Chemicals that affect our health and environment are present in our lives. Find out about a few of the chemicals or classes of chemicals that are raising health concerns and what we can do to protect ourselves from these toxics:
What do fast food wrappers, carpet stain protectors, and popular raincoats have in common? They are made with a unique class of chemicals known variously as PFCs (perfluorinated compounds), PFASs (perfluoroalkyl substances), or simply Teflon chemicals. These compounds are designed to repel both oil and water, but with this special chemistry comes a special problem: they are so highly persistent that scientists call them “virtually indestructible.” And with their use over the last half-century, they have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife. Learn More
Toxic Flame Retardants
TCPP (tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate) is a flame retardant commonly used in polyurethane foam in consumer products and in home insulation, and in electronics. It is used as an additive to polyurethane foam and is not chemically bound, and it escapes from products into the indoor environment. Learn More
TBB (tetrabromobenzoate) is a flame retardant used in polyurethane foam for furniture and children’s products, as the major component in the product known as Firemaster 550, as well as in electronics. TBB is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment. Learn More
TBPH (bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate) is a flame retardant used in polyurethane foam for furniture and children’s products, as a component in the product known as Firemaster 550, and in wire and cable and other plastics. TBPH is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam and plastic, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment. Learn More
Triphenyl phospate (TPP or TPHP) is a flame retardant used in polyurethane foam for furniture and children’s products, as a component in the product known as Firemaster 550, and in electronics casings and other plastics. It is also used as a plasticizer and is used in other types of products, including nail polish. Learn More
V6, or 2,2-bis(chloromethyl)-propane-1,3-diyltetrakis(2-chloroethyl) bisphosphate, is a flame retardant commonly used in polyurethane foam in consumer products and automobile foam. Learn More
PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers)
There are three common mixtures of these chemicals—penta, octa, and deca.
- Penta and octa are no longer produced in the U.S., but millions of pounds remain in homes, offices, and the environment due to extensive use in consumer products.
- Deca is still used widely, with about 50 million pounds a year in the U.S. used primarily in television casings. Deca is also approved for use in residential upholstered furniture and mattresses to meet flame retardant standards.
- Deca has been shown to break down into penta and octa.4.
TCEP is flame retardant added to polyurethane foam and is found in furniture and baby products, as well as some plastics and carpet backing. In a 2002 study examining stream contaminants near industrial facilities, TCEP was one of the most common.
Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP)
TDCPP was a flame retardant used in children’s pajamas in the 1970s until it was eliminated from that use due to adverse health effects. Now, TDCPP is a widely used flame retardant added to polyurethane foam in furniture and baby products. According to a 2011 study looking at the presence of various flame retardants in baby products, TDCPP was the most common additive. Learn More
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are plasticizers and fragrance carriers used in a wide array of consumer products, especially those containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Learn More
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests, such as insects or weeds. Many different kinds of synthetic (human-made) pesticides are used in agriculture or in home-use products. Learn More
PCBs and DDT
PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) are synthetic (human-made) chemicals first produced in the late 1920s. They were used as cooling fluids in electrical equipment and machinery because of their durability and resistance to fire.
- Monsanto stopped producing them in 1977. The EPA mandated phase out of most uses shortly thereafter.
- PCBs have a similar chemical structure to PBDEs, which are currently used as flame retardants in electronics, furniture, and other consumer goods.
DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was developed as an insecticide in the 1940s, and was widely used during World War II to combat insect-borne diseases.
- DDT’s effectiveness, persistence, and low cost made it popular for agricultural and commercial uses. More than a billion pounds were used in the U.S. over a 30-year period.
- EPA banned nearly all domestic uses of DDT in 1972, after the publication of Silent Spring and broad public outcry about DDT’s impacts on wildlife and people.
Today, use of DDT is limited to malaria control programs in some developing countries. Learn More
Mercury, arsenic, and lead are found naturally in the earth, but just because they’re natural chemical elements doesn’t mean they’re harmless. They are heavy metals with a long history of industrial and personal use—and just as long of a history of harming human health. Learn More
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas at room temperature. It is widely used in many consumer products, including building materials, pressed wood, cosmetics, shoe-care products, and textiles. It is also used as a disinfectant and as a preservative, including in mortuaries and medical labs. Worldwide production of formaldehyde is estimated to be more than 6 billion pounds per year. Learn More
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A is a building-block chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic as well as epoxy resins used as can linings. It is also found in some dental materials. Learn More
Antimony is a naturally occurring metal often used in combination with lead and zinc, found in metal alloys, paints, ceramics, and fireworks. It is also used as a catalyst to produce polyester, and is found in plastics used for disposable beverage bottles. The most widely used antimony compound is antimony trioxide, used as a component in flame retardant applications. Learn More