Our chemical world

It would be impossible to conceive of a world without man-made chemicals. The number of chemicals currently available, and the volumes in which they are produced, is astonishing.
More than 30,000 chemicals are now marketed in the European Union, and they have made their way into the air, soil and water - into every aspect of Europe's environment.

Here are some of the ways in which man-made chemicals are used in our daily lives:

Food and drink

Watch what you eat: around 1,000 different chemicals might be present in our food!

Most food tins are lined with a resin which contains a hormone-disrupting chemical called bisphenol A, which can leach from the tin into the food inside. Bisphenol A is also found in Polycarbonate (PC) plastics, from which some bottles and storage containers are made.

Clothing

Many clothes are made from artificial fibres or from a mixture of natural and synthetic fibres and are often treated with chemical dyes and flame retardants.

Cleaning Products

The number of household cleaning products and disinfectants containing anti-bacterial agents such as Triclosan is increasing. Synthetic fragrances are also widely used in household products. They can persist in the environment for long periods and build up in our own bodies as well as wildlife.

Cosmetics

Buying cosmetics is a lottery, because we're often unable to determine whether or not hazardous chemicals are present in a product. This is especially true of phthalates. They are found in cosmetics, but are rarely listed in the ingredients. Indeed, the identities of up to 100 potentially persistent or allergenic chemicals are hidden by the use of the word 'parfum' on cosmetics or toiletries.

Research indicates that regular long-term use of hair dyes may be associated with the development of allergic reactions or bladder cancer in some people.

In the living room

Furniture, televisions, other electrical appliances, carpets and rugs often contain chemicals that are stain repellent or fire retardant. Some chemicals used as flame retardants (brominated flame retardants) persist for a long time in the environment, accumulate in our bodies and can disrupt our natural hormone systems.

Toys

There is a temporary EU ban on using phthalates in toys intended to be sucked by children under three, but other toys continue to contain such chemicals.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Jorge Sierra
Chemicals belonging to the “non-stick” family of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which includes Teflon, are increasingly being used in synthetic clothing, including children’s clothing.
© WWF-Canon / Jorge Sierra

Reduce your risks

There are ways in which you can limit your own exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Find out how you can help protect your own health, your family's health and the environment upon which we all depend.

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