Harvard Public Health Review Winter 2007
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Industrial Wasteland

Fewer than half of the chemicals most commonly used in commerce have been tested to determine exposure levels at which they are acutely toxic. Moreover, testing rarely assesses neurobehavioral functions; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a test for toxic effects on the developing brain costs about $150,000.

Of the 201 industrial chemicals known to cause toxic effects on the human brain, almost half are produced in high volumes. Several others are on the priority list as major hazards from toxic waste.

manufacturing image

Metals and inorganic compounds
Barium compounds (electronics, x-ray, contrast media)
Carbon monoxide (car exhaust, tobacco smoke)
Cyanides (silver plating)
Hydrogen sulfide (oil refining)
Manganese (steel manufacturing)

Organic solvents
(glues, resins, varnishes, paint, paint thinners)
Acetone (nail polish remover)
Benzene (gasoline)
Methanol (fuel additive, spray paints)
Styrene (plastics, boats)
(dry cleaning, metal degreasing)
Vinyl chloride (plastics)
Xylene (lacquers, rubber cement)

manicure image

Other organic substances
Acrylamide (glues, printing ink, cosmetics)
Aniline (organic synthesis, leather dye)
Dibutyl phthalate (nail polish)
(topical antiseptic, fungicide)
(photographic chemicals, textile dyes)
Hydroquinone (skin bleaching)
Phenol (mouthwash, chemical peels)
Polybrominated biphenyl ethers (flame retardants)

cropdusting image

(weed and pest control)
Carbofuran (tree insecticide)
DDT (kills mosquitoes to help prevent malaria)*
Deltamethrin (tick and flea killer)
Diazinon (pesticide)**
Dinoseb (fungicide, insecticide)*
Kepone (insecticide)*
Methyl bromide
(fumigant that kills rodents, worms)
(insecticides, tobacco products)
Parathion (insecticide)**
(pesticide used to preserve wood)

* banned by the EPA ** banned for some uses by the EPA

photos: smokestacks and manicure, Getty Images; airplane, Purestock/Getty Images

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2007, President and Fellows of Harvard College