Skip to Main Content


Over 150 million organic and inorganic chemicals are uniquely identified by the Chemical Abstracts Service. Although only a small fraction of these are active in commerce, newly developed chemicals are continuously entering the market. In the United States, just more than 40,000 chemicals are in commercial production and use, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approximately 300 chemicals awaiting review for market release at any given time. The full lifecycle of chemicals from production to eventual disposal contains vulnerabilities for accidental releases that can cause significant human exposure and adverse acute and chronic health effects. Additionally, industrial processes release chemical byproducts of energy production and waste that have the potential to harm large populations around these sites over long periods of time.

No industrial disaster has matched the catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India in 1984 that killed an estimated 7000 people within days of the exposure and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Still, large scale chemical disasters continue to cause fatalities and lingering health effects. In 2019, a pesticide plant explosion in eastern China killed at least 78 people and injured hundreds. The disastrous health effects of this type of acute incident are dramatically visible. However, the health impacts of emissions with longer releases to the environment are difficult to quantify and may take years after discovery to understand, such as the long-term morbidity and mortality from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant release following a tsunami in Japan.


Industrial facilities produce chemical goods and use chemicals as part of processes to make a vast array of end products. Chemical releases into the soil, indoor and outdoor air, and water can occur during many processes at a facility, including loading and unloading, manufacturing, storage, and transport preparation. Public health officials must understand the types and location of routine industrial emissions occurring in their jurisdictions. Characterizing routine emissions helps officials prepare for large quantity accidental releases and facilitates their understanding of the individual and community level factors that make certain residents particularly vulnerable to industrial pollution.

Industrial emissions include an array of chemicals, radionuclides, and biologicals. The chemicals released from industrial sources are numerous, and relatively few are well characterized toxicologically. The emitters of airborne chemicals are varied and range from large facilities, such as oil refineries, to small sources, such as gas stations, auto body shops, and dry-cleaning operations. Emissions are somewhat characteristic for specific industrial processes and source types. While epidemiologic studies have been useful for characterizing toxicity and the public health impacts of several air pollutants and a number of chemicals in the occupational setting, the most information on potential health effects of industrial chemicals comes from animal toxicology studies. Animal studies generally involve exposures of a genetically homogeneous population of rodents to one chemical at a time. Thus little direct knowledge exists about the interactions of ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.