While modern living has its conveniences, it has also introduced potentially  harmful chemicals into the environment that may affect our health. These  chemicals are often found in the clothes we wear, the foods we eat, the walls  in our living spaces, and even the air we breathe. 

Environmental toxins not only threaten our health but are likely to impact the  health of future generations as well.


Manganese is a free element found in nature as well as a metal with various  industrial purposes. Manganese stiffens aluminum and prevents corrosion,  making it an important element in materials like soda cans. Manganese  concentrations in the air and groundwater rise with increased industrial  activity. Although manganese is an essential mineral (meaning it’s necessary for  human survival), it can be toxic in high concentrations. Your water may contain  manganese if it’s discolored (brownish red), stains plumbing fixtures, and/or has  an unusual taste or odor. If you suspect your water might contain manganese,  get it tested by a state-certified laboratory. If levels are above standard safety  levels, consider using a high-quality filtering system.  


Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can be found within organic and  inorganic forms. Arsenic found in soil, the environment, and groundwater is  absorbed by crops and enters the food supply. The inorganic compound is a  known human carcinogen and has been found in drinking water, rice-based  food products, seaweed products, and certain brands of juice. Although certain  types are banned or restricted in some regions of the world, arsenic can still  be found in poultry feed and pesticides. To avoid arsenic-containing pesticides,  opt for organic produce and choose poultry from producers who do not use  artificial feed additives.


Fluoride is commonly added to water supplies and toothpaste to prevent dental  caries and enhance bone growth. In high concentrations, it can have the exact  opposite effect, so many caution to use it sparingly. Bottled water is often  fluoridated, prompting many people to opt for non-fluoridated options when  possible. To find out if your water is fluoridated, call your water supplier or use  an at-home kit to test levels. High-quality water filters can be installed on your  faucets to filter excess levels of fluoride and other minerals in the water supply. 


Chlorpyrifos is a commonly used insect killer classified as “very highly toxic” for  birds and most fish and “moderately toxic” for mammals.  

Despite its recognized toxicity, it remains a widely used pesticide for both  food and non-food crops. By opting for organic produce, you reduce the risk of  ingesting harmful pesticides. 



DDT/DDE is a commonly used pesticide that was banned in the United States in  1972. As a result of overuse before the ban, DDT can still be found lingering in  the environment in the United States, while other regions of the world continue  to use it. DDT breaks down into toxic by-products called DDE and DDD, which  subsequently accumulate in the environment and within fat stores of organisms  that ingest it. Animals that eat other animals are more likely to build up levels of  DDT. Many people choose to avoid or minimize consumption of animal fat and  purchase organic produce to avoid ingesting this toxic pesticide.


Tetrachloroethylene (PERC) is a chemical commonly used to dry-clean clothing  and degrease metal because of its excellent solvent properties. When the  vaporized chemical is inhaled, various health problems can arise, bringing  the Environmental Protection Agency to classify this chemical as “likely to be  carcinogenic” to humans. There are organic dry-cleaning services available  that do not use this chemical. If you think you may be exposed to PERC in your  workplace, don’t be afraid to be proactive and ask to speak with someone who  can discuss safety measures.


Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is found deep within the earth’s crust.  Lead is found in the paint of many older homes, in drinking water that flows  through old lead pipes and/or fixtures, and in contaminated soil. When ingested,  lead can build up in the body over time and become toxic. If your home was built  prior to 1978, you may want to test the paint and dust for lead as it was popular  in building construction in the 1970s. Helpful safety measures can include  staying away from chipping or peeling paint and avoiding tap water in these  older homes until it is tested.


Mercury is a chemical once used in thermometers, barometers, and laxatives.  The low cost of mercury-containing dental fillings has kept them on the market,  despite the high cost on health. Don’t be afraid to request non-mercury fillings  from the dentist or to ask to have old mercury fillings replaced. Another  form of mercury that people are most exposed to is the organic compound  methylmercury, which is found in fish and shellfish. Fish absorb this toxin in their  water environments, and it builds up in their bodies over time. Certain fish and  shellfish accumulate mercury more than others, resulting in varying levels of  toxins among different types of seafood. Fish with the highest levels of mercury  include mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, shark, swordfish, and tuna and  should be consumed in limited quantities.


Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid that serves as an important organic solvent.  It can be found naturally at low levels in crude oil or prepared synthetically.  It is added to gasoline to improve the octane rating – the level to which it can  be compressed before spontaneously igniting. It’s also used to make nylon  and plastic soda bottles and added to paints, adhesives, cosmetics, perfumes,  and antifreeze. Frequent inhalation of large amounts of this toxin can be  harmful. Exposure to toluene can be avoided by taking proper precautions,  such as wearing a safety mask when around wet paint, paint thinners, or glues;  refraining from breathing in gasoline or car exhaust; and experimenting with  chemical-free cosmetics and nontoxic nail polishes.


Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is commercially produced by fermentation of sugars  (for beverages) or synthetically (for industrial needs). It’s used to make  everything from perfumes to alcoholic beverages to explosives. Even though  ethanol can be consumed in alcoholic beverages, it’s toxic to the human body in  large quantities. Alcohol is almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream  and can be especially harmful to fetus development. It is unknown whether there  is a safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. Currently,  women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant are encouraged to avoid  any intake of alcohol. 


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are man-made chemicals used as  flame retardants in many plastic, foam, and fabric consumer products. Although  they can be helpful to make products like furniture and other household items  less flammable, the toxins are not chemically bound to the materials they’re  added to, allowing them to easily infiltrate their surroundings. When purchasing  new furniture, some people choose to opt for less flammable fabrics and  materials (like leather, wool, and cotton) to avoid these chemicals.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic organic chemicals that were once  popular in industrial and commercial applications due to their nonflammability  and chemical stability. They were banned from being manufactured in 1979  because of their recognized toxicity. There are still products and materials that  may contain PCBs, such as transformers, oil-based paints, plastics, carbon copy  papers, and floor finishes. When released into the environment, PCBs can travel  long distances from the site of contamination and accumulate on plants, food crops, and within the organisms that ingest them. High concentrations have  been found in farm-raised salmon and marine mammals. To avoid PCBs, opt for organic produce and wash well before eating.


United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2007). Manganese: TEACH  chemical summaryRetrieved from www.archive.epa.gov/region5/teach/web/pdf/manganese_summary.pdf 

Hamblin, J. (2014, March 18). The toxins that threaten our brains. The Atlantic.  Retrieved from www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/the-toxins-that threaten-our-brains/284466 

National Pesticide Information Center. (2012, October 12). Chlorpyrifos. Retrieved from www.npic.orst.edu/ingred/chlorpyrifos.html 

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2000). Tetrachloroethylene  (perchloroethylene)Retrieved from www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/ tetrachloroethylene.pdf 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2000, December).  Fetal alcohol exposure and the brain. Alcohol AlertRetrieved from www.pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa50.htm 

Harvard Health Publications. (2004, April). Getting your omega-3s vs.  avoiding those PCBs. The Family Health GuideRetrieved from www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/getting-your-omega-3s-vs avoiding-those-pcbsthe-family-healthguide

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