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Toxic Substances in our Environment

Toxic substances can range from naturally occurring toxics like arsenic and bacteria to man-made chemicals like flame retardants, or pesticides.

People can't help but come into contact with a range of chemicals in their daily lives. More than 70,000 chemicals are currently in commercial use and little is known about their effects on human health. Substances can pose very different risks depending on how a person comes into contact with them, the amount that gets into their bodies, and for how long and how often this occurs.

Certain populations are more vulnerable than others to toxic substances and odors in our environment, including:

  • Developing babies
  • Children
  • Elderly
  • People with compromised immune systems (i.e. cancer, HIV/AIDS)
  • Organ transplant recipients
  • Pregnant/breast feeding women
  • People with enzyme deficiencies
  • People with certain genetic vulnerabilities
  • Subsistence cultures
  • People with low socio-economic status

Some chemicals last for a long time in the environment and bio-accumulate in plants and wildlife. Learning more about toxic substances empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their daily life. Information on this site provides an overview of the common health effects associated with exposures to a selection of toxic substances.

Oregon is contributing to a multi-state effort to identify and promote safer chemicals and products. A safer alternative poses less potential harm to people or the environment, and serves a similar purpose without being overly costly.

Additional Resources

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Promoting Environmental Health in Communities. 
PEHC is a collection of fact sheets, talking points and a presentation designed to teach communities about the environment, toxicology and health.

Leadership in Sustainable Chemicals Policy: Opportunities for Oregon (pdf)
This white paper was a collaborative effort between Portland State University, Oregon Environmental Council, Metro, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division.

Buying Guide for Healthy Communities
Oregon Clean and Safe website provides information about safe products for clean rivers and healthy families from the Oregon association of clean water agencies (ORACWA).