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Chemical Terms      Click to Print Page

Acetate: Generic term for man-made fibers composed of cellulose acetate, a substance derived from cellulose by action of acetic anhydride and other chemicals. Used in adhesives.

Acetone: A volatile, extremely flammable liquid, with a pungent odor. Classified as a volatile organic compound and ketone. Miscible with water, used as a solvent and reagent. May cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headache, dizziness, defatting dermatitis. Used as a solvent in waxes, resins, rubber, plastics, lacquers, paints, varnish, varnish remover, rubber cement.

Acid deposition: The airborne transport and descent to earth of acids and acid-forming chemicals, particularly those released by power plants, industry, and vehicles.

Acrylic polymers: A family of plastic materials used for rigid plastic sheets (Plexiglas), liquid coatings (floor and wax sealers), paints, and many other products. Acrylics are made from acrylic acids, methacrylate, or acrylonitrile, all derived from petroleum. Acrylonitrile is a known carcinogen. Acrylic plastics are relatively stable and low in toxicity.

Alcohol: Organic compound having one or more –OH (hydroxyl) group; lower alcohols are water-soluble. Used as solvents and organic intermediates. Common building-related alcohols include methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, butanol, glycol, butanediol, amyl alcohol, glycerol, and ethylene glycol.

Aldehyde: Organic compound (e.g. acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, ketene). May cause irritation and sensitization. Many are known and suspected carcinogens. Used in plastics, resins, sealants, wood preservatives, and biocides.

Aliphatic hydrocarbons: A large family of chemicals based on hydrogen and carbon atoms connected in straight or branched chains. Includes many paraffins and oils, petroleum derivatives, and bases for many plastics.

Alkyd resins: A class of transparent, flexible, and tough adhesive resins made from unsaturated acids and glycerol. Properties depend on starting material. Used in coatings, adhesives, plasticizers, paints, binders, and enamels.

Ammonia: Corrosive, alkaline, nonflammable gas that is very soluble in water, has a characteristic pungent odor, and is lighter than air. Manufactured from natural gas. May cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, dyspnea, bronchiospasm and chest pain, pulmonary edema, pink frothy sputum, skin burns, vesiculation.

Ammonium sulfide: Used to apply patina to bronze and brass and in textile manufacturing processes.

Antibacterial agent: A synthetic or natural compound that inhibits the growth and division of bacteria. Differs from bactericide, which is used to kill bacteria.

Antimicrobial agent: Chemical formulations incorporated into or applied onto a material to suppress or retard vegetative bacterial and fungal growth. Antimicrobial agents may be added to textiles, carpet, hard-surface flooring, roofing products, concrete reinforcements, protective coatings, paints, and wallpaper to retard growth and resulting odors.

Argon: An inert, nontoxic gas used in insulating windows to reduce heat transfer.

Aromatic hydrocarbons: A large family of chemicals based on hydrogen and carbon atoms that form ring-shaped molecules. Many aromatics evaporate readily, have strong odors, and are toxic.

Aromatic oils: A fragrant oil, usually a plant extract, with a strong odor, sometimes mixed with a volatile solvent such as ethyl or alcohol.

Arsenic: Poisonous metal that is identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a persistant, bioaccumulative, toxic pollutant. Obtained as by-product in flue gases from smelting copper, lead, cobalt, and gold ores. May cause acute and chronic toxicity either by inhalation or ingestion, e.g., skin, liver, bladder, kidney, or lung cancer. Direct contact can cause local irritation and dermatitis. Used as a wood preservative, herbicide, pesticide, and in the manufacture of low melting-point glass.

Arcenical: Biocide containing arsenic (e.g., arsenic acid) used in outdoor decking and other wood products to protect them from insect damage.

Atom: The smallest particle into which a chemical element can be divided and still retain the properties characteristic of the element; consists of a central core or nucleus composed of protons and neutrons, encircled by one or more electrons that move around the nucleus in characteristic orbits whose distance from the nucleus depends on their energy. (From the Greek, atomos, meaning indivisible).

Atrazine: One of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. Seventy-seven million pounds are sprayed on American crops annually; banned in parts of Europe. A 2002 study suggests it may cause sexual deformity in frogs; it may be a carcinogen. Found in drinking water.

Bactericide: A substance that destroys bacteria.

Barium sulfate: Naturally occurring mineral that is practically insoluble in water. Used as a filler for rubber, linoleum, oilcloth, polymeric fibers and resins. Also called barite.

Bentonite: A colloidal clay, expansible when wet, forming a highly viscous suspension or gel. Biologically inert when ingested. Used as a base for plasters and as an emulsifier for oils.

Benzene: Very flammable, volatile liquid. Long-term exposure has been associated with bone marrow depression, leukemia, and cancer. Direct contact may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, respiratory system, and skin, as well as narcotic effects. Widely used in the manufacture of polymers, detergents, pesticides, plastics, resins, dyes, and as a solvent in waxes, resins, oils, and natural rubber.

Benzo-(a)-pyrene: A tarry organic chemical that pollutes indoor air as a result of incomplete combustion. A known carcinogen.

Binder: Material that holds solid particles together. For example, the resinous constituents of paint coatings are binders.

Biocide: A substance, such as a pesticide or an antibiotic, that is capable of destroying living organisms.

Biphenyl ingredients: A group of toxic chemical additives based on double benzene rings, used in dyeing processes and in fungicides. Also called diphenyls.

Bitumen: Semisolid or solid carbonaceous mixture occurring naturally or as a residue after petroleum distillation, consisting almost entirely of carbon and hydrogen, with little oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur. Used as tackifier in rubber compounding, asphalt, and tar. Used also for road surfacing and waterproofing.

Borate: Salt or ester of boric acid. Used for moisture and insect protection in cellulose insulation applications.

Boric acid: Relatively weak acid produced by treating borate with sulfuric acid. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, lesions, and circulatory collapse. Used for weatherproofing wood and fireproofing fabrics, as a preservative, in the manufacture of cement and carpets, and as an insecticide for cockroaches.

Cadmium: A soft, easily molded heavy metal, used in pigments and heat stabilizers in the vinyl-making process, quite toxic.

Calcination: The heating of minerals to concentrate them to and remove moisture or VOCs.

Calcium carbonate: White powder practically insoluble in water, soluble in dilute acids. Commercially available as an antacid and calcium supplement, with very low toxicity. Used in the manufacture of paint, rubber, plastics, putty, polishes, insecticides, as a filler in production of adhesives, and in linoleum.

Carbon dioxide (CO2): A heavy, colorless gas that does not support combustion. Made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, it is formed especially in animal respiration and in the decay or combustion of animal and vegetable matter. It is absorbed from the air by plants in photosynthesis, and is an atmospheric greenhouse gas. Significant overexposure from combustion processes in the home may cause headache, dizziness, restlessness, increased heart rate and pulse pressure, and elevated blood pressure.

Carbon monoxide (CO): A colorless, odorless, very toxic gas made up of carbon and oxygen, that burns to carbon dioxide with a blue flame and is formed as a product of the incomplete combustion of carbon. Overexposure may result in headache, mental dullness, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, loss of muscular control, increased then decreased pulse and respiratory rate, and collapse.

Casein: The protein base of milk, used as a base and binder in natural paints and adhesives.

Catalyst: Substance that accelerates the velocity or increases the yield of a chemical reaction and which may be recovered at the end of the reaction essentially unchanged.

Catalytic converter: A device connected to the exhaust system of automobiles to control emissions of air pollutants, particularly those that contribute to photo-chemical smog such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide.

Chemically stable material: Any material that will not readily break down, release chemicals, or change into another chemical with age, heat, or light.

Chlorinated hydrocarbon: A class of synthetic chemicals first produced in the 1930s, including potent pesticides such as DDT and other compounds that do not break down in the environment and can be concentrated to poisonous levels in the fatty tissues of fish, birds, and mammals.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): Any of a group of compounds that contain carbon, chlorine, fluorine, and sometimes hydrogen and have been used as refrigerants, cleaning solvents, aerosol propellants, and in the manufacture of plastic foams. CFCs have been linked to the destruction of the ozone layer and EPA banned their use in 1997.

Chromate: Compounds containing chromium, often used in dyes and leather tanning. Very toxic and hazardous to the environment.

Coalescing solvent: Chemical that causes droplets of suspended liquid to combine.

Copolymer: The product of polymerization of two or more different monomers.

Corrosive: Destructive or protective chemical reaction; also irreversible alteration to human tissue.

Cyanide: Inorganic, white solid with faint almond-like odor, used in plating solutions to produce a hard surface. Cyanide and its compounds are highly toxic. Identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic pollutant.

Dacron: Trade name for a polyester fiber made from PET.

Dammar: Resins derived from tree saps, used in varnishes, enamels, and paper and textile coatings. Low toxicity.

Depolymerization: Return of polymer to its monomers or to a polymer of lower molecular weight.

Dimethyl ether: Flammable organic compound, soluble in water and alcohol, used as a solvent and refrigerant. Also known as methyl ether or wood ether.

Dioxins: A group of approximately 75 chlorinated hydrocarbons, formed as by-products of chemical reactions involving chlorine and hydrocarbons. Dioxins appear as manufacturing impurities in some herbicides, wood preservatives and disinfectants, and are released into the environment during the incineration of chlorine-based plastics or as a result of the chlorine bleaching process in the pulp and paper mills. They are also released in industrial processes such as steel making. Dioxins are persistent chemicals, accumulating in soil and human fatty tissue. Health effects are varied and complex, ranging from skin problems, such as chloracne, to cancers, birth defects and serious immunology, neurological and behavioral problems. Identified by EPA as a persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic pollutant.

Dispersion: The distribution of finely divided particles in a medium.

Dolomitic: Limestone or chalk materials made up from carbonate rocks. Very low toxicity.

Drying oil: An oil, such as linseed or synthetic oil, which contains additives causing it to harden when exposed to air. Usually used in paints.

Efflorescence: The formation of white crystals on the surface of concrete tile or brick, caused by leaching of mineral salts as the wet material dries. Not hazardous.

Elasticity: The ability of a material to recover its original form or condition after physical alteration.

Elastomer: Cross-linked (vulcanized) or thermoplastic high molecular weight polymer that at room temperature can be stretched to twice its length and upon release return to its original size.

Element: A substance composed only of atoms of the same atomic number, which cannot be decomposed by ordinary chemical means; one of more than 100 distinct natural or synthetic types of matter that, singly or in combination, compose all materials of the universe.

Epichlorohydrin: A very toxic and carcinogenic substance used in manufacturing epoxies, rubbers, and adhesives.

Epoxy: A class of synthetic resins used for high performance adhesives, paints, and protective coatings, containing hazardous ingredients.

Ethyl alcohol: Grain alcohol, sometimes used as a solvent.

Ethylene glycol: An alcohol often used as a solvent in water- and oil-based paints, lacquers and stains. Also used as a heat exchanger.

Feldspar: A natural, silica mineral used in glassmaking and ceramic glazes.

Ferric oxide: Rust. Used for pigments in paints. Very low toxicity.

Flash point: The lowest temperature at which a substance emits flammable vapor that ignites spontaneously.

Fluoride: A compound of the very active element fluorine. In high concentrations fluorides are toxic to humans and wildlife. Emitted from industrial processes such as aluminum smelters.

Formaldehyde: Poisonous, reactive, flammable gas with pungent suffocating odor. Many cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. Contact may result in sensitization. Carcinogen. Used in wood products, plastics, fertilizer, and foam insulation. Incorporated in synthetic resins by reaction with urea, phenols and melamine. Urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin is used in particleboard, hardwood plywood paneling, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). MDF is generally the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product. Softwood plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) produced for exterior applications contain phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resin. Pressed wood products containing PF resin generally emit less formaldehyde than those containing UF resin.

Formaldehyde scavengers: Agents added to wood products manufactured with formaldehyde glues to neutralize gases before they escape.

Freon: Trade name for a series of nonflammable, non-explosive FCs and CFCs widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning, now classified as ozone-depleting substances.

Fungicide: A substance that destroys or inhibits the growth of fungi.

Glycols: Alcohols with two hydroxyl groups, used as raw material for manufacture of polyesters, e.g. ethylene glycol.

Gypsum: Hydrous calcium sulfate mineral rock, white when pure, from which plaster of Paris, gypsum wallboard, and gypsum lath and sheathing is made.

Halons: Substances used in fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers in buildings and these substances deplete the stratospheric ozone layer.

Heavy metal: An inorganic element whose specific gravity is 5 or more, also of a relatively high molecular weight. Elements such as copper, lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxic metals used in industrial processes are heavy metals and often are released as both air and water pollutants. They may accumulate to hazardous concentrations in sediments and sludge. Many are classified by EPA as persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic pollutants.

Hexamethylene tetramine: A stable, crystalline substance formed by the action of ammonia on formaldehyde, the residue of formaldehyde neutralization that remains in wood products and buildings fumigated with ammonia. Relatively low in toxicity.

Hexane: A solvent derived from petroleum, used in adhesives and paints. Moderately hazardous in low concentrations.

Hydrocarbon: Chemical composed only of carbon and hydrogen. Petroleum crude oil is the largest source of hydrocarbons that are important precursors of smog. These chemical compounds are generally released as unburned or incompletely burned residue when carbon-containing fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are burned in car or truck engines.

Hydrogen: A nonmetallic element that is the simplest, lightest and most abundant of the elements; it is normally a colorless, odorless, flammable gas.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC): Hydrogenated chlorofluorocarbons. Since HCFCs are generally less detrimental to ozone depletion (1/20th as potent as CFCs), they are a substitute for CFCs. A total ban on all CFCs and HCFCs is scheduled effective 2030.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC): Refrigerants that do not deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. However, some HFCs have high global warming potential and thus, are not environmentally benign.

Hydrogen sulfide: A very odorous, toxic, and explosive gas produced by some bacteria in the absence of oxygen. It produces acids on contact with water.

Inorganic compound: Chemical that does not contain carbon as the principal element (except carbonates, cyanides, and cyanates). Minerals, metals, ceramics, and water are examples of inorganic compounds. They tend to be stable because they oxidize slowly or not at all.

Isocyanurate: A family of resins, usually called polyurethanes, which are used for insulating and upholstery foams, paints, and varnishes.

Isoparaffinic hydrocarbons: A type of highly purified petroleum solvent sold as “odorless paint thinner.” One of the safest solvents, often used in low toxicity paints.

Ketones: A chemical structure common to many solvents.

Krypton: An inert, nontoxic gas used in insulating windows to reduce heat transfer.

Lignin: A naturally occurring polymer in wood that keeps the fibers bound together.

Lithopone: A white pigment made from zinc sulfide, zinc oxide, and barium sulfate, with low toxicity.

Magnesium oxide: A mineral product used extensively in ceramics, papermaking, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Low toxicity, though the dust is hazardous.

Melamine: A polymer used for plastics and paints made from formaldehyde, ammonia, and urea; similar to urea formaldehyde resin.

Methane (CH4): An odorless, colorless, flammable gas that is a major component of natural gas; it is a more powerful global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

Methyl alcohol: Also called wood alcohol or methanol, an alcohol made by heating wood or peat under pressure or from methane. Far more toxic than ethyl alcohol, used in shellacs, waxes, and paints.

Methyl cellulose: A product of wood pulp used as a thickener, adhesive, and food additive. Very low toxicity.

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK): A common solvent used in lacquers, paint removers, and adhesives; moderately toxic.

Mica: A naturally occurring silica mineral used as a filler in paints, gypsum fillers, and as electrical insulation. Low toxicity.

Monomer: A simple molecule that can be linked to other like molecules to form a polymer.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS): A syndrome in which multiple symptoms reportedly occur with low-level chemical exposure. May be caused by allergy, toxic effects and neurobiologic symptoms. Patients have high rates of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders.

Neoprene: Trade name for polychloroprene, a synthetic rubber used to manufacture caulking, rubber gaskets, and waterproof membranes.

Neutron: An unchanged elementary particle that has a mass nearly equal to that of the proton and is present in all known atomic nuclei except the hydrogen nucleus.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx): Oxides of nitrogen that are a chief component of air pollution. Mainly produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

Nylon: Any of a family of polyamide resins used for textile fiber, rope, and molded plastics.

Organic compound: Chemical compound based on carbon chains or rings, and containing hydrogen with or without oxygen, nitrogen, or other elements. Organic compounds are the basis of all living things; they are also the foundation of modern polymer chemistry.

Organochlorides: A group of organic compounds that contain chlorine (Cl). They have a variety of forms and uses including aerosol propellants, plasticizers, transformer coolants (PCBs) and food packaging (PCVs), but their greatest use was as pesticides, in the form of DDT, Aldrine and Lindane. However, with time many pests have developed immunity to them and it has also become clear that the characteristics that made them good pesticides – persistence, mobility and high biological activity – also posed dangers for the environment. Organochlorides accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals, and through biomagnification in the food chain may reach toxic levels in predators. Because of side effects such as sterility, birth defects, cancer and damage to the nervous system, they have been banned or had their use severely restricted in most parts of the world.

Organophosphorous compounds: A group of pesticides that work by blocking the central nervous systems of the organisms exposed to them. Malathion and diazonon are the most commonly used organophosphates. They are highly effective against insects, but break down rapidly in the environment and do not bio-accumulate. For these reasons, they are preferred over organochloride pesticides. Although generally considered safer than the organochlorides, they are highly toxic to humans and other mammals and may be carcinogenic.

Oxidizer: Any agent or process that receives electrons during a chemical reaction.

Ozone (03): This 3-atom molecule is an even more active oxidizing agent than its more common 2-atom sister. At ground level, ozone is a pollutant and in the upper atmosphere it is a solar shield. Touted for its ability to "clean" air in room or household ozone generators, this application actually does more harm than good because ozone's highly reactive nature tends to accelerate the breakdown of synthetic materials in homes such as paints, plastics, and ever-available volatile organic compounds, often with less-than-desirable results. All told, we look to protect ozone in the heavens and shun it here at home, inside and out.

PH: An index of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance.

Perchloroethylene (PERC): A dry cleaning solvent and degreasing solvent. Hazardous to handle and dispose of, with toxic vapor.

Petrochemicals: Any chemicals synthesized from petroleum. All are hydrocarbons.

Phenol: Also known as carbolic acid. Poisonous and caustic water-soluble crystals derived from crude oil or coal. Phenol is rapidly absorbed through the skin and from the stomach and lungs. Effects range from irritation to central nervous system depression. Used to make synthetic resins and weed killers, as a solvent, adhesives, dyes, and chemical intermediate.

Phenol formaldehyde (PF) resin: Although both phenol and formaldehyde are toxic chemicals, phenolic resin is said to be inert as a fully cured polymer and a relatively low emitter of formaldehyde compared to urea formaldehyde resin. Used as adhesive for particleboard, decorative laminate backing, coatings, and insulation.

Phenyl mercuric acetate: An organic compound of mercury previously used as a fungicide in paints, but now banned for most interior applications because of its high toxicity.

Polyamide resin: The family of resins called nylons.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB): A mix of 209 chemicals used in the electrical industry and as lubricants and coolants. Concern over their toxicity and environmental persistence led to a federal ban on PCB manufacturing in 1976. May cause skin rashes, neurobehavioral and immunological problems, liver damage in humans, anemia, thyroid disease, cancer in animals. Identified by EPA as persistent, bioaccumulative toxic pollutants.

Polyethylene: A chemically simple, semitransparent plastic, used widely as a vapor barrier sheet over insulation.

Polyethyleneterepthalate (PET): A polyester plastic used widely in soft drink bottles, blow molding, photographic film, or electrical insulation. High tensile and impact strength, high stiffness, high flex life and toughness.

Polymer: Any molecule chain made up from repeated elements, for example, plastics and adhesives.

Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons: A group of organic compounds formed by incomplete combustion.

Polyoflefin: A class of common, synthetic plastics including polyethylene and polypropylene.

Polypropylene: A common flexible plastic usually spun into fiber for rope and woven goods.

Polystyrene: A plastic used in its foamed form as building insulation or in its hard from for tough, molded plastic products.

Polyvinyl acetate (PVA): A plastic usually used in water-based emulsion glues and in waxes and flooring adhesives, with relatively low toxicity.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): An extruded or molded plastic material, used as window framing, plumbing pipes, fencing, among other applications.

Propylene glycol: An oily alcohol used in paints, waxes, and sealers. Lower in toxicity than ethylene glycol and approved for use as a food additive.

Proton: A subatomic, or elementary, particle with a single positive charge equal in magnitude to the charge of an electron and a mass of 1; very close to that of a neutron; the nucleus of a hydrogen atom is composed of a single proton.

Resin: A sticky substance that flows from certain plants and trees, especially pine and fir; used in medicine and varnish. Artificial resins are usually petroleum based polymers.

Sacrificial anode: A replaceable metal rod that corrodes into the hot water, so that the corrosive reactions don’t affect the tank itself.

Shellac: Purified lac (a resin from a beetle) used for making varnishes and leather polishes.

Silica gel: A dehumidifying agent and rubber additive made from silica mineral.

Siliconates: Compounds based on the element silicon, a very common compound of sand and rock. Hazardous if inhaled but otherwise very chemically stable building products.

Silicone: Organic compounds of silicon used for caulking and flexible plastics, lubricating oils and sealers, with very low toxicity.

Sodium silicate: A liquid used in asbestos encapsulation, concrete and mortar waterproofing, and high-temperature insulations (also called “water glass”). This substance is nontoxic when cured but caustic when wet.

Soya lecithin: A fatty acid phosphate extract of soy bean oil, used in inks, soaps, plastics, paints, and textile processing; safe as a food additive.

Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR): A synthetic latex formed from petroleum and used for carpet backings and elastic fabrics. Has a characteristic odor and releases irritating gases. Styrene is a known toxin and suspected carcinogen. Also known as SB latex.

Sulfates and sulfites: Compounds formed with sulfur oxides, all are toxic and cause acid rain.

Sulfur dioxide: A colorless, irritating gas that is a primary cause of acid rain. It is a by-product of coal combustion.

Sulfuric acid: A potent acid used in chemical processing, storage batteries, dyes, and cellulose fiber manufacturing.

Terpenes: Organic, aromatic substances contained in the sap of softwoods.

Thermoplastics: Plastic resins that can be molded when heated and retain their shape when cooled. This process can be repeated on the same material.

Thermosetting: Permanent hardening or solidifying through a heating or curing process. Used on certain synthetic resins. A thermoset material cannot be repeatedly heated, softened and set as a thermoplastic.

Thixotropic: A quality that allows a compound to soften under pressure, and harden when undisturbed.

Titanium dioxide: A white pigment used in paint, vitreous enamel, linoleum, rubber, printing ink, and paper, possessing a low toxicity but a high covering power, brilliance, reflectivity, and resistance to light and fumes. Its production creates large quantities of toxic waste.

Toluene: An aromatic component of petroleum with a strong solvent odor, used as a solvent for adhesives and ink, and moderately toxic.

Trichloroethane, 1,1,1 and 1,1,1: Potent solvents used in paints and inks as cleaning and degreasing fluids. Both are toxic.

Trichloroethylene: A solvent used in degreasing, dry cleaning, paints and adhesives, which is moderately toxic and classed as hazardous waste.

Tung oil: Oil obtained from the seed of the tung tree, widely used as a drying oil in paints and varnishes and as a waterproofing agent. Associated with the depression of the immune system.

Urea formaldehyde (UF) resin: Synthetic resin made by the reaction of urea with formaldehyde. May be source of formaldehyde emissions indoors. Used as binder for interior composite wood products. See also formaldehyde.

Vermiculite: A hydrous silicate of magnesium or iron, which can be expanded by heating into a noncombustible insulating pellet, used in loose-fill insulation.

Vinyl chloride: Flammable, explosive gas. Highly toxic, damages the liver, affects the central nervous system, blood, and respiratory system. Carcinogen. Used widely in plastics and adhesives

Volatile organic compound (VOC): Carbon based gases given off by polymers, solvents or plasticizers at room temperatures (called off-gassing). Of the VOCs, formaldehyde (a carcinogen) and acrolein (a suspected carcinogen) are known irritants at levels that may be encountered indoors. VOCs may also cause eye and upper respiratory irritation, nasal congestion, headache and dizziness. Examples of building materials that contain VOCs include, but are not limited to, solvents, paints, adhesives, carpeting, and particle board.

Xylene: An aromatic component of petroleum with a sharp solvent odor; moderately toxic and used as a solvent for dyes, inks, paints, and adhesives.

Zinc oxide: A white pigment used in paints, ointments, rubber, and plastics that resists UV light and mold growth; has low toxicity.


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