The community and workers are generally aware that voluntary or involuntary exposure to chemicals and other hazardous substances can cause harm to our health or to the health of our children and the unborn fetus. Industrial chemicals are made from the conversion of oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals into products that span almost all economic sectors including plastics, agrichemicals, medical products and pharmaceuticals, energy and transportation products, communication products, building materials, personal care products, and household goods.
Chemicals that are derived from methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, and xylenes are based on carbon atoms, so they are called “organic” chemicals. Inorganic chemicals are not carbon based; they include metals like elemental lead and mercury, and minerals like silica and asbestos. Both inorganic and organic chemicals can be synthesized in a laboratory or extracted from the earth. But, in all cases they may be hazardous.
Taken at the minimum necessary dosages, however, some chemicals, such as medicines, are beneficial to human health. Manufacturing with chemicals has resulted in some new products and technologies that have, arguably, benefited society by creating new jobs, developing less costly and more durable consumer products and building materials, and improving communication and transportation. However, while the economic value of the chemical industry is readily measured, the true cost of the production, use, and disposal of these synthesized chemicals to the environment and human health is much more difficult to quantify. Furthermore, we know that workplace chemical exposures such as during product manufacturing are often much greater than the exposure to the finished consumer products or even environmental pollutants. On the other hand, workers are usually healthy adults, whereas consumer products may be in daycare facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other places where exposures can impact vulnerable populations such as the very young and people with compromised health. Many other factors also play a role in risk considerations, including poverty and employment status which affect stress, nutrition and access to health care, residential proximity to polluting industrial facilities, co-exposures to multiple pollutants, violence, smoking, and drug use. Scientists and policymakers still do not know the exact degree to which human health problems can be attributed to environmental pollution, chemical exposures in consumer products, genetics, and lifestyle choices. However, we do know that the contribution from environmental exposures is significant because policies and practices to reduce harmful exposures can effectively reduce diseases and deaths.
In the early 1970s, the level of concern for the safety of the food supply, air, drinking water, and working environment intensified, and new laws were passed, and regulations promulgated to help control and restrict the level of pollutants released into the environment. Many of these regulations were based on observed or predicted human health effects of exposure to hazardous materials either in the environment, in the food or water supplies, or in the workplace. Despite these efforts, some contend that ...