Hazardous Materials

Exposure to hazardous chemicals or other materials can lead to a number of potentially deadly illnesses or conditions, including cancer, birth defects and even death.

Some of the most hazardous and widely used substances in the U.S. include:

Lead
Lead can enter the human body by inhalation in the form of dust particles in the air, by ingestion (in water or food) or by contact with the skin.

For many years, lead was used in a wide array of products—such as gasoline, solder, water pipes and household products like paint. Although the U.S. placed severe restrictions on the use of lead-containing products in 1978, products that were made before the ban went into effect remain in use across the country.

Lead can often be found in older homes and apartment buildings, many of which even now contain lead-based paint on the walls and plumbing made of lead. More than 20 million American homes or apartments still have lead-based paint inside of them. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most frequent sources of lead poisoning in children today. As many as 400,000 American children have experienced some degree of lead poisoning.

Creosote
More than 800 million pounds of creosote are used each year as a wood preservative and for protection against wood-dwelling pests. Coal-tar creosote is the most widely used wood preservative in the United States. However, long-term exposure to low levels of creosote can result in various kinds of cancer.

Since the early 1990s, alternatives have been available which were economical and less toxic, but the Environmental Protection Agency did not institute a creosote ban, even though a partial ban went into effect across the European Union in 2003.

Vinyl chloride
Long-term exposure to vinyl chloride can cause chronic skin irritations and has also been linked to Raynaud’s syndrome, a painful inflammation of the extremities. Vinyl chloride is carcinogenic and has been associated with several forms of cancers. In laboratory animals, exposure to vinyl chloride during pregnancy has produced miscarriages and birth defects.

Exposure to vinyl chloride depresses the central nervous system, and inhaling its vapors causes symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. In some cases, this progresses to hallucination, loss of consciousness and death by respiratory failure. Although its use in the U.S. has been limited since the 1970s, workers in many occupations are still at risk from exposure to vinyl chloride.

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