Population Exposures and Health
Finding an environmental chemical in a person's blood or urine does not mean that it causes health effects or disease. In general, how harmful a chemical is—its toxicity—depends on the chemical properties and how much a person is exposed to. Certain factors like body size, age, health conditions, and health behaviors also affect how harmful the chemical may be to each person. In addition, some chemicals can stay in the body for a long time while others can be eliminated quickly. Some chemicals are broken down and eliminated from the body in days. For the most part, chemical levels that are measured in population biomonitoring are not known to cause health effects.
For some chemicals, we know more about the health effects caused by environmental exposures. For example, many studies have shown that exposure to lead can lead to a variety of health problems, particularly in children. As a result, CDC has published guidelines on preventing lead poisoning among children. CDC has published similar guidelines for preventing lead exposure in pregnant and lactating women and on the job. As another example, CDC's National Tobacco Control Program is working to reduce secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmokers. Measurements of cotinine in nonsmokers' blood help track secondhand smoke exposure and help evaluate how effective smoking reduction policies and regulations are.
Avoiding chemicals entirely can be hard, but you can help reduce your and your family's exposure to environmental chemicals.
Healthy Habits Anywhere
- Wash hands often–especially before eating
- Quit smoking and using tobacco products.
- Avoid tobacco smoke.
- Limit contact with gasoline, gasoline fumes, and vehicle exhaust.
Healthy Habits at Home
- Read the labels on household chemicals that you use, like pesticides, cleaners, or glues, so you can be aware of any special steps you should take to protect your health.
- Follow product instructions for proper use of household chemicals.
- Keep household chemicals in their original containers and out of reach of young children.
- Take basic steps to prevent or decrease your exposure to lead if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve using lead-based products. For example, shower and change clothes after finishing the task.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
- Recycle and dispose of household hazardous waste, like fluorescent light bulbs and mercury thermometers, responsibly.
- Use smart wood burning practices.
Healthy Habits at Work
- If you work with or around chemicals, talk with your supervisor or worksite health and safety officer to decide if you should take specific steps to protect yourself.
- Use personal protective equipment.
- Take extra care to prevent carrying chemicals home on your clothes, hair, body, or tools.
Healthy Habits in Your Community
This symbol means you are leaving the CDC.gov Web site. For more information, please see CDC's Exit Notification and Disclaimer policy.
Copyrighted images: Images on this website which are copyrighted were used with permission of the copyright holder and are not in the public domain. CDC has licensed these images for use in the materials provided on this website, and the materials in the form presented on this website may be used without seeking further permission. Any other use of copyrighted images requires permission from the copyright holder.
Tracking Hot Topics
- Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction
- EPA's Map of Radon Zones
- Emergency Preparedness and Response: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Disaster
- Carbon Monoxide Toolkit
- CDC's Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention
- Carbon Monoxide Communication Tools
- Tracking Fellowship Milestone
- View our Tracking Success Stories to learn how Tracking is making a difference across the U.S.