analytics tool


There are thousands of harmful chemicals in our food, water, soil and air, and the number is rapidly increasing. This section will highlight some of the most common categories.

The authors of a new paper published in June 2017 provide an excellent introduction to this topic, as follows:

In a colossal “toxicological experiment” carried out over the last few decades, there has been the unprecedented production and release of tens of thousands of chemical agents into the environment without sufficient consideration for human safety and without credible testing to secure the absence of danger or harm. Such chemical pollutants are now ubiquitous and surreptitiously linger within our foods, our air, our water, and even within our bodies.

United Nations (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals)

In 2017, the United Nations published the seventh revised edition of a report that provides detailed information on the classification and labelling of chemicals. The first edition was published in 2003, with subsequent editions published in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013.

This system is known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Due to the worldwide use, sale and distribution of chemicals, they created one system that could be used throughout the world to classify and label these products.

It was a significant task to bring together the policies and practices of numerous countries around the globe to develop one harmonized approach. GHS was the culmination of more than a decade of work (beginning with a United Nations mandate in 1992). The participants in the process represented a multitude of countries, international organizations and stakeholder organizations from a vast number of disciplines. Early in the process, they agreed on 10 key principles of harmonization.

Here are three of those principles:

(a) the level of protection offered to workers, consumers, the general public and the environment should not be reduced as a result of harmonizing the classification and labelling systems;

(b) the hazard classification process refers principally to the hazards arising from the intrinsic properties of substances and mixtures, whether natural or synthetic;

(c) in relation to chemical hazard communication, the safety and health of workers, consumers and the public in general, as well as the protection of the environment, should be ensured while protecting confidential business information, as prescribed by the competent authorities.

The U.S. EPA has not adopted the GHS approach. As stated on the EPA website:

EPA has not adopted GHS for pesticide product classification and labeling. In most cases, GHS hazard statements and pictograms should not appear on pesticide product labels sold and distributed in the United States.

Although the U.S. EPA has not adopted GHS, they acknowledged the benefits of using GHS for product labels, as follows:

If adopted, GHS will provide an internationally consistent basis for classifying chemical hazards. Once hazards are classified, GHS will also ensure that signal words, pictograms and hazard statements have the same meaning in all settings, domestically and internationally. This will simplify hazard communication and result in safer transportation, handling, and use of pesticides. This approach will benefit all countries that adopt GHS and should be particularly useful for countries without well-developed regulatory systems.

GHS also will reduce costly and time-consuming activities needed to comply with multiple classification and labeling systems, promoting more consistency in regulation and reducing non-tariff barriers to trade.

Thousands of harmful chemicals in our food, water, soil and air

There are thousands of harmful chemicals in our food, water, soil and air, and the number is rapidly increasing.

We cannot begin to provide details on the thousands of chemicals being used today, so we selected the following five categories.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are used in a wide variety of products including furniture, car seats, crib mattresses, changing table pads and other household and children’s products. Manufacturers add these chemicals to slow the spread of flames in case they catch fire. Research on lab animals has shown that many of these chemicals cause cancer, alter hormones and damage brain cells.

Those early flame retardant chemicals included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and Tris phosphate.

Although many of the early flame retardants have been phased out, alternative chemicals (known as organophosphate flame retardants, OPFRs) are being used. These alternative chemicals have also been found to be harmful.

Personal Care Products

Many of your common, every day personal care products contain harmful chemicals. These products include cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and other personal hygiene items. We will discuss just two of the chemicals found in personal care products. 

For additional information about chemicals in personal care products, click here.


Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or limit the growth of numerous types of pests. Included in this grouping are herbicides (kill plants), fungicides (kill fungi), insecticides (kill insects) and numerous other classes. They are designed to disrupt biological systems.

Pesticides are used extensively in farming and are also used in homes, schools and businesses. Ten of the twelve most dangerous organic chemicals are pesticides. 

For additional information about pesticides, click here.


Phthalates are man-made chemical compounds that are primarily used as plasticizers (i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity), but they are also added to food, beverages, spices, drugs, fragrances, air fresheners and many personal care products.

Numerous studies have shown that phthalates are harmful and can cause multiple health effects including impaired sperm quality and motility, respiratory symptoms, thyroid problems, and negative effects on prenatal development, reproductive hormones and pregnancy outcome.

For additional information about phthalates, click here.


Solvents are chemical products that are used to dissolve other compounds. These chemicals can cause a sudden loss of consciousness if inhaled and can also cause long-term health effects.

There are many different types of solvents including acetone, benzene, ethanol, hexane, methanol, toluene, trichloroethylene and xylene.

For additional information about solvents, click here.

Share by: