We’re Surrounded! Do Chemicals Hold You Captive?

Written by Zhao Dong; edited by Lisa Boehm

Hello everyone, welcome to the Chemicals and Health blog posted by the Hoffman Program. We will periodically share thoughts and ideas from our research here at Harvard related to chemical exposures and human health. Thanks for your attention and stay tuned!

We are now surrounded by chemicals in our daily lives. Compared to the large number of chemicals that are out there, our knowledge about their potential health risks is quite limited.

It has been estimated that millions of chemical substances are now on the market, while about 100,000 chemicals are inventoried in the U.S. commerce, of which only about 82,000 substances are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as well as 8,600 food additives, 3,400 cosmetic ingredients, 1,800 pharmaceuticals, and 1,000 pesticide active ingredients regulated under other federal statutes. Among the chemicals produced by the largest volume, a majority come from the refining of petroleum.

On the other hand, information on the human health and environmental risks posed by the large number of chemicals in commercial use is limited, and often inadequate if available. Although relatively few chemicals are thought to be extremely hazardous to human health, data necessary for exposure and risk assessment are unavailable for the vast majority of chemicals we encounter in our daily lives. To improve our knowledge on this issue, the Hoffman Program is dedicated to conducting and promoting scientific research on the linkage between chemical exposures and health, with a focus on mechanisms of chemical-induced intolerance and sensitivities.