Take lead, for example. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there is “no safe level” of lead in children’s blood, the organization sets a blood lead reference value (BLRV) to help determine when levels are high enough to require medical intervention. In 2012, this level was set at 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. But the cutoff was lowered to 3.5 µL/dL in 2021after more research demonstrated the harmful effects of even low levels of lead on a child’s brain, heart, and immune system. As new findings emerge, this cutoff could be lowered even further, says Marsit.
Getting a handle on the exposome might seem like an impossible challenge. As Mudway puts it, we’re trying to understand the impact of “everything, everywhere, at all times.”
But we are making good progress. Some research teams are focusing on groups of people who are especially vulnerable to diseases, and trying to work out how chemical exposures might play a role. Others are investigating the effects of specific pollutants in the lab. And tests That measure chemical exposures are improving over time. Perhaps the bigger challenge is to convince polluters to stop pumping so many of these chemicals into our environment in the first place.
Read more from Tech Review’s archive
Seabirds that eat microplastics have altered gut microbiomes. We ingest microplastics too—a credit card’s worth a week, by one estimate—so scientists are wondering what they might be doing to our own microbiomes, as I reported earlier this week.
When it comes to regulating emissions in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has limited powers. These were further diminished last summer, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA did not have the authority to cap carbon emissions, as my colleague Casey Crownhart reported.
Casey has also explored technologies that might help us cut down the emissions associated with air travel. (This article is from her excellent weekly newsletter, The Spark, which you can sign up for here.)
Unfortunately, reducing air pollution could have unintended consequences for climate change. Research suggests that as we clean up the air, droughts will get even more severe, as my colleague James Temple reported in 2019.
Less pollution, more art. That was the goal of startup Graviky Labs, which developed a system to collect soot and turn it into ink or paint for artists, as Rob Matheson reported in 2018.