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Understanding Label Terminology: A Guide to Chemical Safety





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Navigating the world of household chemicals can be daunting. Understanding the terms used on product labels is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of your family. Here’s a comprehensive guide to some key terms and concepts you might encounter:

Label Warnings


  • Indicates that a few drops to a teaspoon can be life-threatening if ingested.


  • Signifies that one teaspoon to one ounce can be life-threatening if ingested.


  • Used when more than one ounce must be ingested before life-threatening symptoms occur.

Key Terms and Concepts

Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)

  • The safe daily exposure level to a chemical over a lifetime without adverse effects.

Active Ingredients

  • Components in a product responsible for its primary function.

Acute and Acute Toxicity

  • Refers to immediate effects from a single, often large, exposure.

Alkanol Amines and Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates

  • Classes of synthetic solvents and surfactants, some with environmental and health concerns.


  • An irritant affecting skin, eyes, and respiratory passages.

Amyl Acetate

  • A neurotoxic synthetic grease cutter.

Antibacterial and Antibiotic

  • Products or ingredients that kill or inhibit bacteria.

Aromatic Hydrocarbons

  • Volatile organic compounds similar to benzene, potentially hazardous.


  • A respiratory condition exacerbated by certain indoor air pollutants.

Benzalkonium Chloride and Benzene

  • Harmful disinfectants and solvents, with benzene being a known carcinogen.

Biaccumulation and Biodegradable

  • Refers to the buildup of chemicals in the body and the ability of substances to break down naturally.

Body Burden

  • The total amount of chemical pollutants in a human body.

Butoxyethanol and Butyl Cellosolve

  • Toxic solvents that can irritate membranes and affect the nervous system.

Cancer and Carcinogen

  • Uncontrolled cell growth and substances that can cause or aggravate cancer.

Caustic Soda and Chlorine

  • Harsh chemicals with various health risks.

Certified Organic and Sustainable

  • Assurance of meeting specific organic or sustainable production standards.

Chemical Hypersensitivity

  • Allergic reactions to certain chemicals.

Chronic Effects

  • Result from repeated, long-term exposure to a chemical or product.

Diethanolamines and Dioxane

  • Harmful ingredients in cleaners and personal care products.

Endocrine Disruptors

  • Chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal system.

Ethylene Glycol and Ethyl Cellosolve

  • Toxic solvents that can impact health and the environment.


  • A potent carcinogen and respiratory irritant found in many household products.

Fungicides and Germicides

  • Substances that kill fungi and bacteria, some with health risks.

Genetic Engineering

  • The modification of an organism’s genetic composition.

Heavy Metals and Herbicides

  • Toxic metals and plant-killing substances with various health impacts.


  • Ingredients in products that do not contribute to their primary function.

Integrated Pest Management

  • A safer, effective approach to pest control.


  • The use of radiation in food preservation and sterilization.

Kerosene and Lead

  • Harmful substances found in cleaners and older paints.

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

  • A document that provides information on the properties of hazardous chemicals.

Methanol and Methyl Alcohol

  • Harmful solvents that can cause health issues.

Naphthalene and Nitrilotriacetic Acid

  • Toxic substances with various adverse health effects.

Organic Solvents and Organochlorine

  • Chemicals derived from petroleum, some with significant health and environmental risks.

Paradichlorobenzene and Perchloroethylene

  • Harmful chemicals used in mothballs and dry cleaning.

Pesticides and Phosphates

  • Chemicals used to kill pests and substances that can disrupt ecosystems.

Polyethylene Glycol and Polycarboxylates

  • Chemicals used in cleaning products, with potential health impacts.

Pyrethrin, Pyrethroid, and Pyrethrum

  • Insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers, with potential risks.

Quaternium 15

  • A disinfectant that can release formaldehyde.


  • A radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.

Sodium Hydroxide and Sodium Hypochlorite

  • Caustic substances used in cleaners with various health risks.


  • Chemicals that dissolve other substances, often toxic.

Trichloroethane and Triethanolamine

  • Hazardous solvents and surfactants.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  • Gases emitted by various solids or liquids, many of which have short- and long-term adverse health effects.

Xylene Sulfonate

  • A synthetic surfactant that can be slow to biodegrade and moderately toxic.

Understanding these terms can help you make safer choices in household products and reduce your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Remember to always read labels carefully and research ingredients when in doubt.

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