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Adverse health effect

A change in body function or cell structure that might lead to disease or health problems. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As mandated by the federal superfund law, the agency assesses health risks from hazardous waste sites on the EPA's National Priorities List. ATSDR determines if additional health studies are needed at these sites, provides health advisories and publishes toxicological profiles on chemicals found at hazardous waste sites.

ATSDR also maintains exposure registries of people exposed to certain substances. (Source: ATSDR website  )

Alkyl group

An alkyl is a functional group of an organic chemical that contains only carbon and hydrogen atoms, which are arranged in a chain.

They have general formula CnH2n+1

Examples include methyl CH3 (derived from methane) and butyl C2H5 (derived from butane). They are not found on their own but are found attached to other hydrocarbons. (Source: GreenFacts )



Bioaccumulation is used to describe the increase in concentration of a substance in an organism over time.

Bioaccumulative substances tend to be fat soluble and not to be broken down by the organism. (Source: GreenFacts )


Biologic intake

The process by which a substance crosses the outer boundary of an organism without passing an absorption barrier, e.g. through ingestion or inhalation. (Source: US EPA glossary )



The term biomagnification refers to the progressive build up of persistent substances by successive trophic levels - meaning that it relates to the concentration ratio in a tissue of a predator organism as compared to that in its prey. (Source: GreenFacts)


A species that is sensitive to, and shows measurable responses to, changes in the environment, such as changes in pollution levels. (Source: US EPA Ecological Risk Assessment in Superfund  )

Body burden

The total amount of a substance in the body. Some substances build up in the body because they are stored in fat or bone or because they leave the body very slowly. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )



The dense, living tissue that makes up the skeleton of humans and vertebrate animals.

Mature bones are made up of three types of tissue: compact tissue (the hard outer portion of most bones); cancellous tissue (spongy tissue inside the bones that contains bone marrow, which makes blood cells); and subchondral tissue (smooth bone tissue of the joints).

Cancellous tissue, also known as cancellous bone, spongy bone or trabecular bone, is characterized by its spongy, porous, honeycomb-like structure and is typically found at the ends of long bones. Compact tissue is also known as hard bone, compact bone or compact cortical bone. (Source: GreenFacts)


British Dental Health Foundation

"The Foundation is the leading UK-based independent oral health charity. It aims to help people improve their oral health through a range of project activities run under the British Dental Health Foundation name in the UK, and the International Dental Health Foundation throughout the rest of the world."

British Medical Association

"The British Medical Association represents doctors from all branches of medicine all over the UK.

It is a voluntary association with about 80 per cent of practising doctors in membership. It has a total membership of over 128,000, rising steadily, including more than 3,300 members overseas and over 13,000 medical student members." (Source: BMA website )

Canadian Dental Association

"The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) is the authoritative national voice of dentistry, dedicated to the representation and advancement of the profession, nationally and internationally, and to the achievement of optimal oral health."


Any one of a group of diseases that occur when cells in the body become abnormal and have the potential to spread and establish growth in nearby tissues and other parts of the body (malignancy). (Source: GreenFacts )



The basic subunit of any living organism; the simplest unit that can exist as an independent living system. There are many different types of cells in complex organisms such as humans, each with specific characteristics. (Source: GreenFacts)


Cell culture

The process of growing and maintaining cells under laboratory conditions, commonly on a glass surface immersed in nutrient fluid. (Source: GreenFacts)

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination

"The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) was established in January 1994, and aims to provide research-based information about the effects of interventions used in health and social care." (Source: CRD website )

Chemical element

A substance which cannot be separated into its constituent parts and still retains its chemical identity. For example, sodium (Na) is an element. (Source: US EPA Drinking Water Glossary  )



Chlorine (Cl2) is produced in large amounts and widely used both industrially and domestically as a disinfectant and bleach. In particular, it is widely used in the disinfection of swimming pools and is the most commonly used disinfectant and oxidant for drinking-water treatment. In water, chlorine reacts to form hypochlorous acid and hypochlorites. (Source: WHO  Guidelines for drinking water quality )


Organic compounds made up of atoms of carbon, chlorine (Cl2), and fluorine (F2). An example is CFC-12 (CCl2F2), used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and air conditioners and as a foam blowing agent. Gaseous CFCs can deplete the ozone layer when they slowly rise into the stratosphere, are broken down by strong ultraviolet radiation, release chlorine atoms, and then react with ozone molecules. (Source: US EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms  )


One of the threadlike "packages" of genes and other DNA in the nucleus of a cell. Different kinds of organisms have different numbers of chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, 46 in all: 44 autosomes and two sex chromosomes. Each parent contributes one chromosome to each pair, so children get half of their chromosomes from their mothers and half from their fathers. (Source: NHGRI Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms  )



Clay is a sediment composed of tiny mineral particles that are formed by the weathering and breaking down of rocks and minerals. Clay particles are the smallest inorganic component of soil, measuring no more than 2 µm in diameter. Clay has a low permeability. (Source: GreenFacts)



A natural protein that forms connective tissue and provides strength, resilience, and support to the skin, ligaments, tendons, bones, and other parts of the body.

Collagen is the main structural protein of the skin. (Source: GreenFacts)


Comité Technique Européen du Fluor

"CTEF (Comité Technique Européen du Fluor) was formed in 1975 to assure safe production, storage, transportation and use of hydrofluoric acids.

CTEF represents the major producers of hydrogen fluoride and fluoride chemicals in Europe. Hydrofluoric acid is used as a chemical feedstock for fluorocarbons. It is also used in petroleum refining and glass treatment, in the metallurgic industry, in the production of electronics, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, as well as in consumer products like detergents and toothpastes.

The sector group aims to

  • ensure the proper production, handling, transportation and use of hydrofluoric acid
  • ensure effective protection of workers, the environment and the population around hydrofluoric acid plants
  • ensure proper medical treatment in case of accidental hydrofluoric acid burns
  • study the trends in hydrofluoric acid consumption in view of the rapidly changing legislation for downstream products
  • ensure adequate communication on its products and recommendations"

When referring to humans, a community is defined as:

A collection of human beings who have something in common.

A local community is a fairly small group of people who share a common place of residence and a set of institutions based on this fact, but the word ‘community’ is also used to refer to larger collections of people who have something else in common (e.g., national community, donor community).

When referring to other living organisms, a community is defined as:

An assemblage of species occurring in the same space or time, often linked by biotic interactions such as competition or predation. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


A material made up of two or more elements combined in a fixed ratio. (Source: CoRIS glossary  )



The amount of a chemical or substance present in a particular quantity of soil, water, air, food, blood, hair, urine, breath, or any other media. (Source: GreenFacts)


Crystal lattice

The orderly, regular three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in a crystal.
It can also refer to the structure of teeth and bone. (Source: GreenFacts)


Dental caries

Dental decay resulting from the action of bacteria on sugary foods. The hole left after the removal of decay is the cavity.

However, dental caries, tooth decay and dental cavities are often used as synonyms. (Source: GreenFacts )

Dental fluorosis

Dental fluorosis is a condition that results from the intake of too much fluoride during the period of tooth development, usually from birth to approximately 6-8 years of age.

Excess levels of fluoride can disturb the cell function of the enamel-forming cells (ameloblasts) which prevents the normal maturation of the enamel.

The severity of this condition ranges from very mild to severe, depending on the extent of fluoride exposure during the period of tooth development. Mild dental fluorosis is usually characterized by the appearance of small white areas in the enamel; individuals with severe dental fluorosis have teeth that appear stained and pitted ("mottled"). (Source: based on GreenFacts Fluoride Study )


Dentine is an ivory-like substance that forms the inner layer of a tooth (covered by the enamel) and the bulk of the hard-tissue component of a tooth. Dentine is softer than enamel. (Source: GreenFacts)



DNA constitutes the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next. (Source: NCI dictionary  )



The amount of a substance to which a person is exposed over some time period. Dose is a measurement of exposure. Dose is often expressed as milligram (amount) per kilogram (a measure of body weight) per day (a measure of time) when people eat or drink contaminated water, food, or soil. In general, the greater the dose, the greater the likelihood of an effect. An "exposure dose" is how much of a substance is encountered in the environment. An "absorbed dose" is the amount of a substance that actually got into the body through the eyes, skin, stomach, intestines, or lungs. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )

Dose-response relationship

The relationship between the amount of exposure [dose] to a substance and the resulting changes in body function or health (response). (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )



Enamel is the hard calcified tissue which covers the dentine of a tooth. It is the hardest substance produced by vertebrates.

Enamel is composed almost entirely of inorganic calcium phosphate (apatite), most of which is arranged in a crystalline lattice structure. (Source: GreenFacts)



Found only in a certain strictly limited geographical region, i.e. restricted to a specified region or locality. Can apply for instance to a disease or to an animal or plant species. (Source: GreenFacts)

Environmental cycles

A natural process in which elements are continuously cycled in various forms between different compartments of the environment (e.g., air, water, soil, organisms).

Examples include the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles (nutrient cycles) and the water cycle. (Source: GreenFacts)



An external skeleton or supportive covering of an animal formed from the ectoderm, as for example, the shell coverings of a crustacean, the calcium carbonate secretions of stony corals, or the bony plates of an armadillo. (Source: CoRIS Glossary  )


Contact of the cells of an organism with a substance, micro-organism or radiation. In the case of humans, this may involve contact with a substance or agent by swallowing, breathing, or through the skin or eyes. Exposure may be short-term [acute exposure], of intermediate duration, or long-term [chronic exposure].

Exposure can be divided into external and internal.

External exposure refers to the whole dose to which an organism is exposed.

Internal exposure refers only to that fraction of the initial chemical dose that is absorbed and distributed throughout the body via systemic circulation. (Source: GreenFacts)



Fluorine (F) is the first element of the halogen family and the most reactive of all chemical elements. The term "fluoride" refers to its ionic form (F-) and "fluorides" to fluoride-containing compounds, both organic and inorganic.

Fluorine is never found by itself in nature but fluorides are found everywhere: in soil, air, and water, as well as in plant and animal life.

Fluoride is commonly added to tap water, particularly in North America, and used in dental products to help prevent tooth decay.

Fluorides are important industrial chemicals with a number of uses but the largest uses are for the production of aluminium and specialty chemicals used for refrigeration and air conditioning through fluorocarbons, for drinking-water fluoridation and for the manufacture of fluoridated dental preparations.

In excessive amounts, fluoride can lead to fluorosis.



Water that is not salty, for instance water found in lakes, streams, and rivers, but not the ocean. Also used to refer to things living in or related to freshwater (e.g., "freshwater fish"). (Source: GreenFacts)



Water beneath the Earth's surface in the spaces between soil particles and between rock surfaces. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )


A family of five chemically-related, nonmetallic elements that includes bromine (Br2), fluorine (F2), chlorine (Cl2), iodine (I2), and astatine (At2). Halogens have a valence of one and readily form negative ions. They can combine with metals to form salts or replace hydrogen in many organic compounds. With the exception of astatine, the halogen family is widely used for a variety of sanitizing situations. (Source: GreenFacts)

In vitro

In an artificial environment outside a living organism or body. For example, some toxicity testing is done on cell cultures or slices of tissue grown in the laboratory, rather than on a living animal. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )


The frequency of a disease may be measured in two (standard) ways:

- Incidence is the number of new cases detected in the population at risk for the disease during a specific period.

- Prevalence (Source: Health canada Diabetes in Canada  )


The act of swallowing something through eating, drinking, or mouthing objects. A hazardous substance can enter the body this way. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )


Not organic. Inorganic compounds are generally structured by ionic bonds and do not contain carbon chemically bound to hydrogen (hydrocarbons) or any of their derivatives. Examples of inorganic compounds include sodium chloride (NaCl) and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and pure elements (e.g. elemental mercury, elemental lead). (Source: GreenFacts)


International Programme on Chemical Safety

The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) was established in 1980 by the WHO, the UNEP and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) "for the early warning and prevention of harmful effects of chemicals to which humans were being increasingly exposed, and for the assessment of the potential risks to human health."

It has collaborated to and published many highly recognized scientific publications.

Most publications are availaible from the INCHEM website, "a means of rapid access to internationally peer reviewed information on chemicals commonly used throughout the world, which may also occur as contaminants in the environment and food." Publications include:


An ion is an atom or molecule that is not electrically neutral, but instead carries a positive or negative electrical charge, which is due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons.

An anion is a ion with a negative electrical charge, e.g. chloride (CI-), as opposed to a cation which is an ion with a positive electrical charge, e.g. sodium (Na+). (Source: GreenFacts)


Small abundant shrimp-like crustaceans mostly present in Antarctic waters that form an important part of the food chain and that are a major source of food for baleen whales, for example. (Source: GreenFacts)


A small usually sweetened solid piece of medicated material of any of various shapes that is designed to be held in the mouth for slow dissolution and often contains a demulcent [i.e. a substance that soothes inflamed mucous membranes]. (Source: Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc)


Mass (weight) Units

The Metric System of Measurements uses the mass units: gram (g), kilogram (kg) and tonne (t).

1000 g = 1 kg
1000 kg = 1 tonne

Adding prefixes of the International System of Units (SI) allows to express weight as multiples or fractions of 1 gram:

1 gigatonne (Gt) =1 000 000 000 000 000 g
1 megatonne (Mt) =1 000 000 000 000 g
1 tonne (t) =1 000 000 g
1 kilogram (kg) =1 000 g
1 gram (g) =1 g
1 milligram (mg) =0.001 g
1 microgram (µg) =0.000 001 g
1 nanogram (ng) =0.000 000 001 g
1 picogram (pg) =0.000 000 000 001g

Imperial and US weight units can also be expressed as metric units:

Metric units
1 US ton (ton) =0.907 tonne
1 UK ton (ton) =1.016 tonne
1 lb (pound) =453.59 g
1 oz (ounce) =28.35g

Further information on the International System of Units (SI) is provided by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) 

Medical Research Council

"The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK taxpayer. We promote research into all areas of medical and related science with the aims of improving the health and quality of life of the UK public and contributing to the wealth of the nation." (Source: MRC website )


Death. Usually the cause (a specific disease, a condition, or an injury) is stated. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms   )


Any permanent change in the DNA of a cell.

Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment.

Mutations can be harmful, beneficial, or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make eggs or sperm, they can be inherited; if mutations occur in other types of cells, they are not inherited.

Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases. (Source: NCI dictionary   )

National Academies Press

"The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States.

NAP publishes over 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, capturing the most authoritative views on important issues in science and health policy." (Source: NAP website )

National Pure Water Association

"National Pure Water Association is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1960 by Lord Douglas of Barloch, KCMG, to campaign for safe drinking water." (Source: NPWA website )


The term organic has different meanings (depending on the context):

In chemistry, "organic" refers to a chemical compound based on a hydrocarbon, i.e. a chain or a ring of carbon atoms onto which hydrogen atoms are bonded.

In agriculture, "organic" refers to a production system that excludes or limits the use of chemicals



A disease of adults that is characterized by softening of the bones due to loss of bone mineral. Osteomalacia is characteristic of vitamin D deficiency in adults, while children with vitamin D deficiency suffer from rickets. (Source:  Health Terms and Definitions  )



An abnormal increase in density and hardness of bone due to replacement of cancellous bone by compact bone. (Source: GreenFacts)

Parathyroid glands

The parathyroid glands are four glands at the front and base of the neck at the 4 corners of the thyroid gland. These glands produce the parathyroid hormone that regulates the calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium balance within the blood as well as normal bone mineralization. (Source: GreenFacts)



pH is a measure of the concentration of protons (H+) in a solution and, therefore, its acidity or alkalinity. The concept was introduced by S.P.L. Sørensen in 1909. The p stands for the German "Potenz", meaning power or concentration, and the H for the hydrogen ion (H+). In layman's terms , the "pH" value is an approximate number between 0 and 14 that indicates whether a solution is acidic (pH < 7), basic (pH > 7) or neither (pH = 7) [neutral]. (Source: GreenFacts )



A group or number of people living within a specified area or sharing similar characteristics (such as occupation or age). (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )



The frequency of a disease may be measured in two (standard) ways:

  • Prevalence is the total number of persons known to have had the disease at any time during a specific period. It gives an idea of the importance/burden of disease at a given time, and it is widely used in public health monitoring and planning.
  • Incidence

A large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order, formed according to genetic information.



The probability that something will cause injury or harm. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )

Route of exposure

The way people [or other living organisms] come into contact with a hazardous substance. Three routes of exposure are breathing [inhalation], eating or drinking [ingestion], or contact with the skin [dermal contact]. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )

Scientific Consensus

The Scientific Consensus represents the position generally agreed upon at a given time by most scientists specialized in a given field. (Source: GreenFacts)


Skeletal fluorosis

Skeletal fluorosis is a health effect of excessive accumulation of fluoride in bones leading to changes in bone structure and making them extremely weak and brittle.

The early stages of skeletal fluorosis are characterized by increased bone mass, detectable by x-ray. If very high fluoride intake persists over many years, joint pain and stiffness may result from the skeletal changes.

The most severe form of skeletal fluorosis is known as "crippling skeletal fluorosis," which may result in calcification of ligaments, immobility, muscle wasting, and neurological problems related to spinal cord compression. (Source: GreenFacts)


A substance is soluble if it dissolves in certain fluids. The fluid [gas or liquid] (present in excess) is called the solvent and the substance dissolved in it is called the solute which together form a solution. The process of dissolving is called solvation. A solution that can not hold any more solute is said to be saturated. (Source: GreenFacts )


A group of organisms that differ from all other groups of organisms and that are capable of breeding and producing fertile offspring. This is the smallest unit of classification for plants and animals. (Source: OceanLink Glossary of Common Terms and Definitions in Marine Biology  )



The highly stratified region of the atmosphere above the troposphere extending from about 10 km (ranging from 9 km in high latitudes to 16 km in the tropics on average) to about 50 km. (Source: Climate Change Glossary)


Sulfur hexafluoride

SF6. It is a colourless, odourless, inert gas that is slightly soluble in water and readily soluble in ethanol and bases.

It is used extensively in various electronic components and in the production of magnesium and aluminium. (Source: GreenFacts, based on the GreenFacts Digest on Fluorides )


Surface water

Water on the surface of the Earth, such as in lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and springs. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms   )

Synthetic cryolite

(Na3AlF6). Synthetic cryolite is a white crystalline powder manufactured from hydrofluoric acid, sodium carbonate, and aluminium. Synthetic cryolite is used chiefly as a flux in the electrolytic production of aluminum as it effectively lowers down the melting point of alumina. It is used in the glass and enamel industries, in bonded abrasives as a filler, in making salts of sodium and aluminum and porcelaneous glass and in the manufacture of insecticides. Cryolite is a relatively safe fruit and vegetable insecticide. The fluoride ion inhibits many enzymes that contain iron, calcium, and magnesium. (Source: GreenFacts )


A group of cells joined to perform a set of functions. (Source: GreenFacts)


Able to poison or harm an organism. Toxic substances can cause adverse health effects. (Source: GreenFacts)


The capacity or property of a substance to cause adverse effects. (Source: GreenFacts)



A pattern of change over time, over and above short-term fluctuations. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


The lowest part of the atmosphere from the surface to about 10 km in altitude in mid-latitudes (ranging from 9 km in high latitudes to 16 km in the tropics on average) where clouds and "weather" phenomena occur. In the troposphere temperatures generally decrease with height. (Source: GreenFacts)



An abnormal mass of tissue resulting from uncontrolled and excessive cell division.

Tumours can be either benign (localised, without the invasion of other tissues) or malignant (showing progressive invasion of other tissues). (Source: GreenFacts)

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention

"As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recognized as the lead federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people - at home and abroad, providing credible information to enhance health decisions, and promoting health through strong partnerships. CDC serves as the national focus for developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health, and health promotion and education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States."

"CDC, located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services." (Source: CDC website )

Water hardness

Water hardness is a measure of the amount of calcium and magnesium salts in water. Calcium and magnesium enter water mainly through the weathering of rocks. The more calcium and magnesium in water, the harder the water. Water hardness is usually expressed in milligrams per liter (mg/l) of dissolved calcium and magnesium carbonate. (Source: GreenFacts)


Water, Sanitation and Health

"Our aim is the reduction of water- and waste-related disease and the optimization of the health benefits of sustainable water and waste management.


  • To support the health sector in effectively addressing water- and waste-related disease burden and in engaging others in its reduction.
  • To assist non-health sectors in understanding and acting on the health impacts of their actions."
World Health Organization

"The World Health Organization  (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations’ system. WHO experts produce health guidelines and standards, and help countries to address public health issues. WHO also supports and promotes health research. Through WHO, governments can jointly tackle global health problems and improve people’s well-being.

193 countries and two associate members are WHO’s membership. They meet every year at the World Health Assembly in Geneva to set policy for the Organization, approve the Organization’s budget, and every five years, to appoint the Director-General. Their work is supported by the 34-member Executive Board, which is elected by the Health Assembly. Six regional committees focus on health matters of a regional nature."

WHO's scientific publications are widely recognized as a reference source.

The WHO has a number of regional offices which address the specific issues of those regions.

WHO World Regional Offices
  WHO African Region  (46 countries)
  WHO European Region  (53 countries)
  WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region  (21 countries)
  WHO Region of the Americas  (35 countries)
  WHO South-East Asia Region  (11 countries)
  WHO Western Pacific Region  (27 countries)

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