The chemical industry is often held up as a beacon of hope when it comes to the future of chemical safety.
And there are signs it’s finally paying off.
A study published this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows that among the chemicals that are considered the most hazardous in the world, the majority of the chemicals used in the United States are safe to use in a commercial setting.
But there are also some that can cause health problems.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 chemical workers by the American Chemical Society found that nearly half of respondents said that exposure to chemicals used by the chemical industry has led to cancer, liver and kidney problems, and other serious health problems, including miscarriages, birth defects and birth defects related to genetic defects.
So what do the experts say?
The answer depends on the chemical you’re talking about, and the company you’re working for.
“When you’re dealing with a chemical that is not commonly used in industrial or commercial use, you’re not going to be looking at it as a potential hazard,” says Jennifer Wiebe, a professor of chemical engineering at Rutgers University.
“You’re going to see it as an environmental hazard, a safety hazard, and that’s really important.”
The main reason that most chemicals are safe is that they have no known carcinogenic effects, she says.
That’s because the chemicals don’t cause cancer or other harmful side effects, Wieb says.
“Most of these are relatively benign, non-toxic compounds that you can use in the workplace or in a petrochemical facility.”
But if you’re using chemicals in a workplace, you should always take them in moderation.
“Even when they are used in a small amount in a controlled environment, you can still develop a health problem if you have elevated blood levels of the chemical,” says Dr. James Stoltenberg, a toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Stolthberg says that even small amounts of chemicals can cause cancer, and a few of the most common chemicals can be toxic to the nervous system.
The EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act has created a number of safety standards for the use of chemicals in the U, including those for the inhalation of volatile organic compounds, which can cause headaches and eye irritation, and for the ingestion of small amounts.
Wiebel says that the agency’s rules aren’t a substitute for strict regulation.
“We know from experience that a lot of these chemical exposures have no significant negative health impacts,” she says, adding that the U-Hauls, for example, are not regulated for their use in petrochemicals facilities.
But it’s important to be cautious and to do your own research before you use chemicals in your workplace.
“I think there’s no substitute for getting educated on these chemicals,” says Stolstberg.
Wiete says that many of the companies that are required to use the EPA’s safety standards are doing a good job of protecting their workers and the environment.
“These companies are actually doing a lot to reduce exposure to these chemicals and minimize the potential risks,” she adds.
And while it’s not clear if the regulations that are in place in some states are helping to reduce chemicals’ use in your area, it’s certainly a positive sign that the chemicals are being monitored closely.
“It is encouraging to see that more companies are putting their workers’ health and safety at the forefront,” says Wietes.
If you are using chemicals outside of the workplace, Wieter says it’s crucial to get your employer’s approval for your work, and take steps to minimize exposure.
“The best way to do that is to ensure that you’re making sure you’re always using them safely,” she explains.
For more information on workplace chemicals, check out the UHaul website or the EPA.ca website.