biological agents (e.g., molds, certain infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses, dust mites). In many cases, biomonitoring for these contaminants is either cost-prohibitive or not yet technologically feasible.

Biomonitoring methods are constantly evolving, so exposure indicators may be added over time as data become available. For example, as part of its ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), CDC continues to add environmental contaminants to its biomonitoring efforts. EPA anticipates adding several contaminants to the ROE biomonitoring indicator suite in future years.

Top 25 Brutal Environmental Concerns That You Desperately Need To Know

Our Mother Earth is currently facing a lot of environmental concerns. The environmental problems like global warming, acid rain, air pollution, urban sprawl, waste disposal, ozone layer depletion, water pollution, climate change and many more affect every human, animal, and nation on this planet.

Over the last few decades, the exploitation of our planet and the degradation of our environment has gone up at an alarming rate. As our actions have been not in favor of protecting this planet, we have seen natural disasters striking us more often in the form of flash floods, earthquakes, blizzards, tsunamis, and cyclones.

1. Air Pollution

Pollution of air, water, and soil takes a huge number of years to recover. Industry and engine vehicle fumes are the most obvious toxins. Substantial metals, nitrates, and plastic are poisons in charge of pollution.

While water contamination is brought about by oil slicks, acid rain, and urban sprawl; air contamination is created by different gasses and poisons discharged by businesses and manufacturing plants and burning of fossil fills; soil contamination is majorly created by mechanical waste that takes supplements out of the soil.

2. Water Pollution

Clean drinking water is turning into an uncommon thing. Water is turning into a monetary and political concern as the human populace battles for this need. Waste from industrial and agricultural activities pollute the water that is used by humans, animals, and plants.

3: Soil and Land Pollution

Land pollution simply means degradation of the earth’s surface as a result of human activities like mining, littering, deforestation, industrial, construction, and agricultural activities. Land pollution can have a huge environmental impact in the form of air pollution and soil pollution which in turn can have an adverse effect on human health.

4. Climate Change

Climate change is yet another environmental concern that has surfaced in the last couple of decades. Environmental change has different destructive impacts that include, but are not limited to, the melting of polar ice, change in seasons, new sicknesses, and change in the general climate situation.

5. Global Warming

Environmental asset abuse is also an important environmental concern. Fossil fuel utilization brings about the discharge of greenhouse gasses, which causes environmental change. However, individuals are taking endeavors to move to renewable energy sources.

6. Deforestation & Logging

Our woodlands create new oxygen and additionally help in managing temperature and precipitation. At present, timberlands cover 30% of the area, but wooded areas are being lost on a regular basis because people are looking for homes, food, and materials. Deforestation is a huge problem and will just continue to get worse.

7. Increased Carbon Footprint

Temperature increases, like climate change, are the consequence of human practices, including the use of greenhouse gasses. When the atmosphere changes and the heat increases, it can cause a number of problems and start to destroy the world we live in.

8. Genetic Modification

Genetic modification utilizing biotechnology is called genetic engineering. Genetic engineering of food brings about expanded poisons and sicknesses as qualities from a hypersensitive plant can exchange to the target plant. Some of these crops can even be a threat to the world around us, as animals start to ingest the unnatural chemicals and such.

9. Effect on Marine Life

The amount of carbon in the water and the atmosphere is continuing to be a problem in the world around us. The primary effect is on shellfish and microscopic fish, and it has similar effects on osteoporosis in humans.

10. Public Health Issues

The current environmental concerns represent a considerable measure of danger to the well-being of people and creatures. Dirty water is the greatest well-being danger of the world and poses a risk to the health and lifespan of people and animals.

11. Overpopulation

The number of inhabitants on the planet is arriving at unsustainable levels as it confronts a deficiency of assets like water, fuel, and food. Overpopulation is one of the most important environmental concerns.

12: Loss of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is yet another casualty due to the impact of human beings on the environment. It is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Habitat destruction is a major cause of biodiversity loss. Habitat loss is caused by deforestation, overpopulation, pollution, and global warming.

13. Household and Industrial Waste

The overutilization of assets and the formation of plastics are making a worldwide emergency of waste transfer. Developed nations are infamous for creating an unreasonable measure of waste or junk and dumping their waste in the seas and, less created nations.

14. Ozone Layer Depletion

The ozone layer is an undetectable layer of protection around the planet that secures us from the sun’s unsafe beams. The depletion of the critical Ozone layer of the air is credited to contamination brought about by Bromide and Chlorine found in Chlorofloro carbons (CFCs). When these poisonous gasses reach the upper parts of the atmosphere, they cause a gap in the ozone layer, the greatest of which is over the Antarctic.

15. Mining

Mining results in the extraction of minerals from the earth’s core. These minerals also bring out harmful chemicals from deep inside the earth to the earth’s surface. The toxic emissions from mining can cause air, water, and soil pollution.

16: Natural Resource Depletion

Non-renewable resources are limited and will get expired one day. Consumption of fossil fuels at an alarming rate can lead to global warming which can further result in the melting of polar ice caps and an increase in sea levels.

17: Natural Disasters

Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, cyclones, volcanic eruptions can be unpredictable, devastating, and can cause irreparable damage. They can cause a huge loss of life and property.

18: Nuclear Issues

Radioactive waste is a nuclear fuel that contains radioactive substances and is a by-product of nuclear power generation. The radioactive waste is an environmental concern that is extremely toxic and can have a devastating effect on the lives of the people living nearby, if not disposed of properly. Radioactive waste is considered to be harmful to humans, plants, animals, and the surrounding environment.

19. Loss of Endangered Species

Human overpopulation is prompting the elimination of species and environmental surroundings and the loss of various biomes. Environmental frameworks, which took a huge number of years to come into being, are at risk when any species populace is huge.

20. Acid Rain

Acid rain happens because of the vicinity of specific poisons in the climate. Corrosive downpour might be brought about because of the use of fossil fuels or volcanoes or spoiling vegetation which discharges sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air.

21: Agricultural Pollution

Modern-day agriculture practices make use of chemical products like pesticides and fertilizers to deal with local pests. Some of the chemicals when sprayed do not disappear and in fact, seeps into the ground and thereby harms plants and crops. Also, contaminated water is used for irrigation by farmers due to the disposal of industrial and agricultural waste in local water bodies.

22: Light and Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is another common form of pollution that causes temporary disruption when there is an excessive amount of unpleasant noise. Construction activities, industrialization, an increase in vehicular traffic, lack of urban planning are a few of the causes of noise pollution.

23. Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl alludes to the relocation of the populace from high thickness urban ranges to low-density provincial zones which bring about the spreading of the city over the more rustic area. Urban sprawl brings about expanded movement, environmental concerns, and well-being concerns.

24: Disposal of Medical Waste

Medical waste is any kind of waste that is produced in large quantities by healthcare centers like hospitals, nursing homes, dental clinics, and is considered to be of a bio-hazardous nature. The waste can include needles, syringes, gloves, tubes, blades, blood, body parts, and many more.

There are a lot of medical waste companies that deal with medical waste disposal and are unique in the waste management industry. They must maintain a fleet of removal vehicles that use especially containment receptacles so that the medical waste is not exposed to the air, or at risk for spilling should there be an accident.

25: Littering and Landfills

Littering simply means disposal of a piece of garbage or debris improperly or at a wrong location usually on the ground instead of disposing them at a trash container or recycling bin. Littering can cause a huge environmental and economic impact in the form of spending millions of dollars to clean the garbage of roads that pollute the clean air.

Landfills, on the other hand, are nothing but huge garbage dumps that make the city look ugly and produce toxic gases that could prove fatal for humans and animals. Landfills are generated due to the large amount of waste that is generated by households, industries, and healthcare centers every day.

Resources, “Environmental Contaminants.”;, “Contaminants in the Environment.”;, “Exposure to Environmental Contaminants: What are the trends in human exposure to environmental contaminants?”;, “Top 25 Brutal Environmental Concerns That You Desperately Need To Know.”;