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Glossary

Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)

The amount of a chemical a person can be exposed to on a daily basis over an extended period of time (usually a lifetime) without suffering deleterious effects.

Active Ingredients

Any ingredient in a product formula that plays an active role in performing the marketed function of the product. For example, the active ingredient in many antibacterial products is triclosan, which is the chemical responsible for actually killing bacteria. The remaining ingredients assist in the delivery of this active ingredient and are sometimes called inserts. Pesticides are regulated primarily on the basis of active ingredients.

Acute Effect

An adverse effect on any living organism which results in severe symptoms that develop rapidly, typically after a single or brief exposure to a product or chemical; symptoms often subside after the exposure stops. Sudden poisoning and caustic burns are the two most common acute effects that follow common chemical exposure.

Acute Toxicity

The ability of a substance to cause severe biological harm or death soon after a single exposure or dose. Acute toxicity is based upon a measurement called LD50s or LC50s, which refers to the "lethal dose" or "lethal concentration" (in the air if it’s a gas) that would to kill 50 percent of a test population within 14 days after an exposure to the concentration of chemical. When classifying chemicals by toxicity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that exposure through ingestion, inhalation and absorption through the skin be considered. EPA requires warning labels for pesticide products based on LD50s. HCHW ranks acute toxicity as very highly toxic, highly toxic, moderately toxic, and slightly toxic.

Alkanol Amines

(also monoethanolamine, diethanolamine, triethanolamine) A class of synthetic solvents that are precursors to the carcinogen diethanolnitrosamine.

Alkyl Aryl Sodium Sulfonates

(See Alkyl benzene sulfonates [ABS])

Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates (ABS)

(also linear alkyl benzene sulfonates or LAS, linear alkyl sodium sulfonates) A class of synthetic surfactants (see Surfactants below for more information). ABS are very slow to biodegrade and seldom used. LAS, however, are the most common surfactants in use. During the manufacturing process, carcinogens and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. While LAS do biodegrade, they do so slowly and are of low to moderate toxicity. LAS are synthetic. The pure compounds may cause skin irritation on prolonged contact, just like soap. Allergic reactions are rare. Because oleo-based alternatives are available, LAS should not be used.

Found in: Conventional laundry detergents (usually identified as "anionic surfactants").

Alkyl Benzyl Sulfonates

(See Alkyl benzene sulfonates [ABS])

Alkyl Phenoxy Polyethoxy Ethanols

(also Nonyl Phenoxy Ethoxylate or Nonyl Phenol Ethoxylate)
This is a general name for a group of synthetic surfactants (see Surfactants below for more information). They are slow to biodegrade in the environment and have been implicated in chronic health problems. Researchers in England have found that in trace amounts they activate estrogen receptors in cells, which in turn alter the activity of certain genes. For example, in experiments they have been found to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and feminize male fish. One member of this family of chemicals is used as a common spermicide, indicating the general level of high biological toxicity associated with these compounds.

Found in: Conventional laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, hard surface cleaners.

Amide

A class of chemicals that includes insecticides and repellents, such as DEET, acetachlor.

Ammonia

Ammonia is an irritant that affects the skin, eyes and respiratory passages. The symptoms of ammonia exposure are: a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat; pain in the lungs; headache; nausea; coughing; and increased breathing rate. Ammonia adds nitrogen to the environment. In areas that cannot handle the added nitrogen, disruptions to the ecosystem will result. These include toxic effects to plants, fish and animals. Ammonia is included as a toxic chemical on the EPA's Community Right-to-Know list and the EPA has set limits on permissible levels in bodies of water. The FDA also regulates the amount of ammonium compounds in food. OSHA regulates the maximum allowable levels in the air to protect workers.

Found in: Conventional window cleaners.

Amyl Acetate

A synthetic grease cutter, amyl acetate is a neurotoxin implicated in central nervous system depression.

Found in: Conventional furniture polishes.

Anionic Surfactants

(See alkyl benzene sulfonates)

Anodize

to coat metal by subjecting it to electrolytic action

Antibacterial

Any product or ingredient that kills bacteria in order to sanitize surfaces and materials.

Antibiotic

A substance that can destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Antibiotics are widely used in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

Aromatic Hydrocarbons

 

A type of hydrocarbon, such as benzene or toluene, with a specific type of ring structure. Aromatics are sometimes added to gasoline in order to increase octane. Some aromatics are toxic.

 

Artificial Colors

Artificial colors can be made from petroleum, though some are made from coal. Many do not degrade in the environment and also have toxic effects on both fish and mammals. They do not serve any useful purpose. Additionally, they often can cause allergies and skin or eye irritation.

Artificial Fragrances

Artificial fragrances can be made from petroleum. Many do not degrade in the environment, and may have toxic effects on both fish and mammals. Additionally, they often can cause allergies and skin or eye irritation.

Asthma

A chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterized by a narrowing of the body's airways, which results in recurrent attacks of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and labored breathing.

Benzalkonium Chloride

A synthetic disinfectant and bactericide, this chemical is biologically active (meaning it can negatively affect living organisms). The widespread indiscriminate use of bactericides is also now causing the emergence of new strains of bacteria that are resistant to them. Benzalkonium chloride, and other synthetic disinfectants, should be avoided for these reasons.

Found in: Conventional spray disinfectants, disinfecting cleaners, disinfecting hand soaps and lotions.

Benzene

(also benzol, benzole, annulene, benzeen, phenyl hydride, coal naphtha). Made from petroleum and coal, benzene is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a carcinogen, is listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant, and is on the EPA's Community Right-to-Know list.

Found in: Conventional oven cleaners, detergents, furniture polish, spot removers.

Bioaccumulation

The process that occurs when animals and human beings repeatedly ingest a chemical over time (usually in very small doses) via air, food, and/or water, or through absorption by the skin. If the ingested chemical is persistent, it can build up or bioaccumulate in bodily tissues (especially fat and internal organs) and result in a body burden. Bioaccumulation also refers to a specific material's slowly increasing presence in animals and people as it moves up the food chain.

Biodegradable

Capable of decomposing under natural conditions.

Body Burden

The amount of a chemical stored in the body at a given time, especially a potential toxin in the body as the result of exposure. Some substances build up in the body because they are stored in fat or bone or because they leave the body very slowly.

Butoxyethanol

(see butyl cellosolve)

Butyl Cellosolve

(also butoxyethanol, butyl oxitol, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether). A toxic synthetic solvent and grease cutter that can irritate mucous membranes and cause liver and kidney damage. Butyl cellosolve is also a neurotoxin that can depress the nervous system and cause a variety of associated problems.

Found in: Conventional spray cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, abrasive cleaners.

Butyl Oxitol

(see butyl cellosolve)

Cancer

Any one of a group of diseases that occur when cells in the body become abnormal and grow or multiply out of control.

Carbamate

A class of pesticides (primarily insecticides, but also includes fungicides and herbicides) that impact the central nervous system and brain by blocking an enzyme crucial to nerve transmission. Carbamates are among the most widely used pesticides in the world. However, very little research exists on their effects on animals and humans or long-term toxicity.

Carcinogen

Any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer.

Caustic Soda

(see sodium hydroxide)

Caution

A regulated term, which when used on the labels of chemical consumer products indicates that more than one ounce must be ingested before life threatening symptoms will occur.

Certified Organic

National Organic Standards developed and finalized in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assure shoppers that foods marketed as certified organic "meet consistent, uniform growing and production guidelines." Beginning on September 21, 2002, producers and handlers must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent to sell, label, or represent their products as either "100 percent organic," "organic," or "made with organic (ingredients or food)."

Certified Sustainable Wood

Timber products that have been certified by an agency to demonstrate that the wood has been farmed and harvested in a manner that maintains the integrity of forest ecosystems relative to other practices.

Chemical Hypersensitivity

The condition of being sensitized to a chemical.

Chlorinated Compound

Any compound or chemical that contains chlorine atoms. Chlorinated compounds tend to exhibit the characteristics of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. In fact, most chlorinated chemicals are classified as POPs.

Chlorine

At room temperature, chlorine is a yellow-green gas that is heavier than air and has a strong irritating odor. It can be converted to a liquid under pressure or cold temperatures.

Chlorine is mainly used as bleach in the manufacture of paper and cloth and to make a wide variety of products.

Chlorophene

(See O-benzyl-p-chlorophenol )

Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA)

CCA, 22 percent pure arsenic combined with chromium and copper, is injected into wood at high pressure to prevent rot and insect damage. The arsenic migrates to the surface of treated wood, where it can be picked up on hands and then ingested. (This is a particular concern with children playing on playgrounds, where CCA treated wood is common.) Arsenic can also contaminate the soil under and surrounding treated wood. CCA was the most common wood preservative and pesticide used in the United States. Fortunately, as a result of consumer pressure to review its safety, the EPA and the treated wood industry agreed to a ban on CCA in outdoor wood intended for consumer use by the end of 2003.

Chronic

Chronic Effect: An adverse effect on a human or animal in which symptoms recur frequently or develop slowly over a long period of time.

Chronic Exposure: Multiple exposures occurring over an extended period of time or over a significant fraction of an animal's or human's lifetime (Usually seven years to a lifetime.)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community members purchase a share in a local organic farm's operation at the start of each growing season, or a subscription" to the farm for a set period of time. In return, members receive fresh produce directly from their grower every week during harvest season (usually June through September). Payment is usually made up front to help cover growers' costs. CSAs provide markets for small farmers, funds for farmers to start out the growing season, and inexpensive seasonal fresh (often picked that day) produce for consumers.

Crystalline silica

Crystalline silica is carcinogenic and acts as an eye, skin and lung irritant.

Found in: Conventional all-purpose cleaners.

Danger

A regulated term used on the labels of chemical consumer products to indicate that a few drops to one teaspoon of the product can be life-threatening if ingested

Diammonium EDTA

(See EDTA)

Diethanolamines

(also diethanolamine, triethanolamine and monoethanolamine)

A synthetic family of surfactants, this group of compounds is used to neutralize acids in products to make them non-irritating. Diethanolamine is slow to biodegrade and reacts with natural nitrogen oxides and sodium nitrite pollutants in the atmosphere to form diethanolnitrosamine, a suspected carcinogen.

Found in: Conventional personal care products and some detergents.

Diethylene Dioxide

(see Dioxane)

Dioxane

(also diethylene dioxide, diethylene ether, diethylene oxide) (not to be confused with DIOXIN)

Dioxane is a solvent classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and some research suggests that it may suppress the immune system. Dioxane is listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant and is on the EPA's Community Right-to-Know list.

Found in: Conventional window cleaners and is an impurity in some ethoxylated surfactants.

EDTA

(ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate)

A class of synthetic, phosphate-alternative compounds used to reduce calcium and magnesium hardness in water. EDTA is also used to prevent bleaching agents from becoming active before they're immersed in water and as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does not readily biodegrade and once introduced into the general environment can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals trapped in underwater sediments, allowing them to re-enter and re-circulate in the food chain.

Found in: Conventional laundry detergents.

Endocrine Disruptors

A substance that stops the production or blocks the transmission of hormones in the body.

EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency charged with ensuring a clean, safe, and healthy environment.

Ethyl Cellosolve

This synthetic solvent is both a nasal irritant and a neurotoxin (see Solvents).

Found in: Conventional all-purpose cleaners, window cleaners.

Ethylene Glycol

Ethylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. It is odorless, but has a sweet taste. Ethylene glycol is used to make antifreeze and de-icing solutions for cars, airplanes, and boats. It is also used in hydraulic brake fluids and inks used in stamp pads, ballpoint pens, and print shops.

 

Ethylene Glycol Monobutylether

(see butyl cellosolve)

Fatty acid Alkanol Amides/Amines

These surfactants are made by reacting an ethanolamine with a fatty acid obtained from either synthetic petroleum sources or natural vegetable oils. (Most fatty acids are produced synthetically as this method is currently less expensive.) Fatty acid alkanol amides can react with materials in the environment to form nitrosamines (see diethanolamines above).

Found in: Conventional shampoos and conditioners, liquid cleansers, and polishes.

Fatty Acid Diethanolamines

(See cocamide DEA)

Flavoring

Artificial or natural additives used to enhance taste because, during processing, a food’s natural flavors are lost. Or flavors may be used to replace a real food ingredient. For example, fruit drinks may contain flavor additives instead of real fruit juice.

Food Color

An additive used to change or enhance the color of a food item. Any color additive derived from natural sources, such as animals (including insects), fruits, vegetables or minerals, is exempt from FDA certification; but most must meet defined criteria for specifications and purity. Only nine synthetic colors are allowed for use in food, but industry prefers them — synthetic colors are unflavored, consistent and cheaper to produce. Synthetic colors are derived from coal tar, a petroleum product.

Formaldehyde

A colorless, pungent, and irritating gas, CH20, used chiefly as a disinfectant and preservative and in synthesizing other compounds like resins.

fungicide

A substance the kills fungi, such as molds, mildew, rusts, blight. Fungicides are used outdoors to prevent and treat disease in the garden and on the farm. They may be used on foods to prevent mold growth during transport and storage. Indoors, fungicides are used prevent or control the growth of mold and other fungi in building and decorative products.

gene drift

A term used most often to describe what happens when genetically engineered crops accidentally cross-pollinate other crops or closely related weed species. When this happens, non-engineered crops and wild plants become contaminated with genetically engineered characteristics that can make organic crops non-organic and could cause weeds and wild plants to become heartier and more successful than other species, giving them the advantage and disturbing ecosystems.

General biocide

An antibacterial chemical capable of disrupting so many different cellular functions at once that bacteria encountering it cannot survive. General biocide antibacterial products do not contribute to the rising problem of disinfectant and antibiotic resistant “super bug” bacteria.

Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)

Designation by the FDA that a chemical or substance (including certain pesticides) added to food is considered safe by experts, and so is exempted from the usual FFDCA food additive tolerance requirements.

Genetic Engineering

A process of inserting new genetic information into existing cells in order to modify a specific organism for the purpose of changing one of its characteristics.

Germicides

 

Any compound that kills disease-causing microorganisms.

 

Glycol Ethers

(See butyl cellosolve and ethyl cellosolve)

Greenwashing

A spin on the term “whitewashing”, greenwashing occurs when manufacturers attempts to label a product “green” or “environmentally friendly” when in fact there's little or no difference between the product in question and regular products of its kind.

Heavy Metal

Metallic elements with high atomic weights; (e.g. mercury, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, and lead); can damage living things at low concentrations and tend to accumulate in the food chain.

HEPA

Used in vacuums and air purifiers, HEPA filters are highly effective at blocking particles as small as 0.3 microns (a micron is 0.0004 inches), which can irritate airways or cause an allergic reaction. Equipment must be built to accommodate HEPA filters. They cannot be installed on non-HEPA vacuums, air purifiers and air conditioners, as air does not flow easily through them and can cause motors to burn out.

Herbicide

A chemical pesticide designed to control or destroy plants, weeds, or grasses.

Hydrocarbon

Any compound consisting only of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Petroleum consists of many different hydrocarbon compounds connected together on a “chain” . Breaking this chain apart separates these various hydrocarbon compounds for use as the basis of synthetic chemicals.

Hydrochloric Acid

(also muriatic acid)

A strong mineral or "inorganic" acid. In high concentrations, it is extremely corrosive.

Found in: Conventional toilet bowl cleaners.

Hydrogen Chloride

At room temperature, hydrogen chloride is a colorless to slightly yellow, corrosive, nonflammable gas that is heavier than air and has a strong irritating odor. On exposure to air, hydrogen chloride forms dense white corrosive vapors. Hydrogen chloride can be released from volcanoes.

Hydrogen chloride has many uses, including cleaning, pickling, electroplating metals, tanning leather, and refining and producing a wide variety of products. Hydrogen chloride can be formed during the burning of many plastics. Upon contact with water, it forms hydrochloric acid. Both hydrogen chloride and hydrochloric acid are corrosive.

Hypochlorite

(See chlorine)

in utero

Latin term meaning "in the womb."

Inerts

Pesticide components such as solvents, carriers, dispersants, and surfactants that are not active against target pests. Not all inert ingredients are innocuous.

Insecticide

A pesticide compound specifically used to kill or prevent the growth of insects.

Integrated Pest Management

A mixture of chemical and other, non-pesticide, methods to control pests.

Irradiation

Exposure to radiation of wavelengths shorter than those of visible light (gamma, x-ray, or ultra- violet), for medical purposes, to sterilize milk or other foodstuffs, or to induce polymerization of monomers or vulcanization of rubber.

Kerosene

(also mineral spirits)

A synthetic distillate used as a grease cutter, kerosene can damage lung tissues and dissolve the fatty tissue that surrounds nerve cells. Mineral spirits function similarly and often contain the carcinogen benzene as an impurity.

Found in: Conventional all-purpose cleaners and abrasives (use of kerosene in these product categories is rare), furniture polishes, degreaser.

Landfill

1. Sanitary landfills are disposal sites for non-hazardous solid wastes spread in layers, compacted to the smallest practical volume, and covered by material applied at the end of each operating day.

2. Secure chemical landfills are disposal sites for hazardous waste, selected and designed to minimize the chance of release of hazardous substances into the environment.

Lethal Dose (LD50)

Also referred to as LD50, the dose of a toxicant that will kill 50 percent of test organisms within a designated period of time; the lower the LD50, the more toxic the compound.

Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates

(See alkyl benzene sulfonates)

Linear Alkyl Sulfonates

(See alkyl benzene sulfonates)

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

A compilation of information required under the OSHA Communication Standard on the identity of hazardous chemicals, health, and physical hazards, exposure limits, and precautions. Section 311 of SARA requires facilities to submit MSDSs under certain circumstances.

Methanol

(also methyl alcohol)

An alcohol that can be used as an alternative fuel or as a gasoline additive. It is less volatile than gasoline; when blended with gasoline it lowers the carbon monoxide emissions but increases hydrocarbon emissions. Used as pure fuel, its emissions are less ozone-forming than those from gasoline. Poisonous to humans and animals if ingested.

Methyl Alcohol

(See methanol above)

Mineral Acids

(See hydrochloric acid or phosphoric acid. Also sulfuric acid)

Mineral Spirits

(See kerosene)

miticide

A substance that kills mites.

Monoethanolamine

(See diethanolamine)

Morpholine

A highly toxic synthetic that can cause liver and kidney damage. While this ingredient is rare in consumer products, its extreme toxicity warrants its inclusion on this list.

Found in: Conventional all-purpose cleaners and abrasives, waxes, polishes, antiseptic products.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)

A diagnostic label for people who suffer multi-system illnesses as a result of contact with, or proximity to, a variety of airborne agents and other substances.

Muriatic Acid

(See hydrochloric acid)

Mutagen

An agent that causes a permanent genetic change in a cell other than that which occurs during normal growth. Mutagenicity is the capacity of a chemical or physical agent to cause such permanent changes.

Naphthalene

A member of the carcinogenic benzene family derived from coal tar or made synthetically. Known to bioaccumulate in marine organisms, naphthalene causes allergic skin reactions and cataracts, alters kidney function and is extremely toxic to children.

Found in: Conventional deodorizers, carpet cleaners, toilet deodorizers.

Naphthas

(See petroleum distillates)

National Toxicology Program

A program of the Department of Health and Human Services created in 1978 to coordinate toxicology testing programs within the federal government, strengthen the science base in toxicology, develop and validate improved testing methods, and provide information about potentially toxic chemicals to health, regulatory, and research agencies, scientific and medical communities, and the public.

Nitrilotriacetic Acid (NTA)

A compound now replacing phosphates in detergents.

No Observable Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL)

An exposure level at which there are no statistically or biologically significant increases in the frequency or severity of adverse effects between the exposed population and its appropriate control; some effects may be produced at this level, but they are not considered as adverse, or as precursors to adverse effects. In an experiment with several NOAELs, the regulatory focus is primarily on the highest one, leading to the common usage of the term NOAEL as the highest exposure without adverse effects.

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