Examples of Environmental Carcinogens
Chromium Hexavalent compounds
Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs)
Polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
is a naturally occurring element. It is most commonly used as a wood
preservative (in pressure treated wood) and can be found in building materials,
industry, and water (inorganic) as well as fish and shellfish (organic
compounds). Exposure is through inhalation or ingestion (intentional
poisoning). Arsenic is linked to lung cancer, skin cancer, and urinary tract
cancer. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen.
is a group of naturally produced chemicals composed of silicon compounds.
It is used in insulation materials due to heat resistance. Human exposure is
through inhalation (from disruption of materials containing asbestos) and
ingestion (contaminated food/water). Tiny asbestos fibers in the air can get
trapped and accumulate in the lungs. Asbestos is linked to increased risk of
lung cancer, and development of mesothelioma (cancer of the thin lining
surrounding the lung (pleural membrane) or abdominal cavity (the peritoneum))
and laryngeal cancer. Cancer may appear 30 to 50 years after exposure. Asbestos
is a known human carcinogen.
is used as a solvent in chemical and pharmaceutical industry, and is
released by oil refineries. It is one of the largest-volume petrochemical
solvents in production; it is produced from coal and from petroleum. Exposure is
through inhalation (smoke, gas emissions, etc) or ingestion (contaminated
food/water). Exposure to benzene is linked to acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and
chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL); breast cancer; lymphatic and hematopoietic
cancer. Benzene is a known human carcinogen.
A (BPA), a building block of polycarbonate plastic, is one of the most widely
produced chemicals in the world. It is used in hard plastics, food cans, drink
cans, receipts, and dental sealants. BPA is ubiquitous. CDC biomonitoring
surveys indicate that more than 90% of Americans have the substance in their
bodies. BPA is an endocrine disruptor linked to breast and prostate cancer. The
International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed BPA as “not classifiable
as to its carcinogenicity in humans.”
Hexavalent compounds. Elemental chromium does not occur naturally; chromium
(IV) compounds are highly corrosive and strong oxidizing agents rarely found in
power plants are our nation’s largest industrial source of chromium (IV).
Such compounds are also used as corrosion inhibitors in the leather tanning
process, in the manufacture of dyes and pigments, and in wood preserving,
chrome plating, and steel and other alloy production. Exposure is through
inhalation, ingestion (chromium leached into soil and water), and dermal
contact. They are linked to lung, nasal, and nasopharyngeal cancer. Chromium
hexavalent compounds are a known human carcinogen.
are a group of chemicals formed as unintentional byproducts of industrial
processes involving chlorine, such as waste incineration, chemical
manufacturing, and pulp and paper bleaching. Dioxins include polychlorinated dibenzo
dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzo furans (PCDFs), and the
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Exposure is through the
ingestion of contaminated foods and, to a lesser extent, dermal contact.
Dioxins accumulate in fat cells and degrade very slowly in the environment. The
cancer classification depends on the dioxin: 2,3,7,8-TCDD (Agent Orange) is a
known human carcinogen; some other dioxins are probable or possible human
can be found in a variety of building and home decoration products (as
urea-formaldehyde resins and phenol-formaldehyde resin). It is also used as a
preservative and disinfectant.Exposure
is through inhalation and dermal contact.
Automobile exhaust is the greatest contributor to formaldehyde concentrations
in ambient air. Construction materials,
furnishings, and cigarettes account for most formaldehyde in indoor air.
Formaldehyde has caused nasal cancer in rats after long term exposure; it is
linked to leukemia and nasopharygeal cancer in humans. It is a known human
diphenylethers (PBDEs) are used as flame retardants in furniture,
computers, electronics, medical equipment, and mattresses. Exposure is through
inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact . Two of the common commercial
formulations, penta- and octa-BDE, have been voluntarily phased out of US
production. Deca-BDE continues to be produced. Highly persistent in the
environment, they are endocrine disruptors. PBDEs are linked to liver cancer in
laboratory animals, but are not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in people.
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form as a result of incomplete combustion of
organic compounds: combustion from wood and fuel in residential heating, coal
burners, automobiles, diesel-fueled engines, refuse fires, and grilled meats. They
are found in coal tar and coal tar pitch, used for roofing and surface
coatings. Exposure to these lipophilic substances results from inhalation of
polluted air, wood smoke, and tobacco smoke, and ingestion of contaminated food
and water. PAHs are reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, according
to the National Toxicology Program. IARC lists them as probably or possibly
Chloride is used by plastics companies in the production of PVCs and
copolymers. Exposure is largely occupational,
and results from inhalation, ingestion or dermal contact. Exposure is very low
in the general population. Exposure to vinyl chloride is linked to the
development of liver cancer and weakly associated with brain cancer. Vinyl
chloride is a known human carcinogen.
Page Updated May 17, 2011