GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment

Everyday Exposures


Before we get started, take a moment to think about what health means to you. Does it mean you're free of disease or illness? Able to accomplish the physical and mental tasks you need to accomplish?

Or, what do you mean when you use the term "health" to talk about non-humans? What does it mean to call a dog healthy? or say, "that is a healthy tree"?

Health is a contested term, used to describe individuals, populations, regions, humans, and non-humans alike. We often have a better idea of what is not healthy, rather than what is. Keep struggling with what health means and how you are using it as you consider this week's materials.

As mentioned in the introduction, we are exposed to chemicals every day, everywhere. They are in our water bottles, the air we breathe, and the furniture we sit on. For a sense of this magnitude, chemicals that are manufactured or used in products sold in the United States are required to be included in the Toxic Substances Control Act Registry, a catalog with over 84,000 chemicals (EPA, 2014). Some of these chemicals can be harmful to human and environmental health at a given dose, others are always dangerous and require additional regulation. Some chemicals can cause changes in the body that can lead to diseases, like cancer. However, it's important to note that susceptibility to these adverse effects can be different for individuals based on many factors, including age, weight, and genetic predisposition.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has developed a tool to give you a sense of the extent of your daily exposures, depending on the kind of places in which you might live and work. Tox Town details just some of the most common exposures to chemicals you might have in a city, on a farm, or in other kinds of locations. As you explore this interactive activity, make sure to click on some of the links with more information about exposures and the chemical toxins in those exposures. As you work through some of these links, ask yourself not only what your own personal exposures are, but also what your exposures might be if you lived in a different location, had a different occupation, or had a different class, racial, ethnic, or gender background.


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2015). TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. Retrieved June 15, 2016, from