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— updated 2017-09-16


Environmental health hazards checklist

A checklist of common environmental hazards (chemical, biological, and electromagnetic) in the home, community and workplace, compiled by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.
2017-09-16: This article has not been significantly updated after 1996. New toxic chemicals and biological agents, GMO products, nanotech are being created each year. Readers are strongly advised to keep up to date by subscribing to the many alternative health newsletters available on the Internet.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©1992-1996 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.


How to use this list

Not everyone will experience noticeable health problems from the environmental health hazards listed in this form. Some of the items listed are naturally present in the environment, but may cause sensitivity in certain people. For example, wool clothing appears in this list because it is a common allergen. This should not be interpreted as a recommendation that everyone go out and buy polyester leisure suits; for most people wool is a safe and comfortable form of clothing. Certain items or chemicals adversely affect a majority of people to varying degrees, and these are preceded by an asterisk (*). Some of these items will be easy to avoid once you are aware of them, such as aluminum cooking utensils and irritating cosmetics. Others, such as toxic fumes in the workplace and electromagnetic radiation from power lines may require more complicated solutions. An asterisk does not necessarily signify that you should completely avoid the hazard; it just means that you should take action to minimize the effects of pollution by proper controls. For example, even though wood stoves MAY emit highly toxic hydrocarbons, a modern high-efficiency wood stove with catalytic afterburner and a properly constructed chimney with good draft may provide heating with fewer negative health effects than gas or electric.

Often, improving one's health will require a solution which involves both minimizing environmental irritants and strengthening one's own physiological systems in order to overcome irritating effects. It is important to maintain a positive approach: the difference between concern and worry is that a concerned person will be sensitive to problems in the environment and will do what is possible to solve them, whereas the worrier knows there are problems but feels overwhelmed and often does nothing.

If you have any questions about specific items in this form, please ask your health care provider about them, including why they are harmful and how to avoid or minimize the hazardous health effects from them.


Food contaminants

Diet and nutrition checklists: basic food information for healthy eating.


Common drinking water contaminants

  • * chlorine
  • * fluorine
  • * lead (often from old plumbing with lead pipes and solder; old drinking fountains are notorious)
  • * amoebas, giardia, or other protozoa
  • * other contaminants: hydrocarbon pollutants (benzene, phenol, methanol, etc.), pesticides

Distilled water may be cleaner, but regular use may lead to mineral loss from the body. Water filtration systems vary in quality in effectiveness, and must be tailored to the particularly contaminants that are present in your water. Reverse osmosis systems are good at removing heavy metal and ionic contaminants. Activated charcoal filters are best for organic chemicals (pesticides and hydrocarbons) but tend to be susceptible to bacteria and algae buildup unless processed with silver, a natural antibiotic agent with very minimal toxicity. Micropore filters are the most effective for removing bacteria, viruses, spores, and particulate matter greater than a few microns in diameter.


Personal "hygiene" and medical chemicals

  • most cosmetics, except those with non-irritating vegetable and herbal ingredients
  • * nail polish or remover
  • * spray deodorant
  • * polyester clothing or fabric (all- or part-cotton fabrics are better than 100% synthetics because electrical static charges are reduced and breathability is improved)
  • plastic products in general
  • plastic eyeglass frames
  • false teeth
  • * nylon hose or other nylon clothing
  • adhesive tape
  • facial creams
  • wool clothing
  • * rubbing alcohol (methanol)
  • scented soap and shampoo
  • perfumes and colognes
  • * injectable phenol (as in allergy shots)
  • silver amalgam dental fillings (toxicity varies widely, depending upon quality of installation; some of the alternatives may not be any better, though; get multiple opinions before having any major dentistry)

Household and occupational chemicals

  • * coal or wood-burning stoves or fireplaces (efficient, well-designed venting is important)
  • * leaking natural gas
  • * burning natural gas
  • * kerosene
  • * cigarette smoke
  • burning incense
  • burning wax candles
  • * burning pine cones or wood
  • air conditioning (well-cleaned and sanitized systems are important)
  • * chlorinated water (as in swimming pools)
  • * dry-cleaned clothing
  • * foam-rubber backed carpet
  • * sponge-rubber bedding, rug pads
  • * typewriter pads
  • * leather or metal polishes
  • * furniture wax
  • * disinfectants and deodorizers
  • * phenol or Lysol
  • * aerosol sprays
  • * household detergents
  • * window-cleaning fluids
  • * ammonia fumes
  • * chlorine bleach
  • * plastic cements (glues)
  • * acrylic paint
  • * rubber-based paint
  • * varnish, lacquer or shellac
  • * paint or varnish thinned with mineral spirits
  • * turpentine or turpentine-containing paints
  • * fumes from tarring roofs and roads
  • * fumes from burning creosoted wood
  • * termite extermination chemicals
  • * insecticides
  • * insecticide no-pest strips
  • * insect repellent candles
  • * herbicides
  • * fumes from fresh newspapers
  • * white-out solvent, magic markers, photocopying machines
  • * fumes of inks, carbon paper, typewriter ribbons and stencils
  • * fumes of carbonless duplicate forms
  • * rubber tires and auto accessories
  • * gasoline
  • * garage fumes and odors
  • * auto and motor boat exhaust
  • * diesel exhaust
  • * lubricating greases and crude oil
  • * cars burning too much oil
  • * odors of insides of new cars
  • * radioactivity: direct radiation (x-rays from medical labs) or radioactive elements (decay byproducts from nuclear waste)

The following natural chemicals or items may cause sensitivity in certain individuals.

  • evergreen trees
  • fruit and vegetable section of supermarkets
  • grass being mowed
  • leaves being raked
  • plants being repotted
  • odors inside a greenhouse
  • musty places (as in basements)
  • dust blowing in the wind
  • soil being tilled or weeds being pulled

Home chemicals and construction materials

  • * urea formaldehyde foam insulation
  • * asbestos: insulation, fireproofing materials, building materials, etc.
  • * fiberglass (any fiberglass must be sealed in an airtight space to prevent small air-born filaments from escaping to the interior of the house; for new houses: fiberglass is not an especially good insulator, check into alternatives)
  • * particle-board (contains formaldehyde-based adhesives)

Electromagnetic pollution in or near home or workplace

  • * electrically-heated water bed or blanket
  • * electric alarm clocks (emit a surprisingly high magnetic field; locate at least 12 feet from your bed)
  • * fluorescent lighting (responsible for mood disorders, learning disorders, endocrine imbalances)
  • * cathode ray tubes (computer terminals)
  • * microwave ovens
  • * television sets (The negative mental programming may be more damaging than the harmful radiation.)
  • * electrical power lines (High-voltage lines carrying high current loads are the most harmful.)
  • * radio or TV transmission tower
  • * short-wave radio transmitter
  • * radar beacon (as in airports)

Noise pollution

  • * traffic outside your home or office
  • * loud music
  • * workplace equipment noise
  • * airports near your home or office