Aerosol: A pressurized mist or spray containing minute particles used in self-dispensing products for the home.
Artificial colors: Colors that can be used in foods, drugs, and cosmetics (known as FD&C colors). These are usually made from coal tar. "Natural" foods, such as oranges and farmed salmon, are sometimes dyed with artificial colors to make them more appealing. Artificial colors have been shown to aggravate symptoms of attention-deficit and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders in children.
Bau-biologie (building biology): The study of how buildings affect our health.
Blood–brain barrier: A filtering mechanism of the capillaries that carry blood to the brain and spinal cord tissue, blocking the passage of certain substances and preventing the accumulation of toxins that cause brain damage. Some toxic chemicals can cross this barrier.
Body burden (bioaccumulation, chemical load): The amount of harmful chemicals and pollutants found in a person’s blood; describing substances that build up in the body faster than the body can eliminate them.
Carcinogen: A substance capable of producing cancer in living tissue.
Chemical sensitivity (multiple chemical sensitivity [MCS]): An inability to tolerate, or extreme sensitivity or allergic reaction to, any of various chemical compounds present in everyday environments. MCS often results from prolonged exposure to chemicals.
Chronic toxicity: The slow or delayed onset of an adverse effect, usually from multiple, long-term exposures to toxins.
Coal tar: An extract of coal used in the manufacture of dyes, cosmetics, and synthetic flavoring extracts. The EPA says it’s highly toxic to humans.
Cumulative effect: What occurs from repeated exposures over time. This can be exposure to a small amount of one chemical over time, or exposure to multiple chemicals in a short amount of time.
Detoxification: The process of removing toxins from the body.
EMFs and EMR: Electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation. They are created by electric current and transport electric as well as magnetic energy. They play an important role in regulating bodily functions. The most common sources include high-voltage power lines, house wiring, and household appliances.
Endocrine disruptors: Chemicals that can block the production of the male sex hormone testosterone, mimic the action of the female sex hormone estrogen, and interfere with the thyroid hormone.
Environmental illness (EI): An increased sensitivity to chemicals and other irritants found in the environment.
EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment.
Factory farming or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations): The practice of raising farm animals and fish in confinement where a farm operates as a factory. There is lack of natural vegetation that the animals can eat, and pollution is produced from the animal waste.
Flame retardants (brominated flame retardants): Chemicals applied to electronics, clothes, and furniture to prevent them from catching fire. They are found in polar bears and eagles, and in human breast milk, where they pass from mother to child. Studies have shown that they can be absorbed through the skin even from garments washed more than 50 times.
Food additives: Substances intentionally added to food to preserve flavor or improve taste and appearance. According to the FDA, some 2,800 substances are currently added to foods; some are known to be carcinogenic or toxic. Hyperactivity in children, allergies, asthma, and migraines are often associated with adverse reactions to food additives.
Formaldehyde: A suspected human carcinogen that may be a contributing factor in SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome.
Fragrance: This word on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 synthetic ingredients.
GM or GMO (genetically modified organisms): A plant, animal, or organism whose genetic material has been altered by using genetic engineering techniques.
Industrial organic: Foods produced without synthetic chemicals, but not necessarily less processed, more local, or easier on the animals than conventionally grown and produced food.
Inert ingredient: Any ingredient other than an active ingredient. Many inert ingredients are poisonous. Sometimes the term "other" will be substituted for the term "inert."
MSDS: Material Safety Data Sheets. Manufacturers publish the hazards and safety precautions for chemicals used in their manufacturing process.
Mutagen: A chemical that can permanently change the genetic content of the mother’s or father’s reproductive cells, thereby affecting the offspring.
Nanotechnology or nanotech: A process with the ability to manipulate and control matter on an atomic and molecular scale. It deals with structures, or nano particles, that are 100 nanometers or smaller. This new technology raises concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nano materials.
Off-gassing or out-gassing: The constant release of fumes, often undetectable.
PBDEs: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers; see flame retardants.
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides: Chemicals used to mitigate or repel pests such as bacteria, insects, mites, birds, rodents, and other organisms that affect food production.
PFOA and PFOS: Perfluorinated compounds, also known as C8, used in the production of Teflon cookware as well as stain- and grease-proof items such as fast-food wrappers. These chemicals are found in the bodies of people around the world, and in relatively high concentrations even in Arctic wildlife.
Phthalates: Chemicals used to soften plastics such as PVC, and also found in cosmetics and body care products. Proven to be endocrine disruptors, creating reproductive and developmental problems.
Plasticizers: Chemical additives used to make hard plastics such as PVC soft and pliable.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride): Plastic used in wall covering, flooring, clothing, toys, and other products too numerous to name. PVC manufacturing and disposal via incineration produce deadly dioxins.
Sustainability: Using, developing, and protecting social and natural resources in a manner that allows people to meet their current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Synergistic effect or synergism: An effect that occurs when two or more substances or chemicals have a more powerful effect when used together. One chemical can interact in ways that enhance, magnify, or worsen the effects of the second.
Synthetic: Artificial, not natural; something that has been formulated in a chemical laboratory.
Teratogen: A substance that causes permanent damage to a baby’s cells, or birth defects.
Toxin: Poisonous substance. It harms life.
Trade secrets: Information that companies keep secret from the general public. How a product is made or ingredients that go into it can be legally protected as a trade secret.
Volatile organic compound (VOC): A toxic chemical substance that easily evaporates or vaporizes, giving off fumes into the atmosphere. Choose products labeled "No-VOC" or "VOC-free."