Awareness – Chemical Safety and the use of Chemicals

Chemical safety – Chemicals are a fact of life and all living things comprise some amount of chemicals.

Everything – from the ground we walk on, to the air we breathe, is made from chemicals and chemical compounds. Chemicals range from mild cleaning agents to highly corrosive, flammable and poisonous substances that are used for different processes and applications.

Chemical pollution and the effects on the environment

Chemical pollution introduces chemicals into the natural environment, negatively affecting the air, water and soil. When chemical pollutants are concentrated in an area for an extended period of time, it can adversely affect the ecosystem and those who live in the affected area.

Fertilizers or sewerage can introduce chemicals containing nitrite or phosphates into bodies of water.  An overload of these chemicals will cause an “algal bloom“.

As the excess algae die and decay, dissolved oxygen is used and the overall quality of the water is degraded. Aquatic life dies from oxygen deprivation.

Global warming 

The class of chemical pollutants called greenhouse gases may contribute to global warming.

Greenhouse gases released as a result of human activities include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

The effects of global warming include accelerated ice melt-down at the Earth’s poles, rising sea levels and loss of species that are unable to adapt.

Effects on health

Chemical pollution can affect human and animal life when ingested, breathed or absorbed through the skin. Short-term exposure to some chemicals pollutants can impair the immune, endocrine and reproductive system.

Exposure to chemical pollution may also lead to headaches, upper respiratory infections, dizziness, as well as nose, throat and eye irritations 

According to the World Health Organization, developing foetuses are amongst the most sensitive to some types of chemical pollution, as the toxins can affect the development of organ and growth.

The responsible use of chemicals

The safe handling and storage of all chemicals, regardless of where it is being utilised, requires the commitment from everyone to follow safe work procedures in terms of use, storage and disposal.

The Environmental Health Practitioner portrays a pivotal role within each region of the Garden Route district, as it is a Key Performance Area within the scope of practice of Municipal Health Services, to monitor the related activities of chemical safety within our communities.

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