Chemistry Quick Facts

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Hazardous / Toxic Substances by Hazard Level*

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Radioactive Natural Material
Name & Uses & Radioactivity
Exposure Sources
Health Effects (Symptoms)
Lethality Exposure Test
1 Arsenic
(wood preserver, pesticides)
contaminated food and water; sawdust, burning smoke from wood treated with arsenic; copper or lead smelting, pesticides At high levels, inorganic arsenic can cause death. Lower levels can cause lung irritation, nausea, vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, skin redness high (skin, lungs, bladder, liver, kidney and prostate cancer) yes yes
(batteries, ammunition, pipes, X-rays shield)
contaminated food and water; water pipes, lead-based paints, stained glass Lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. low yes yes
(chlorine gas and caustic soda production, thermometers, dental fillings, batteries)
fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury; vapors from spills, incinerators, mercury-containing fuels, dental work Mercury, at high levels, may damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. low no yes
4Vinyl Chloride
(PVC production)
mainly by breathing: plastics industries, hazardous waste sites, and landfills, contaminated wells Breathing vinyl chloride for long periods of time can result in permanent liver damage, immune reactions, nerve damage, and liver cancer. high (liver, brain, lung and blood cancer) yes limited
5Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
(electrical equipment before 1977: fluorescent lighting, coolants and lubricants in transformers)
old fluorescent lighting, television sets and refrigerators, that were made 30 or more years ago; contaminated food, fish (especially sportfish caught in contaminated lakes or rivers), meat, and dairy products; hazardous waste sites and drinking contaminated well water acne-like skin conditions in adults and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children low (liver and biliary tract cancer) no yes
(plastics, resins, drugs, dyes, pesticides)
tobacco smoke, exhaust from motor vehicles, and industrial emissions; vapors (or gases) from glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents; waste sites, gas stations, benzene industries Breathing benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and unconsciousness; long-term benzene exposure causes effects on the bone marrow and can cause anemia and leukemia. high (leukemia) yes yes
7Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
(roofing tar, dyes, plastics, pesticides)
by breathing air contaminated by wild fires or coal tar, or by eating foods that have been grilled. some cancers medium yes limited
(batteries, pigments, metal coatings, plastics)
The general population is exposed from breathing cigarette smoke or eating cadmium contaminated foods. Cadmium damages the lungs, can cause kidney disease, and may irritate the digestive tract. low yes yes
(In the past, as an inhaled anesthetic during surgery; today, to make other chemicals.)
contaminated air or water; swimming pools dizziness, fatigue, headache, liver and kidneys damage, skin sores low no limited
(in the past: pesticides, insecticides, drugs; banned in U.S in 1972 )
eating contaminated meat, fish and poultry High levels of DDT can affect the nervous system causing excitability, tremors and seizures. In women, DDE can cause a reduction in the duration of lactation and an increased chance of having a premature baby. low no yes
11Trichloroethylene (TCE)
(solvents, grease, paint & spot removers, adhesives)
using spot removers, typewriter correction fluid; contaminated drinking, swimming, and showering water Drinking or breathing high levels of trichloroethylene may cause nervous system effects, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma, and possibly death. medium yes limited
(chrome plating, dyes, pigments, leather tanning, wood preserving)
ingesting contaminated food or drinking water or breathing contaminated workplace air Chromium(VI) at high levels can damage the nose and can cause cancer. high (lung cancer) yes limited
13Phosphorus, White
(ammunition, fertilizers, food additives, cleansers)
breathing contaminated air, eating contaminated fish or game birds, drinking or swimming in contaminated water burns and irritation, liver, kidney, heart, lung, or bone damage, and death. low yes no
(In 1988, EPA banned all uses except termites control)
contaminated foods: root crops, meats, fish, shellfish; touching contaminated soil High levels of chlordane can cause damage to the nervous system or liver. low yes limited
(rubber compounds, hydraulic fluid, solvent)
hazardous waste sites; breathing air or drinking contaminated water near hazardous waste sites unknown low no limited
16Aldrin / Dieldrin
(In 1987, EPA banned all uses)
natural contaminated foods: root crops, fish, or seafood after years of exposure aldrin can affect the nervous system low no yes
(no longer produced or used commerically in the U.S.)
uncontrolled hazardous waste cancer of the urinary bladder high (cancer of the urinary bladder) yes yes
(electroplating, metallurgy, organic chemicals production, photographic developing, plastics)
contaminated air, water, soil, foods, smoking, breathing smoke-filled air during fires high levels: harms the brain and heart, coma and death; lower levels: breathing difficulties, heart pains, vomiting, blood changes, headaches, and enlargement of the thyroid gland low yes limited
hazardous waste site, contaminated water, fish and shellfish Breathing, eating, or drinking high levels of toxaphene could damage the lungs, nervous system, and kidneys, and can even cause death. low yes yes
20Tetrachloroethylene (PERC)
(dry cleaner)
clothes from dry cleaners, contaminated water dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death low yes limited
21Hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH)
contaminated food and air in the workplace high exposure: blood disorders, dizziness, headaches, seizures, and changes in the levels of sex hormones low yes yes
contaminated foods and milk high levels: damage to liver and nervous system low no yes
(pesticide, log treatment)
contaminated groundwater and air from hazardous waste site and industry brain, skin and sperm in males; death if exposure is very high. low yes limited
24Disulfoton (pesticide) contaminated water, food and air High exposures can cause harmful effects on the nervous system low yes limited
(aquatic life pesticide)
breathing air, cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust burning of the nose and throat; lung damage low yes limited
(color pigments)
breathing dust or skin contact where it is manufactured or used sore throat, respiratory infections, stomach upset, headache, dizziness, burns, dermatitis low no yes
(ceramics, alloying)
breathing air from beryllium industries lung damage, chronic beryllium disease (CBD) high (lung cancer) yes yes
28Endrin (pesticides) air, water, or soil near a hazardous waste site, contaminated foods severe central nervous system injury, convulsions, headaches, dizziness, nervousness, confusion, nausea, vomiting low yes yes
(antiflame materials, pesticides)
contaminated water, food At high levels, this chemical may cause damage to the male reproductive system. low no yes
(pesticide, wood preservative)
wood treatment facilities, production of utility poles, railroad ties, wharf pilings; hazardous waste sites high levels: increases in body temperature, liver effects, damage to the immune system, reproductive effects, developmental effects. medium yes yes
31Carbon Tetrachloride
(aerosols, pesticides)
contaminated air, water, soil high amounts: can damage the liver, kidneys, and nervous system low yes yes
(alloying, paints)
contaminated foods, air, water; cobalt industries At low levels, it is part of vitamin B12, which is essential for good health. At high levels, it may harm the lungs and heart. medium yes yes
33Endosulfan (pesticide) mostly from eating contaminated food central nervous system low yes yes
(coins, jewelry, batteries)
mostly contaminated food; nickel industries skin effects, workers who breathed very large amounts of nickel compounds developed chronic bronchitis and lung and nasal sinus cancers yes no yes
35Diazinon (pesticide) manufacture and professional applications by contact with contaminated soils or contaminated runoff water or groundwater very high levels: death; mild levels: headache, dizziness, weakness, feeling of anxiety, constriction of the pupils, blurred vision low yes limited
36Methoxychlor (pesticide) mainly when workers, farmers, and gardeners use this pesticide unknown low no limited
(paints, lacquers, adhesives)
automobile exhaust, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives Inhaling high levels of toluene in a short time can cause dizziness, sleepiness, unconsciousness, and even death. low yes yes
(waste product)
most likely from living near or working in plants that make gas from coal, process oil shale, or produce wood pulp; hazardous waste sites nervous system no no yes
(coatings, battteries, alloying)
mostly from eating food, drinking water, contaminated workplace air Low levels of zinc are essential for good health. Large amounts can cause stomach cramps, anemia, and changes in cholesterol levels low no yes
40Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP)
(plastic flexibility additive)
from intravenous fluids delivered through plastic tubing, ingesting contaminated foods or water At the levels found in the environment, DEHP is not expected to cause harmful health effects in humans low no limited
(PVC plastics)
mostly from breathing air contaminated from the burning of wood, tobacco; moth repellents large amounts may damage blood cells low yes yes
(plastics industry)
mainly contaminated air at the workplace Breathing high levels can affect the liver, kidney, and central nervous system low no limited
43Methylene Chloride
(solvents, paint stripper)
mostly from breathing contaminated air large amounts can damage the central nervous system. Contact of eyes or skin can result in burns. low no yes
442,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT) (explosive) from eating, drinking, touching, or inhaling contaminated soil, water, food, or air anemia, abnormal liver function, skin irritation, and cataracts low no yes
451,1-Dichloroethane (grease remover) Breathing air containing it from industrial releases or hazardous waste sites Breathing very high levels can cause heart disorders low yes yes
(rocket fuels)
contaminated air hydrazines industries; contaminated fish, water nervous system effects, as well as liver and kidney damage low no limited
(dyes, wood preservatives)
mainly from breathing air, drinking water, or eating food that contains the chemicals low levels: cataracts, serious skin rashes, decreases in white blood cells; high levels: increased heart and breathing rates, and even death. low yes yes
(building, friction & heat-resistant materials)
breathing contaminated air in workplaces that make or use asbestos; air of buildings containing asbestos that are being torn down or renovated Asbestos exposure can cause serious lung problems and cancer high (lung cancer, mesothelioma) yes yes
(bleach, disinfectant)
facilities that use chlorine, water and swimming pool diinfectants made of chlorine (sodium hypochlorite ), household bleach. Chlorine gas can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Exposure to high levels can result in corrosive damage to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tissues, and could lead to pulmonary edema and even death in extreme cases. low yes limited
mainly from contaminated food high level can cause liver disease low no limited
(radiography, neutron source)
near industries that burn coal or other fuels, drinking water from wells high levels results in an increased risk of bone, liver, and breast cancer; anemia, cataracts yes no limited
(solvent, cleaner, aerosol)
Usually occurs by breathing contaminated air. It is found in building materials, cleaning products, paints, and metal degreasing agents. Inhaling high levels can cause dizzines, lightheadedness and even unconsciousness low no limited
532,4- & 2,6-Dinitrotoluene
(polyurethane foams, explosives, dyes)
Breathing contaminated air near manufacturing plants, contaminated water & food, hazardous waste sites Exposure to high levels may affect the nervous system and the blood low no limited
54Ethion (insecticide) mostly from skin contact or breathing contaminated air high doses can cause nausea, blurring or dimness of vision, muscle tremors, and labored breathing low yes limited
(nuclear energy & weapons)
Everyone is exposed to low amounts of uranium through food, air, and water. Exposure to high levels of uranium can cause kidney disease. It is not known to cause cancer, but can decay into other radioactive materials that may. low no yes
(make styrene, fuels, solvent)
an industry where ethylbenzene is used or made, factories or highways, contaminated water Breathing very high levels can cause dizziness and throat and eye irritation. low no limited
(ceramics, alloying for aerospace industry)
everyone is exposed to small amounts of thorium in air, water, and food. Breathing air near facilities where uranium, phosphate, or tin ore is processed. Living in homes built on soil with high levels of thorium. causes cancers of the lung, pancreas, and blood in workers exposed to high levels of it in the air. high (lung, pancreas, and blood cancers) yes yes
(earthquake prediction, exploration for petroleum and uranium.)
very low levels in outdoor air, higher levels in indoor air in homes, schools, and office buildings, drinking and well water Exposure to high levels results in an increased risk of lung cancer high (lung cancer) yes limited
(drilling muds, paint, bricks, ceramics, glass, rubber)
Exposure to barium occurs mostly in the workplace or from drinking contaminated water. low level: gastrointestinal disturbances, muscle weakness; high levels for a long time can damage the kidneys. low yes limited
(pesticides, fuel additive)
contaminated water, food and air near manganese industries high levels: damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and the developing fetus; (small amounts of manganese are needed for good health) low no yes
239Pu (nuclear weapons)
238Pu (electrical power)
Very low levels of plutonium are found in air, drinking water and food. Higher levels are found at nuclear facilities, radioactive waste disposal sites. unknown low no yes
(ceramics, glass products, pyrotechnics, paint pigments, fluorescent lights, medicines)
Exposure to stable or radioactive strontium occurs from ingesting contaminated food or drinking water or breathing contaminated air. In children, high levels of stable strontium can impair bone growth. High levels of radioactive strontium can cause anemia or cancer. high (leukemia) yes limited
63Polonium - 210
(neutron source, nuclear weapons, radioisotope thermoelectric generators)
ingested, inhaled, radiation from nuclear facilities and laboratories cancer, severe central nervous system damage, destruction of bone marrow, heart failure, gastrointestinal (GI) syndrome, death high (lung and liver cancers, leukemia) yes yes
Source: ATSDR - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry / U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

*Hazard Level does not necessarily mean "most toxic", but rather a combination of frequency, toxicity, and potential for human exposure.

*The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on dose, duration, how you are exposed, and whether other chemicals are involved.

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Last updated: April 2011
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