Take the initiative, for example. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 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 microliters/dL in 2021 after more research showed the harmful effects of even low levels of lead on a child’s brain, heart and immune system. As new findings emerge, that cutoff may be lowered further, Marcit says.

Mastering exposure can seem like an impossible task. As Mudway says, we’re trying to understand the impact of “everything, everywhere, always.”

But we are making good progress. Some research groups are focusing on groups of people who are particularly vulnerable to disease and trying to figure out what role chemical exposure might play. Others study exposure to specific pollutants in the laboratory. And tests that measure exposure to chemicals are improving over time. Perhaps the bigger challenge is convincing polluters to stop pumping so many of these chemicals into our environment.

More from the Tech Review archives

Seabirds eating microplastics have altered their gut microbiome. We also ingest microplastics—by one estimate, it’s worth a credit card in a week—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 authority. They were further reduced last summer when the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA does not have the authority to limit carbon emissions, as my colleague Casey Crownhart reported.

Casey also researched technologies that could help us reduce the emissions associated with air travel. (This article is from her excellent weekly newsletter, The Spark, which you can subscribe to here.)

Unfortunately, reducing air pollution can have unintended consequences for climate change. Research shows that as the air gets cleaner, droughts will become 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.

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