Common chemicals found at Superfund sites
Lead – 1272 (Number of sites the chemical is found at)
What it’s used for: Producing batteries, ammunition, metal product and X-ray shields. Once was used commonly in paints and ceramic products.
Health effects: Can affect almost every system in the body. Long-term can result in decreased brain function; can cause weakness in fingers, wrists or ankles. Also can cause increases in blood pressure and anemia. Exposure to high levels cans severely damage the brain and kidneys. Can cause miscarriages in pregnant women.
Arsenic -- 1149
What it’s used for: Pressure treating wood, pesticide on cotton plants
Health effects: Large doses can cause death; swallowing lower levels can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Over time, exposure can cause decreased production of blood cells, which can cause fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms, blood-vessel damage and impaired nerve function. Can cause cancer.
Chromium -- 1127
What it’s used for: Making steel, chrome plating, dyes and pigments, leather tanning and wood preserving.
Health effects: Breathing high levels can cause irritation to nose and breathing problems like asthma, shortness of breath or wheezing. Can cause cancer.
Cadmium -- 1014
What it’s used for: Producing batteries, metal coatings and plastics.
Health effects: Breathing high levels can severely damage the lungs. Consuming high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to low levels can cause kidney disease, lung damage and fragile bones. Can cause cancer.
Benzene -- 1000
What it’s used for: Used to make other chemicals, make plastics, resins, nylon and synthetic c fibers. Also used in rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.
Health effects: Breathing high levels of benzene can result in death. Breathing lower levels can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion and unconsciousness. Consuming benzene can cause vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate and death. Can cause cancer.
Zinc -- 985
What it’s used for: Manufacturing paint, rubber, dyes, wood preservatives and ointments.
Health effects: Ingesting large doses can cause stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Long-term exposure can cause anemia and decrease in cholesterol.
Toluene -- 959
What it’s used for: Making paints, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives and rubber. Also used in leather tanning.
Health effects: Low to moderate levels can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite and hearing and color vision loss. Inhaling high levels can cause unconsciousness or death and may also affect kidney function.
Trichloroethylene -- 852
What it’s used for: Ingredient in adhesives, typewriter correction fluids and spot removers.
Health effects: Breathing small amounts can cause headaches, lung irritation, dizziness, poor coordination and difficulty concentrating. Consuming or breathing large amounts may cause impaired heart function, nerve, kidney and liver damage, unconsciousness and death. Can cause cancer.
Nickel -- 882
What it’s used for: Nickel plating, coloring ceramics, batteries and to help quicken chemical reactions.
Health effects: Skin rash at site of contact, asthma attacks. Chronic exposure can cause chronic bronchitis and reduced lung function. Causes cancer.
Methylene Chloride -- 882
What it’s used for: Paint stripper, aerosol and pesticide products.
Health effects: Breathing large amounts can cause dizziness, nausea and numbness in fingers and toes. May cause cancer.
Barium -- 798
What it’s used for: Creating drilling muds for oil and gas industry. Also used to make paint, bricks, ceramics, glass and rubber.
Health effects: Can effect digestion and cause muscular weakness Consuming small amounts of barium can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, kidney damage, problems with blood pressure and numbness around the face. Consuming large amounts of barium can change heart rhythms, cause paralysis and possibly death.
Tetrachloroethylene -- 771
What it’s used for: Dry cleaning and metal decreasing.
Health effects: Exposure to high concentrations can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea.
Chloroform -- 717
What it’s used for: Once used as an anesthetic, now used to make other chemicals.
Health effects: Inhaling it over a short period of time can cause dizziness, fatigue and headache. Breathing high levels for long periods of time may cause liver and kidney damage. Skin contact can cause sores. May also be a carcinogen.
Mercury -- 714
What it’s used for: Producing chlorine gas and caustic soda, also used in thermometers, dental fillings and batteries.
Health effects: Exposure to high levels can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetus. Effects on brain can result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing and memory problems. May cause cancer.
Naphthalene -- 687
What it’s used for: Ingredient in mothballs, moth flakes and toilet deodorant blocks.
Health effects: Can damage or destroy red blood cells, causing anemia. Exposure to large amounts may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in urine and yellow color to the skin. May cause cancer.
Vinyl chloride -- 616
What it’s used for: Manufacturing Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for pipes, wire and cable coatings.
Health effects: Breathing high levels can cause dizziness and sleepiness as well as loss of consciousness and death. Long-term exposure to lower levels can develop nerve and liver damage as well as changes in blood circulation. Can cause cancer.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- 600
What it’s used for: Byproducts of burning coal, oil and gas, garbage and other substances.
Health effects: Can cause cancer.
Acetone -- 572
What it’s used for: Manufacturing plastic, fibers, drugs and other chemicals.
Health effects: Moderate exposure can result in eye and respiratory irritation and dizziness. High exposure may cause confusion, shortening of menstrual cycle, increased pulse rate and loss of consciousness.
Dichloroethane -- 570
What it’s used for: Producing vinyl products, furniture and automobile upholstery. Also used to remove lead from gasoline.
Health effects: Ingesting or inhaling large amounts can cause nervous system disorders, liver and kidney disease and lung effects. May cause cancer.
Dichloroethene -- 515
What it’s used for: Manufacturing plastics like food wrap and packaging material. Also makes flame-retardant coatings for fiber and carpet backings, and found in coatings for piping and steel.
Health effects: Breathing lower levels can damage nervous system, liver and lungs. Can cause cancer.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - 500
What it’s used for: Used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment such as light fixtures. Manufacturing PCBs was banned in 1977.
Health effects: Chronic exposure can cause blood changes and liver effects. Can cause cancer.
Butanone -- 472
What it’s used for: Ingredient in paints and coatings as well as glues and cleaning agents.
Health effects: Low exposure can irritate nose, throat, skin and eyes. Cannot cause death on its own, but if it is breathed with other chemicals, 2-Butanone can increase the amount of damage that occurs.
Cyanide -- 471
What it’s used for: Producing chemicals, photographic developing, manufacturing plastics, fumigation of ships and some mining processes.
Health effects: Exposure to high levels for a short time harms brain and heart and can cause convulsions, coma and death. Inhaling low levels over a period of years can cause breathing difficulties, chest pain, vomiting, blood changes, headaches and enlargement of the thyroid gland.
DDT, DDE, DDD -- 441
What it’s used for: Similar chemicals used as pesticides.
Health effects: Swallowing large amounts can cause tremors and seizures. Women with large amounts of exposure over time can be unable to breastfeed babies or can have an increased chance of delivering premature babies. May cause cancer.
Carbon tetrachloride -- 425
What it’s used for: Producing refrigeration fluid and propellants for aerosol cans. Also used as a pesticide, cleaning fluid and degreasing agent. Most uses now banned.
Health effects: High exposure can cause liver, kidney and central nervous system (including the brain) damage. Can also cause comas and death. Effects are most severe in people who drink large amounts of alcohol. May cause cancer.
Pentachlorophenol -- 313
What it’s used for: Used as a pesticide and wood preservative. No longer available to the general public but still used by industry.
Health effects: High levels of exposure can cause fever, sweating and difficulty breathing. Body temperature can increase to dangerous levels causing injury to various organs and even death. Chronic exposure can cause liver and immune system damage. Can cause cancer.
Aldrin/Dieldrin -- 287/207
What it’s used for: Insecticides, now banned.
Health effects: Ingestion can result in convulsions and death. Moderate levels of air exposure can result in headaches, dizziness, vomiting and uncontrolled muscle movements. May cause cancer.
What it’s used for: All uses now banned. Once was used as a pesticide.
Health effects: High exposure can cause headaches, irritability, confusion, weakness, vision problems, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and jaundice. Consuming large amounts can cause convulsions and death.
-- Ariel Wittenberg
Sources: Toxins included in this list come from the EPA’s list of Superfund “chemicals of concern.” Information on the toxins comes from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.