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18 Chemicals in the Environment Linked to Health Concerns


Asbestos: Asbestos exposure can occur by breathing contaminated air or drinking contaminated water. Inhaling asbestos can lead to chronic lung disease and is known to cause at least four types of cancer: lung, mesothelioma, laryngeal, and ovarian. Other cancers linked to asbestos exposure include colorectal, throat, esophageal, kidney, and gallbladder cancers. Asbestos continues to be used in building supplies such as asbestos-cement shingles, asphalt roofing shingles and coatings, pipeline wrap, vinyl-asbestos floor tile, asbestos cement pipe, asbestos clothing; and automotive products such as automatic transmission components.

Bisphenol A (BPA): A common chemical in plastics, food, beverage can linings and other consumer products. BPA is a chemical that may interfere with thyroid hormone, puberty, infertility, abnormal chromosomes, and increased susceptibility to breast and prostate cancer. 
Formaldehyde: A volatile organic chemical (VOC), and long-term exposure can lead to leukemia and other respiratory tract cancers. Formaldehyde is found in a wide range of consumer products, including; antiseptics, medicines, cosmetics, nail polish, dishwashing liquids, fabrics and fabric softeners, carpet cleaners, wallpaper, glues and adhesives, and in building materials such as composite wood products, furniture, cabinets, countertops, insulation, and paneling. 
[Heavy Metals] Arsenic: Some health effects can include breathing problems, death if exposed to high levels, decreased intelligence, lung and skin cancer, nausea, diarrhea, and peripheral nervous system problems. In some locations, it can be found in the soil from smelters, some pesticides, treated wood, paints, metals, soaps, drinking water, and seafood can contain arsenic.
[Heavy Metals] Lead: Some health effects can include behavioral problems, anemia, kidney damage, learning difficulties, miscarriage, and reduced IQ. Lead can be found in art supplies, specialty paints, hair dyes, and drinking water when lead leaches out of pipes.
[Heavy Metals] MercurySome health effects can include brain damage, digestive problems, kidney damage, and lack of coordination. Mercury is emitted by coal-burning power plants, oil refineries, medical waste disposal facilities, dental offices, cremation facilities, and fish may contain it if mercury gets into the water.
Hexane: Solvents are widely used as an industrial cleaner & degreaser that are easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Short-term exposures can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, clumsiness, and drowsiness. Everyday household products, such as spray adhesives, contact cement, arts, and craft paints, contain hexane.
Hexavalent Chromium: A pollutant that can contaminate soil, water supplies, and hazardous waste sites. Exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause blood disorders, male reproductive harm, shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and non-cancerous lesions.
Methylene Chloride: A solvent used in paint strippers. Methylene Chloride has been linked to cancer, cognitive impairment, and asphyxiation. 
N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP): A solvent used in paint strippers linked to developmental impacts, including miscarriages. 
PCBs and DDT: A human-made chemical that was banned in 1972. It was first produced in the late 1920s to cool fluids for agricultural and commercial use. Even though it was banned, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products contain DDT. Studies suggest that PCBs are toxic to the immune system, reproductive organs, and thyroid. 
Perfluorinated Compounds: Chemicals created to repel water from clothing, carpeting, furniture, and food packaging. The two most commonly found contaminants are PFOA and PFOS. Health concerns include increased risk of various cancers, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive problems.
Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals (PBTs): Health effects can include cancer, neurological toxicity, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, or immune system damage.  
Phthalates: Hormone-disrupting chemicals that interfere with testosterone activity and male reproduction. Phthalates are used as adhesives, dyes or inks, and solvents in products such as air fresheners, detergents, fragrances, and nail polish. 
Toxic Flame Retardants (PBDEs): Three common mixtures of these chemicals - pentagon, octave, and deca. It can be found in house dust and indoor air, migrate out of products like electronics and furniture and wind up in house dust. Also been found n fish, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and infant formula have potential health effects: altered neurobehavioral, thyroid, liver, and impaired immune system.
Toxic Flame Retardants (TDCP and TCEP): Found in strollers, nursing pillows, couches, and chairs and suspected to cause cancer and neurological and reproductive harm. Traces of TDCP were detected in sewer effluence, river water, drinking water, sediment, and fish throughout the world. Health effects can include cancer of the liver, kidney, and testis. 
Trichloroethylene (TCE): A volatile organic compound used in consumer products such as adhesives, lubricants, and pepper spray. EPA classifies TCE as carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. Potential to induce neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, developmental toxicity, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, and endocrine effects. TCE is present in drinking water, surface water, ambient air, groundwater, and soil. 
Vinyl Chloride: Found in pipes, wire and cable coatings, packaging materials, upholstery for automobiles and furniture, wall and floor coverings, flooring, backing for carpets, housewares, medical devices, and children's toys. Major manufacturers have agreed to phase out the use of PVC in their products. Exposure to contaminated air and drinking contaminated water can lead to liver, brain, and some blood cancers. 
References:  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Environmental Protection Agency. Click on each chemical to learn more.

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