Glossary of Terms
Carcinogen – Any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer.
Mutagen – An agent that causes a permanent genetic change in a cell
other than that which occurs during normal genetic recombination. Mutagenicity
is the capacity of a chemical or physical agent to cause such permanent
Teratogen – Substances that cause malformation or serious deviation
from normal development of embryos and fetuses.
Ozone depleting compounds – Destruction of the stratospheric ozone
layer which shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation harmful to life. This
destruction of ozone is caused by the breakdown of certain chlorine and/or-
bromine containing compounds (chlorofluorocarbons or halons), which break down
when they reach the stratosphere and then catalytically destroy ozone
Greenhouse gasses – The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere attributed to
a buildup of carbon dioxide or other gases; some scientists think that this
build-up allows the sun’s rays to heat the Earth, while infrared radiation
makes the atmosphere opaque to a counterbalancing loss of heat.
Petroleum distillates – Petroleum, a thick natural oil obtained beneath
the earth, consists of various hydrocarbons, a class of chemicals containing
both hydrogen and carbon. Petroleum distillates, also called hydrocarbons or
petrochemicals, refer to a broad range of compounds which are extracted by
distillation during the refining of crude oil.
Petroleum distillates are found in a wide variety of consumer-products
including lip gloss, liquid gas, fertilizer, furniture polish, pesticides,
plastics, paint thinners, solvents, motor oil, fuels and hundreds of other
products. Petroleum distillates listed commonly on labels of general household
products are those that distill off around naphthas. Chlorinated Solvent: An
organic solvent containing chlorine atoms (e.g. methylene chloride and
1,1,1-trichloromethane). Uses of chlorinated solvents include aerosol spray
containers, highway paints, and dry cleaning fluids.
Persistent – Refers to the length of time a compound stays in the
environment, once introduced. A compound may persist for less than a second or
indefinitely. Bio-accumulative substances – are substances that increase in
concentration in living organisms that can aid in pollution control by
metabolizing organic matter in sewage, oil spills or other pollutants.
However, bacteria in soil, water or air can also cause human, animal, and
plant health problems.
Volatile Organic Compound – Substances containing carbon and different
proportions of other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine,
bromine, sulfur, or nitrogen; these substances easily become vapor or gases. A
significant number of VOCs are commonly used as solvents (paint thinners,
lacquer thinners, degreasers, and dry cleaning fluids).
Readily biodegradable – Environmental specifications are directed at
biodegradability which are expressed in terms of percentage of a product which
will degrade in a specific length of time. Readily biodegradable products
refers to materials that are quickly decomposed into harmless byproducts,
while “inherently” biodegradable basically means they will eventually
Petrochemical – An intermediate chemical derived from petroleum,
hydrocarbon liquids, or natural gas.
U.S Environmental Protection Agency, Terminology Reference System
Southwestern Petroleum Corporation, Techni-Gram, September 2003
Children’s Environmental Health Network, Resource Guide