Hazardous Chemical Glossary

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+ 1,4-dichlorobenzene

See para-dichlorobenzene.

+ 1,4-dioxane

Carcinogenic. Readily penetrates the skin. Products most likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane are those with PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, "eth" (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate), or oxynol in the ingredients. Polysorbate 60 and polysorbate 80 may also be contaminated.

+ 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol

Also known as Bronopol

A preservative. May break down into formaldehyde. Can form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Found in cosmetics, personal-care products (shampoos, lotions), and baby products.

+ 2-butoxy-1-ethanol

See butyl cellosolve.

+ Aerosol propellants

See propellants.

+ Alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanol

See phenol.

+ Ammonia

Also known as ammonium chloride, ammonium hydroxide, benzalkonium chloride, and quaternary ammonium compounds.

An irritant that affects the skin, eyes, and respiratory passages. Extremely toxic when inhaled in concentrated vapors. Repeated exposure may lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. Can cause chemical burns, cataracts, and corneal damage. Has been shown to produce skin cancer. Toxic effects to plants, animals, and fish. Listed as a toxic chemical on the EPA's Community Right-to-Know list. Found in a wide range of household cleaning products, including glass cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, and disinfectants.

+ Ammonium chloride

See ammonia.

+ Ammonium hydroxide

See ammonia.

+ Amyl acetate

Banana oil, pear oil.

Skin irritant and neurotoxin causing central nervous-system depression. Found in furniture polishes, nail finishes, nail-polish removers, and perfumes.

+ Benzalkonium chloride

See ammonia.

Synthetic disinfectant and bacteriacide. Wide use is causing new strains of resistant bacteria. Negatively affects living organisms. Found in disinfecting hand soaps, dishwashing detergent, disinfectants, and cleaners.

+ Benzene

Carcinogenic. Harmful amounts may be absorbed through skin. Irritating to mucous membranes. Poisonous when ingested. Inhalation of fumes may be toxic. Cited by the EPA and OSHA as a threat to public health. Found in oven cleaners, detergents, furniture polishes, spot removers, and nail-polish removers.

+ Bronopol

See 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol.

+ Butane

See propellants.

+ Butoxyethanol

See butyl cellosolve.

+ Butyl cellosolve

Also known as 2-butoxy-1-ethanol, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, butoxyethanol, and butyl oxitol.

Highly toxic synthetic solvent and grease cutter that can irritate mucous membranes and cause liver damage. Readily absorbed through the skin; neurotoxic. Found in some all-purpose cleaners and degreasers, window cleaners, and a wide range of other household cleaning products.

+ Butyl oxitol

See butyl cellosolve.

+ Butylparaben

See parabens.

+ Carbon disulfide

See organic solvents.

+ Caustic soda

See sodium hydroxide.

+ Chlorine

Also known as sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide, sodium dichloroixocyanurate, hydrogen chloride, and hydrochloric acid.

Powerful irritant. Can be fatal upon inhalation. Causes the most household poisonings in the U.S., and ranks first in industrial injuries and deaths.There is growing evidence that chlorinated drinking water causes bladder cancer and rectal cancer. Many chlorinated water supplies probably contain some amount of THM (trihalomethanes), which are carcinogenic compounds. THMs can be removed from tap water with an adequate home filtration system with activated carbon. Chlorine and compounds are environmentally damaging, break down slowly in the ecosystem, are stored in the fatty tissue of wildlife, and are a prime cause of atmospheric ozone loss. Chlorine is listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant. Found in a wide range of household cleaners, including laundry bleaches, dishwasher detergents, and tub and tile cleaners.

+ Chlorine dioxide

See chlorine.

+ Cocamide DEA

Also known as cocamide diethanolamine.

While not carcinogenic, has the potential to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Found in dishwashing liquids, shampoos, and cosmetics.

+ Cocamide diethanolamine

See cocamide DEA.

+ Colors and dyes

FD&C or D&C.

Artificial colors are made from petroleum and coal tar, and are believed to be cancer-causing agents. They may penetrate the skin, can cause allergies, and are irritants to the skin and eyes. They are found on labels as "FD&C" or "D&C" and followed by a color and a number. Yellow, amber, green, or blue products are dyed with synthetic colors, and should be avoided.

+ Crystalline silica

Eye, skin, and lung irritant. Carcinogenic. Found in some highly-popular brands of all-purpose cleaner.

+ D&C

See colors and dyes.

+ D-limonene

Eye and skin irritant. Evidence of carcinogenicity. Neurotoxic. Found in some paints, flea-control products, lice treatments, and cleaning products.


Also known as diethanolamine, triethanolamine, and monoethanolamine.

Moderate skin and severe eye irritant. Can react with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Found in a wide range of household cleaning and personal-care products.

+ DMDM hydantoin

See formaldehyde and preservatives.

+ Diammonium EDTA


+ Diazolidinyl urea

See imidazolidinyl urea.

+ Diethanolamine

See DEA.

+ Diethylene dioxide

See dioxane.

+ Diethylene ether

See dioxane.

+ Diethylene oxide

See dioxane.

+ Dioxane

Also known as diethylene dioxide, diethylene ether, and diethylene oxide.

A carcinogen. Listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the 1990 Clean Air Act. Found in window cleaners.


Also known as ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetic and diammonium EDTA.

Skin irritant. Irritating to the mucous membranes, leading to allergies, asthma, and skin rashes. Does not readily biodegrade. Binds with heavy metals trapped in our lakes and streams, thereby activating the metals and causing them to reenter the food chain. Found in laundry detergents.


+ Ethoxylated alcohols

See 1,4-dioxane.

May be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is carcinogenic.

+ Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether

See butyl cellosolve.

+ Ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetic


+ Ethylparaben

See parabens.

+ FD&C

See colors and dyes.

+ Flame retardants


Mutagenic and carcinogenic to animals. Absorbed through the skin from clothing.

+ Formaldehyde

Irritating, allergy-producing, neurotoxic, and carcinogenic. Can cause insomnia, coughing, headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, and skin rashes. Some of the most irritating and allergenic preservatives contain, release, or break down into formaldehyde. These include 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and quaternium 15. Widely used in deodorizers, disinfectants, personal-care products (including shampoos), and cosmetics (including nail polishes and hardeners). A common air pollutant, it is also used in permanent-press sheets, mattresses, foams, plastics, and building materials.

+ Fragrance

Artificial fragrances are 95% derived from petrochemicals. The word "fragrance" listed on a label can indicate that as many as 600 separate chemicals have been used in the formula. Some, such as methylene chloride, are carcinogenic, and some contain or release formaldehyde. They often cause allergies, skin irritation, headaches, and nausea.

+ Germacides

See benzalkonium chloride.

Mostly-synthetic bacteriacides. (See benzalkonium chloride.) Found in disinfecting hand soaps, dishwashing detergents, disinfectants, and cleaners.

+ Glycol ether

See butyl cellosolve.

Large group of chemicals. Can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Can be hazardous to the reproductive system. Can range from relatively nontoxic to extremely toxic. Can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. Can be absorbed quickly through the skin. Found in some household cleaning products, paints, cosmetics, and perfumes.

+ Hydrochloric acid

See chlorine.

Can dissolve and destroy tender tissues upon direct contact. Eyes, nose, and throat easily irritated by vapors. Can burn, result in permanent scarring and even blindness. Found in aluminum cleaners and rust removers.

+ Hydrogen chloride

See chlorine.

+ Hypochlorite

See chlorine.

+ Imidazolidinyl, diazolidinyl urea

See preservatives.

Most commonly used cosmetic preservative, after parabens. Primary cause of contact dermatitis. Found in cosmetics, baby shampoos, personal care products, and fragrances.

+ Kerosene, mineral spirits

Eye and skin irritant. Can damage lung tissues. Neurotoxic. May contain the carcinogen benzene. Found in all-purpose cleaners, furniture polishes, and waxes.

+ Lanolin

Causes allergic skin rashes. Cosmetic-grade lanolin can be contaminated with pesticides, including DDT, dieldrin, and lindane, which are carcinogenic, and diazinon, which is neurotoxic. Can enter the bloodstream through the skin. Labels do not disclose which lanolin-based ingredients are pure. Found in a wide range of cosmetics, hair products, ointments, and lotions.

+ Lindane

Toxic. Readily absorbed through the skin. Known to cause convulsions and seizures. Animal carcinogenic. Found in head-lice treatments (shampoos).

+ MEA (monoethanolamine)

See DEA.

+ Methanol

Also known as methyl alchohol.

Severe eye and skin irritant. Can cause blindness. Neurotoxic. Found in glass cleaners, some paint removers and strippers, and art products.

+ Methylparaben

See parabens.

+ Methyl alchohol

See methanol.

+ Metyl n-butyl ketone

See organic solvents.

+ Mineral spirits

See kerosene.

+ Monoethanolamine

See DEA.

+ Morpholine

Extremely toxic. Irritating to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. May cause liver and kidney damage. Reacts with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Found in all-purpose cleaners, furniture polishes, and car waxes.

+ N-Hexane

See organic solvents.

+ Naphthas

See petroleum distillates.

+ Napthalene

Irritating to the eyes and skin. Can cause cataracts, corneal damage, and kidney damage. Suspected carcinogen. Extremely toxic to small children and infants. Can cause blood damage to fetuses. Found in mothballs, air fresheners, deodorizers, carpet cleaners, and toilet-bowl cleaners.

+ Nonyl phenoxy ethoxylate

See phenol.

+ Nonylphenol

Endocrine disruptor. Should be avoided.

+ Octyl dimethyl PABA

See padimate-O.

+ Optical brighteners

Can cause allergic reactions. Do not readily biodegrade. Toxic to fish. Found in laundry detergents.

+ Organic solvents

Also known as carbon disulfide, n-hexane, metyl n-butyl ketone, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, toluene.

Neurotoxins and central-nervous-system depressants. Recognized as carcinogens and reproductive hazards in the workplace. Found in all-purpose cleaners, degreasers, metal polishes, varnish and lacquer removers, dry-cleaning solutions, paints and coatings, and adhesives.

+ Oxynol

See 1,4-dioxane.

+ P-dichlorobenzene

See para-dichlorobenzene.


See para-dichlorobenzene.


See 1,4-Dioxane.

+ Padimate-o

Also known as octyl dimethyl PABA.

Can cause formation of nitrosamines. May be carcinogenic. Found in sunscreens and cosmetics.

+ Para-dichlorobenzene

Also known as p-dichlorobenzene, PDCB, and 1,4-dichlorobenzene.

Extremely toxic. Carcinogenic. Highly volatile. Causes liver and kidney damage. Does not biodegrade. Found in moth repellents, toilet deodorizers, room deodorants, and insecticides.

+ Parabens

Also known as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben.

Preservatives that have a greater-than-normal potential for causing irritation and allergic reactions. Reported to be toxic. Widely used in personal-care products, including shampoos and cosmetics.

+ Perchloroethylene, "perc"


See organic solvents.


Animal carcinogen, suspected human carcinogen. Air pollutant. Groundwater contaminant. Drinking water contaminated with perc has leukemia and birth-defect implications. Long-term overexposure may effect the nervous system. Found in spot removers, degreasers, and dry-cleaning fluids.

+ Petroleum distillates

Also known as naphthas; see toluene, xylene, benzene, napthalene, and Stoddard solvent.

Group of chemicals obtained from the petroleum-refining process. Eye, skin, and respiratory irritants. Neurotoxic effects can lead to organic brain damage. Many petroleum products are carcinogenic. Found in heavy-duty cleaners, laundry stain removers, furniture polishes, car waxes, lice shampoos, home and garden pesticides, and flea-control products.

+ Phenol

Also known as alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanol and nonyl phenoxy ethoxylate.

Very toxic. Suspected carcinogen. Swelling, pimples, and hives are common. Internal consumption can cause circulatory collapse, convulsions, cold sweats, coma, and death. Found in laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, disinfectants, and furniture polishes.

+ Phosphates

Cause excessive growth in aquatic plants (especially algae), leading to suffocation of fish and other aquatic life. Found in laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, and all-purpose cleaners.

+ Phosphoric acid

Eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Breathing vapors can burn lungs. Found in bathroom cleaners.

+ Polyethylene

See 1,4-dioxane.

+ Polyethylene glycol

See 1,4-dioxane.

+ Polyoxyethylene

See 1,4-dioxane.

+ Polysorbate 60 and Polysorbate 80

See 1,4-dioxane.

+ Preservatives

Also see parabens, formaldehyde, and imidazolidinyl urea.

Leading cause of contact dermatitis. Less irritating and allergenic preservatives include grapefruit-seed extract, phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate, sorbic acid, tocopherol (vitamin E), Vitamin A (retinyl), and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

+ Propane

See propellants.

+ Propellants, propane, butane

Eye, throat, and respiratory irritants. Aggravate asthma. Known to cause lung disease. Can cause eye injury and chemical burns. Found in a wide range of aerosol products, including oven cleaners, furniture polishes, air fresheners, insecticides, and personal-care products.

+ Propylene glycol

Reported to have severe adverse health effects, including contact dermatitis, allergies, and kidney and liver damage. Used widely in cosmetics, personal-care products, and baby products (wipes and lotions).

+ Propylparaben

See parabens.

+ Pyrethrin

Allergic. Neurotoxic. Found in head-lice treatments, house and garden pesticides, and flea-control products.

+ Quaternary ammonium compounds

See ammonia.

+ Quaternium 15

See formaldehyde and preservatives.

+ Soda lye

See sodium hydroxide.

+ Sodium bisulfate

Corrosive. Damaging to the eyes, skin, and internal tissues if swallowed. Can cause asthma attacks. Found in toilet-bowl cleaners and deodorizers.

+ Sodium dichloroixocyanurate

See chlorine.

+ Sodium dodecyl sulfate

See sodium laureth sulfate.

+ Sodium hydroxide

Also known as lye, caustic soda, and soda lye.

Corrosive. Eye, skin and respiratory irritant. Can burn eyes, skin and internal organs. Can cause lung damage, blindness and be fatal if swallowed. Found in a wide range of household cleaners including oven cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and drain openers.

+ Sodium hypochlorite

See chlorine.

+ Sodium laurel sulfate

See sodium laureth sulfate.

+ Sodium laureth sulfate

Also sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laurel sulfate, and sodium dodecyl sulfate; also see 1,4-dioxane.

Skin irritant. Reported as toxic in many studies. Has tendency to react with other ingredients to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. The FDA has stated that levels of dioxin formation in products containing sodium laureth sulfate are unacceptable. Studies have shown eye and systemic tissue (heart, liver, brain) penetration. Main ingredient in many shampoos, baby shampoos, and toothpastes.

+ Sodium lauryl sulfate

See sodium laureth sulfate.

+ Sodium metasilicate

Corrosive to the skin. Severe eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Inhalation can cause throat and lung damage. Found in detergents and dishwashing detergents.

+ Stoddard solvent

See petroleum distillates.

Petroleum distillate. Eye and mucous-membrane irritant. Neurotoxic. Found in all-purpose cleaners, abrasives, and floor and auto waxes.

+ Sulfates

See sodium laureth sulfate.

+ Sulfuric acid

See sodium bisulfate.

Very corrosive, producing severe burns on contact. Found in toilet-bowl cleaners and metal polishes.


Also known as triethanolamine;see DEA.

Moderate skin and severe eye irritant. Can react with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Found in a wide range of household cleaning and personal-care products.


See flame retardants.

+ Talc

Cosmetic talc is carcinogenic. Talc-based powder has been linked to ovarian cancer. Found in baby and bath powders, face powders, dry rouges, and foot powders.

+ Tetrapotassium pyrophosphate

Irritating, corrosive, and highly toxic. Suspected of forming organophosphate properties, which cause excessive algae growth (see phosphates).

+ Tetrasodium pyrophosphate

See phosphates.

+ Toluene

Also known as xylene; see petroleum distillates, organic solvents.

Highly toxic petrochemical solvent. Eye and skin irritant. Carcinogenic. Neurotoxic and reproductive effects. Found in spot removers, car cleaners, and paints.

+ Trichloroethane


Severe eye irritant. Can be absorbed through skin. Hazardous air pollutant. Inhalation and ingestion can lead to death. Found in cosmetics and degreasers.

+ Trichloroethylene


See organic solvents.

Suspected carcinogen. Very irritating to eyes and nose. Found in spot removers and metal polishes.

+ Triethanolamine

TEA; see DEA.

Moderate skin and severe eye irritant. Can react with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Found in a wide range of household cleaning and personal-care products.

+ Xylene

See toluene, petroleum distillates.

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