By Tedler D. Depaynos, MD
There are various diseases that may arise from exposure to toxic elements not only coming from the workplace but from the environment in general. Some are obvious and some are not. Most of the time, however, even if they are obvious no precautions are being done to prevent exposure.
A classic example is smoking. Despite the warnings that it could cause lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease or COPD, the habit persists. One can notice from time to time individuals who suddenly look aged because of difficulty of breathing, easy fatigability or even asthmatic attacks.
I could recall our younger days as I see young males and females nowadays holding cigarettes openly, when we also tried to practice the habit. It was a blessing in disguise that I always coughed whenever I smoked. I was allergic to smoke and because of this I never developed the habit.
It is refreshing for non-smokers that smoking is prohibited in many restaurants, lobbies and even public places. It is a fact that even if you are not a smoker but chronically exposed to cigarette and cigar by-products, one could develop lung cancer. There are confirmed reports that wives exposed to their husbands’ bad habit develop the disease.
I guess the main reason that no precautions are being done is that the effects of exposure to those harmful elements are not felt initially especially in younger individuals. It is only after many years or even decades of exposure that the unpleasant effects are experienced. What is very sad is that the diseases caused by these toxins may appear during the retirement years. The retirement benefits obtained would be diverted to expensive medical care instead of being used for enjoyment during the retirement years.
Gasses emitted by motor vehicles are unavoidable. Public transport plying our city streets with vintage motors are major factors. Some individuals with air con facilities inside their vehicles turn them on not because it is hot but simply to try to avoid the pollution.
Just viewing the islands at the middle of city streets, one could appreciate the effects of the emitted gasses. They are stained black and very hard to clean despite the vigorous scrubbing from time to time by government employees. One could just imagine the lungs of our young traffic enforcers that stay at the center of the roads for hours daily. Because they are still far from retirement age, they do not feel any problem because their lungs could easily compensate by enlarging. Wait when they will be half a century old!
Alleged traffic violators whose car plates were constantly and unceremoniously removed may manifest unchristian comments and behavior towards these unforgiving and strict traffic aides, but wait when they finally manifest signs and symptoms attributed to chronic gas exposures.
Some of the diseases may be hard to diagnose when they appear because of their rarity. Example is a patient who was the wife of a very successful contractor who gradually became partly blind. Her gradual loss of vision perplexed practically all the practicing specialists in our locality and even the well known experts at St Lukes Hospital. It was after an extensive and expensive work up that she was found out to be infected with a certain bird disease more than 20 years ago which manifested its effects only now. She was surmised to have “silent” meningitis 2 decades ago when she had an interest in birds that she raised in the wide backyard of their residence. Animal diseases that are transferred to man are called zoonosis in general.
It was thought to be similar to the “mad cow” disease we read to be common among Europeans taking care of cows and whose symptoms get manifested after about 20 years. Those infected were thought to have had “silent” meningitis which may have no significant manifestations initially but later on would have unexplained “crazy” behavior after a decade or two. We saw several patients with “”crazy” manifestations in our practice but for sure it was not due to “mad cow”. The presence of this dangerous zoonosis is not yet confirmed here in our country.
Exposure to asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and again the disease appears after decades of exposure. There was one time if I recall right, that the ceiling of the offices at a large government building was being changed because the materials used were with asbestos. I am not aware what happened after. A similar issue was raised regarding the pipes with asbestos used by water pipe concessionaires in Metro Manila. It was a big issue then so that it was headlined by the major national newspapers for days. The pipes were eventually changed for health reasons.
Another observation refers to the long life of our ancestors and those living in far flung barrios or rural areas. Some even reach 100 years old which is rare nowadays especially in well developed urban areas populated with teeming competitive restaurants and fast foods. This is supposedly attributed to the simple food which were simply cooked that they partook throughout their lives. They were devoid of artificial flavors and the various common condiments that are now almost a must in our daily diet. Aside from that, the meat and vegetables they ate were never exposed to toxic chemicals found in insecticides or fertilizers. This observation compliments the fact that they exercised a lot and were not exposed to toxic gases due to the rarity of motor vehicles during their time. At least this is now the common conclusion.
This may be the reason that organic farming is being encouraged extensively by certain sectors nowadays. The vegetables and animals raised in the farm should never be exposed to any chemicals even how supposedly safe they are according to their labels and literature.
This may however be abused by some enterprising individuals vending herbal medicines. Even “without proven therapeutic value” they insist that their drugs are “organic” in origin and can easily “cure” all ailments just to be able to sell.
Hope awareness on these toxic materials that can cause debilitating diseases in later life would make us more cautious against them.