Chemicals And Health Risks

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Chemicals And Health Risks
Chemicals And Health Risks
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Video: Chemical Exposures and Our Health 2023, February

Chemicals & Health Risks

Most industrially manufactured products cannot do without the use of chemicals. The chemical substances contained can be released under certain conditions - this usually occurs in very small quantities. One example is the plasticizers (phthalates) contained in PVC floors or paints. Humans absorb the released substances through breathing or food or come into contact with the chemicals through their skin.

Certain chemicals can possibly play a role in the development of health problems, even in small amounts, if they are exposed to long-term exposure, for example over several years. The health hazards (acute and chronic) for some products have only been insufficiently researched.


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  • Acrylamide risks
  • Risks from bisphenol A.
  • Risks from nonylphenol
  • Phthalate Risks
  • Formaldehyde and VOC risks
  • Risks from perfluorinated surfactants (PFT)
  • Risks from nanotechnologies
  • Legal regulations and restrictions

Legal bans apply in the EU and Austria for the use of certain harmful chemicals in certain products, e.g. phthalates in toys, baby articles, paints, adhesives. Experts suspect that they contribute to an increase in certain chronic diseases, e.g. allergies or infertility.

When using chemicals in the workplace or in the private sector, hazard pictograms and the safety instructions must therefore be observed. Some chemical substances are classified as carcinogenic; special care is required with these

Acrylamide risks

Acrylamide is used in various industrial applications, such as the production of polymers and paper, as a flocculant in tunnel construction or in water treatment. In addition, acrylamide is also produced when roasting, baking and deep-frying foods rich in carbohydrates, for example potatoes or when toasting bread. Acrylamide can also be found in finished food products such as potato chips, soluble or roasted coffee, etc. It also arises from tobacco smoking.

The health effects on humans are not yet fully understood. In animal studies, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects have been demonstrated.

Risks from bisphenol A

One of the most important chemicals for the industry is bisphenol A (BPA), a potentially hormonally active substance. Around one million tons are produced in the EU every year. Bisphenol A is found in polycarbonate plastics, PVC, epoxy resins and coatings or in everyday products such as cosmetics, thermal paper, returnable bottles, food packaging, storage containers and plastic microwave dishes.

Even newborns are exposed to this chemical. In the human body, the substance can act like the female hormone estrogen and influence the endocrine system accordingly. This can lead to undesirable effects, especially in unborn babies and small children, which only appear in adulthood, since their organism is still developing. Scientific research suggests that increased exposure to BPA in men may be responsible for infertility. In Austria and the EU there are legal bans on the use of BPA in certain products, e.g. plastic baby bottles, pacifiers, teethers.

Risks from nonylphenol

The chemical nonylphenol is the starting material for the production of non-ionic surfactants and is also used in synthetic resins and varnishes, additives for lubricating oils and plasticizers. The chemical has estrogenic effects and can negatively affect the endocrine system. A reduction in sperm count was found in animal experiments. Nonylphenols are not allowed in the EU for certain uses where the substance mixture can get into sewage or come into direct contact with humans.

Phthalate Risks

Phthalates are used as plasticizers in plastics (PVC), e.g. in floors or plastic cladding, and as additives in paints, varnishes, dispersions, solvents, in textile auxiliaries, in pharmaceuticals or in cosmetic preparations, e.g. in perfumes, deodorants, nail polishes, etc. Man is exposed to the chemical through food, consumer products, toys or house dust, for example. Children are particularly at risk. Phthalates can have a negative impact on the endocrine system and reproduction and can be involved in developmental defects.

Formaldehyde and VOC risks

A large part of the formaldehyde produced is used for the production of binders (e.g. for adhesives and glues). The most important area of ​​application is the gluing of wood-based materials, e.g. chipboard, plywood and blockboard. Since 1990 it has been the case in Austria that only wood-based materials of emission class E1 may be sold. Significant amounts are also found in tobacco smoke. Formaldehyde can cause cancer.

VOC are volatile organic compounds. They are used as solvents in the manufacture of furniture, textiles, paints, varnishes and floor coverings. Depending on their concentration, they can lead to unpleasant smells or cause health problems, e.g. allergies, irritation of the mucous membranes, fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating.

Further information: How to keep your indoor climate unaffected

Risks from perfluorinated surfactants (PFT)

The industrial chemicals belonging to this group of substances give products surface-active properties (e.g. water and grease repellent). Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) are used, for example, as non-stick coatings for pots and pans, for impregnating carpets, for surface finishing of furniture, for water-repellent, weatherproof textiles or in medical technology. The disadvantage: Certain perfluorinated surfactants (PFT), especially perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), can practically not be broken down and accumulate in the food chain.

They are now widespread worldwide in the environment, even in remote areas, accumulate in the food chain and have already been detected in human blood and breast milk. Long-term studies with rats and mice showed that certain PFCs can promote the development of cancer. It is also suspected that some PFCs can negatively affect female fertility and male sperm maturity.

Risks from nanotechnologies

Nanomaterials are particles and structures that are smaller than 100 nanometers (nm). Nanomaterials are used in many areas, for example in plastics, semiconductor technology, in targeted drugs, cosmetics, textiles or biotechnology. Possible health risks can be triggered if the substances penetrate organs and even cells due to their small size. Inflammatory processes, for example, can be triggered there.

Further information: nanomaterials and health hazards

Legal regulations and restrictions

The use of chemicals is comprehensively regulated in EU legislation. The aim of the guidelines is a high level of protection of human health and the environment. For certain groups of chemicals, e.g. biocides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, the EU has its own legal regulations that apply equally in all member states.

The European chemicals regulation REACH is of particular importance. It includes, among other things, a right to information for consumers who want to find out whether a product contains substances of very high concern.

Additional Information:

  • Reach help desk
  • Federal Environment Agency - chemicals
  • European Commission, Chemicals, REACH
  • European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)

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