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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.

A diverse crowd.

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

A bucket and cleaning supplies.
  • 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


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