What we don’t know about the thousands of chemicals we are exposed to everyday that could harm us.

In the past century, more than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our products, homes and communities, ending up in our water, air and our bodies. Yet the U.S. law regulating these chemicals—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—fails to ensure that our health is protected. 98% of more than 80,000 chemicals lack basic health and safety data. What’s more, untested chemicals and those known to be toxic are used in everyday products, even those made for children. In 35 years, TSCA has banned or restricted only five chemicals. Science and medical experts struggle to understand when, how and in what combinations we are exposed to chemicals linked to breast cancer, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, autism and other chronic diseases.

Chronic disease and life-long health disorders pose a critical challenge to our nation. Diseases such as cancer, infertility, diabetes, autism, asthma and diabetes create a multi billion-dollar burden on our economy--and rates of disease are on the rise. From genetics to lifestyle, some risk factors are preventable and some are not. If we fail to address the preventable exposure to untested and toxic chemicals among these risk factors, we miss an opportunity to prevent disease and undermine efforts to create a healthy future.

Our Future at Risk

Chronic disease and life-long health disorders pose a critical challenge to our nation. Diseases such as cancer, infertility, diabetes, autism, asthma and diabetes create a multi billion-dollar burden on our economy--and rates of disease are on the rise. From genetics to lifestyle, some risk factors are preventable and some are not. If we fail to address the preventable exposure to untested and toxic chemicals among these risk factors, we miss an opportunity to prevent disease and undermine efforts to create a healthy future.

Widespread Exposure

Every American—even before birth—is contaminated with some combination of several hundred chemicals found in everyday consumer products. Some chemicals, such as PCBs and heavy metals, persist and accumulate in the environment and in our bodies. Others, such as flame retardants, are used so widely that they are found regularly in household dust, in our bodies, and as far away as polar bears in the Arctic. We know that these chemicals can be released from consumer products. But because manufacturers are not required to disclose their use of these chemicals, scientists and health researchers can’t say for certain when, how, and how much people are exposed.

Links to Disease

While many chemicals in the marketplace are untested, hundreds of others have been shown in laboratory studies to be linked to cancer, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption and other toxicity. Current science suggests that infants and children are especially vulnerable to these exposures as their brains and bodies develop. Some early chemical exposures, even in very small doses, have the potential to increase risk of disease decades later in life. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urges doctors to warn patients about the long-lasting effects of toxic exposure.

Flawed Policy and a Toxic Treadmill

Many of the tens of thousands of chemicals in our world today did not exist a century ago. Breakthroughs in chemistry brought 60,000 synthetic chemicals to market even before the nation’s first chemical regulatory system existed: the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. This flawed system, which has never been updated, allows chemicals to be “innocent until proven guilty”— entering the marketplace without basic proof of their health and safety effects. The burden is on the public to prove that a chemical is causing harm before it can be regulated. Too often, scientific research is a step behind the industry. As soon as one chemical begins to show evidence of toxicity and reason for concern, another untested chemical is already on the shelves. This “toxic treadmill” allows one chemical hazard to replace another.

Solutions From the Ground Up

Industry leaders are finding ways to eliminate toxic chemicals as they make products. But unless there is a demand for safer products, there is no incentive to eliminate toxins or develop safer alternatives. That’s where state action comes in. State policies are working to define toxic chemical priorities, disclose toxic chemical use and restrict the worst of the worst chemicals. These policies have led manufacturers to phase out toxins and retailers to take a closer look at chemicals in their supply chain. These policies also create models for federal chemical policy reform.

Some of the Worst Offenders


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-disrupting chemical, which means that it can mimic or block hormones and disrupt the body's normal functions. Numerous studies suggest it can have health effects at extremely low exposure levels. BPA is especially of concern for vulnerable populations: pregnant women, babies and children. Exposure to BPA appears to increase the risk of early puberty, cancer (breast and prostate), obesity, infertility, and metabolic disorders. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is used in hard plastics and epoxy resins. It was first used in the 1930's as a synthetic estrogen. These days, it helps make plastics strong while staying lightweight, and coats metal food containers in order to preserve the food inside. It shows up everywhere, from our sports water bottle to our can of infant formula, and the paper in the receipts we get for buying these items. BPA is one of the highest-volume chemicals produced in the world.

BPA In Our Bodies

When BPA is in our cans and bottles, it doesn’t just stay there — it leaches out into the foods they contain. And from there, into us. Testing from the Centers for Disease Control revealed BPA in nearly 95% of Americans tested. In response to state policy leadership the US FDA banned BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula cans. But BPA is still found in canned food and beverages, some sports water bottles, receipt paper, dental sealants, and paper money.


Cadmium is an extremely toxic metal classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 1 carcinogen. Cadmium contributes to the development of lung cancer, and may also cause kidney and prostate cancer. The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes cadmium as a hazard to workers and cites severe health effects including cancer, pulmonary emphysema, and bone disease from chronic exposure to cadmium. Additionally, cadmium is an endocrine disruptor which means that it can affect male virility, cause genital deformities, and contribute to reproductive problems in men. Cadmium is used in batteries, industrial paint pigments, metal coatings and as a stabilizer for plastics. It is mainly produced as a byproduct of smelting and refining of zinc concentrates. High levels of cadmium are found in inexpensive children's toys, jewelry and painted products.

Cadmium In Our Bodies

Exposure comes from touching cadmium containing products, from inhaling tobacco smoke, and from airborne emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels and municipal waste. Smokers have about twice as much cadmium in their bodies as do nonsmokers. Children are exposed to cadmium by mouthing toys, jewelry and painted products.


The World Health Organization has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has additionally stated that formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent causing an immune response, highly irritating the eyes, nose and throat, and causing asthma-like respiratory problems and dermatitis over long-term exposure. Contact with formaldehyde can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat.Formaldehyde is used to make fabric wrinkle-free, as a preservative in personal care products, as a disinfectant and as an ingredient in adhesives and binders used in paper, textiles, plywood and building materials. In 2010, 29 million metric tons of formaldehyde were produced and sold worldwide for industrial use. In the same year, 20 million pounds were released from U.S. industry as waste into the environment. The chemical also occurs naturally in small amounts, and is a component of burning fuel: chimneys, smokestacks, tailpipes and cigarette smoke.

Formaldehyde In Our Bodies

In addition to formaldehyde pollution from industry and fuel combustion, products that contain formaldehyde can also release the chemical. Workers in many industries, from factories to beauty salons to health care, experience higher exposures to formaldehyde. People are also exposed to formaldehyde when they breathe it in or absorb it from the products we use on our faces, our hair — including, as testing has revealed, products marketed specifically to children.


Lead's toxicity has long been known — yet it still lingers in many products, with disastrous effects on public health.Lead has made its way into a wide, wide range of products: paint, children's toys, baby bibs, jewelry, handbags, lunchboxes, artificial turf, wheel weights, lipstick, candy, and a range of industrial applications.

Lead In Our Bodies

Lead has a profound ability to damage children’s intellectual and behavioral development, and has been linked to learning disabilities, infertility, cancer, and increased risk of heart attacks. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes, and is toxic to many organs and tissues — including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems.


Microbeads are tiny little scrubbing components, put into cosmetics, soaps, and personal care products to give you a nice bit of exfoliation. Sounds fine, right? It turns out that these microbeads — which are actually made of plastic — end up in our waterways and marine life. They not only release toxic chemicals, but can absorb more dangerous chemicals from their surrounding environment. Where can you find microbeads? Just check your bathroom. Soaps, cosmetics, and several other personal care products that promise a nice bit of exfoliation.

Microbeads In Our Bodies

Once microbeads leave your bathroom and hit the natural world, they accumulate in sea life — which we consume. In addition, some evidence suggests that they attract persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT that are already in the marine environment. When we consume seafood, we are then exposed to these chemicals which have been shown to cause cancer and other health harms.


Phthalates act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the chemicals that shape our development, which can change our bodies in significant ways. Studies have shown phthalate exposure linked to declines in male fertility, affecting everything from testicular development to sperm quality. In women, there are links between phthalate exposure and the development of breast cancer and in pregnant women to abnormal genital development of male children. And across genders, phthalates show a correlation with obesity and insulin resistance. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible — you can find them in everything from your shower curtain to your rubber duckie, from the plastic tube connecting you to a hospital I.V. to the plastic wrap around the sandwich you ate for lunch. They’re also used in personal care products, from shampoo to nail polish to moisturizers, and even in the coatings of pills we take.

Phthalates In Our Bodies

Phthalates are spread on our skin, absorbed in our food, and inhaled in our household dust.


On the surface, flame retardants sound great. Chemicals that keep products — couches, clothes, crib mattresses — from burning can only make us safer, right? Wrong. Flame retardants have been linked to health concerns from cancer to thyroid issues. They build up in all of us, and, sadly, especially in the firefighters who inhale them on the job, leading to higher cancer rates. Firefighters and others are coming together to try to remove these toxic chemicals from our everyday products.Toxic flame retardants are one of the most common sources of toxicity in our homes and our lives. They are used on everything from computer casings, to furniture, to carpeting, to children's products. Many people remember when chlorinated Tris, one toxic flame retardant, was banned from children's pajamas in 1977. But that same chemical is now showing up in other equally-dangerous-yet-still-fair-game uses — including the crib mattresses and nursing pillows that cradle vulnerable children. And flame retardants don't stay in these products — these chemicals leach out, and get into people and pets. The very dust you sweep up from your floor contains toxic levels of flame retardants.

Flame Retardants in our Bodies

Flame retardants leach out of products, and accumulate in our fatty tissue. It's a pervasive problem — even down to our pets! Testing from the Centers for Disease Control found certain brominated flame retardants in nearly all of the samples collected. And once they're in our bodies, they do damage. Studies have linked flame retardants to a host of biological and neurophysical ailments, including endocrine disruption, decreased fertility, lower birth weights and developmental/cognitive problems in the next generation.


Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent first developed in the 1960s and introduced in 1972 for use in health care facilities, and now it's in antibacterial soaps and cleaners. Only it turns out that triclosan is no more effective than soap and water or alcohol-based cleansers. And not only that, but its dioxins pose a real danger. Triclosan is in a variety of products, primarily liquid antibacterial soap and body washes. And once it moves through the wastewater treatment process and into surface waters, it is exposed to sunlight and chlorine, which cause it to transform into dangerous dioxins and other carcinogens. Triclosan-derived dioxins have increased by 200% to 300% in Mississippi River sediment samples, and 58% of U.S. streams have been found to contain triclosan.

Triclosan In Our Bodies

We're exposed to triclosan through all sorts of ways — ingestion, skin contact, and inhalation. Triclosan has been found in human urine, breast milk, and blood around the globe — 75% of Americans test positive for triclosan. Multiple studies have shown harmful effects from triclosan including increased allergy susceptibility, risks to endocrine systems, impacts to healthy muscle function, and risks to healthy fetal development. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Health and Mayo Clinic indicate that the widespread use of triclosan could result in bacteria that are resistant to antimicrobials.


Food packaging: A Route of ExposureIt’s not only the way food is produced or the additives we use that may expose us to toxins; it’s also the chemicals in the packaging that comes in contact with our food. Chemicals that are used to make plastics, can linings, paper coatings and adhesives can migrate into food. More than 6,000 chemicals are used in food packaging and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “indirect additives.” At least 175 of these chemicals are recognized for their potential for adverse health effects.

In Our Food and Our Bodies

The potential for materials to migrate from packaging into food can increase when there is fat or grease, heat or cold, or wear and tear. Chemicals of concern to human health include phthalates in plastic wrap, BPA in hard plastics, polystyrene in foam containers, a number of chemicals in PVC plastic and PFOS in grease-proof coatings. Food packaging is thought to be a significant source of human exposure to phthalates and BPA. HIGHLY FLUORINATED CHEMICALS Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS)PFAS are a class of chemicals used since the 1950s to make materials grease- and water-resistant. Long-chain PFAS can persist in the environment; move easily through air, water and soil; bioaccumulate in fish and other animals; and harm human health. Since 2002, there have been voluntary efforts to phase out the use of long-chain PFAS from products like Teflon and GoreTex. The most commonly known PFAS are PFOA (commonly known as Teflon) and PFOS, which have been voluntarily phased out due to their ability to persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in animals and harm human health. But their replacements, commonly known as short-chained PFAS, are not well studied and the studies we do have indicate that there is cause for concern. PFAS in our bodies. Recent biomonitoring data shows us that over 90% of the population have detectable levels of these chemicals in our blood. And new evidence suggests that the short-chained replacements are more prone to accumulate in organ tissue. PFAS have been linked to cancer, organ damage, endocrine disruption and reproductive harm.


Beyond legislation

From standing up for safer products on store shelves to exposing the dirty tactics of the chemical industry, concerned citizens are finding ways to make their voices heard. And they're making sure toxins policies echo far beyond the halls of government, changing our daily lives for the better.

Take Action

The fight against toxic chemicals hinges on the actions of everyday people — people who are fed up with the toxic chemicals in personal care and household products want to raise their voices for a safer world. Look below for ways to join the fight.

Follow @saferstates

Get Involved Locally

Click ( to find more about the partner organization in your state.

Get Involved Nationally

Join the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition and help reform toxics laws, work with retailers to phase out hazardous chemicals, and educate the public about ways to reduce toxic chemical exposure.


*Information is directly from Safer States ( a network of diverse environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country that share a bold and urgent vision that believes families, communities, and the environment should be protected from the devastating impacts of society’s heavy use of chemicals.

*The health, wellness and beauty information on Live Healthy-Be Beautiful is intended only as informational material and not to be taken as individual medical advice. Always contact your doctor before starting any new health or exercise plan.

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