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Key Concepts & Glossary

Understand key concepts and terms related to environmental health and toxicology.

Key Concepts

Climate Change

Climate Change

Climate is the average weather in a region over time. Climate change refers to major, long-term changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns. Natural factors or human activities may cause climate change and impact the environment.

Environmental Health

Environmental Health

Pollution of the air, water, or soil can lead to health problems. Environmental health is the practice of identifying and reducing exposure to these pollutants.


Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice

The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, culture, national origin, income, and educational levels with respect to protective environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Toxicology 101

Toxicology 101

Toxicology is defined as the science of poisons. More specifically, toxicology is the study of the negative health effects of chemical, physical, or biological agents on living organisms. 



Acid Rain

The result of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) reacting in the atmosphere with water; it then returns to earth as polluted rain, fog, or snow.

Activated Carbon Filtration System

A gas-phase air filter that removes gaseous pollutants using a material called a sorbent, such as activated carbon, to collect pollutants.


A condition in which the blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body; the most common cause of anemia is not having enough iron.


Also known as fish or shellfish farming, grows seafood in controlled waters for commercial or recreational use.


An underground level or permeable rock, sand, or gravel saturated by groundwater. 

Atomic Nuclei

The small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom.



An instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere.


Accumulation of substances in living organisms as they take in contaminated air, water, or food; occurs when a substance is absorbed faster than it can be excreted.


The process by which a compound (such as a pollutant or pesticide) increases its concentration in the tissues of organisms as it travels up the food chain.

Black Lung Disease

Coal worker's pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease, results from breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or manmade carbon over a long period.


An inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to the lungs.



Any substance that causes cancer.


A clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision; cataracts are very common in older people.


Compounds of chlorine with another element or group. 

Coliform Bacteria

Bacteria that are always present in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and are found in their wastes; also found in plant and soil material.

Consumer Confidence Report (CCR)

An annual water quality report or a drinking water quality report, that provides information on your local drinking water quality.


The action, process, or effect of corroding, which is to wear away gradually usually by chemical action.


A wood preservative derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal.


Any of a large class of mostly aquatic arthropods that include lobsters, shrimp, crabs, wood lice, water fleas, and barnacles.


A microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis; both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as "Crypto".

Crystalline Silica

A basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals; may become particles small enough to inhale when workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain it.


To add preservatives and flavors (salt, sugar, nitrates) to meat in order to improve flavor, color, and shelf life.



Tiny scales from hair, feathers, or skin that may cause allergies and affect indoor air quality; household pets are sources of saliva and animal dander.

Dengue Fever

An infection caused by a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Diethylstilbestrol (DES)

A synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen, linked to a type of cancer of the cervix and vagina, that was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage and related pregnancy complications.

Domoic Acid Poisoning

A neurotoxin contained in some fish and shellfish; exposure to this compound affects the brain, causing seizures and possibly death.


A tool usually in the form of an oblong iron frame with an attached bag net used especially for gathering fish and shellfish. 


A hole in the ground filled with gravel or rubble to receive drainage water and allow it to percolate away. 


E. coli

A type of bacteria (Escherichia coli) that lives in intestines; most types of E. coli are harmless, but some types can cause diarrhea.

Embalming Fluid

A fluid injected into the arteries to preserve a dead body.


A discharge of pollutants into the environment; generally used in regard to discharges into the air.


A type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease involving damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs; as a result, the body does not get the oxygen it needs.


An inflammation of the brain caused by a viral (usually) infection or a bacterial infection.


A disease in which the kind of tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside the uterus on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowels, or bladder.

Ergonomic Injury

An injury resulting from the cumulative effect of repetitive motions or repetitive stress (e.g., sustained awkward posture).


A cavity formed by cutting, digging, or scooping. 



A substance that adds inorganic or organic plant nutrients to soil and improves its ability to grow crops, trees, or other vegetation.


A composite material of glass fibers in resin; used in nail wrap applications to brace natural nails or artificial tips.


The splitting of an atomic nucleus resulting in the release of large amounts of energy. 

Fossil Fuels

A fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) formed in the earth from plant or animal remains; fossil fuels are the nation's principal source of electricity; they cannot be replenished once they are extracted and burned.


A pesticide used to control or destroy fungi on food or grain crops.


A flammable liquid chemical compound that is obtained from wood oils of pines or made synthetically and is used especially in organic synthesis; also: any of various derivatives of furan.



A gummy material obtained from animal tissues by boiling.

Geothermal Energy

Heat energy generated by the earth's interior.

Greenhouse Gas

Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere.


The water found below the surface of the land and contained in the pore spaces of saturated rock, sand, or gravel; the source of water found in wells and springs.



Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a rare but deadly viral infection spread by mice and rats.


Having little likelihood of causing an allergic response.


Incomplete Combustion

The incomplete burning of natural gas, gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas, oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, coal, charcoal, or wood that produces carbon monoxide.

Ingestion (Swallowing)

Absorbing by eating or drinking.


Material such as sand, salt, iron, calcium salts, and other mineral materials; inorganic substances are of mineral origin, whereas organic substances are usually of animal or plant origin.


Substances intended to repel, kill, or control insects.



Cancer of the white blood cells; white blood cells help the body fight infection.

Liquefied Natural Gas

Natural gas converted to liquid form by cooling to a very low temperature.


Gives off relatively small amounts of something.

Lyme Disease

A bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected tick.



A serious disease caused by a parasite and spread by the bite of an infected mosquito; malaria is a major cause of death worldwide, but it is almost wiped out in the United States.


Work performed by a skilled worker who builds by laying units of substantial material (such as stone or brick). 


A viral or bacterial disease marked by inflammation of membranes in the brain and spinal cord; swimming or playing in polluted water can cause meningitis.


A usually malignant tumor derived from mesothelial tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs; the cancer usually starts in the lungs, but can also start in the abdomen or other organs.


A unit of measure; size of particulate matter particles is measured in micrometers; the average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.


An inorganic substance; something neither animal nor vegetable. 


An unexpected loss of pregnancy.


A place where a boat or ship are held fast with lines or anchors.


An establishment with facilities for the preparation of the dead for burial or cremation; a funeral home or morgue.


Military weapons, ammunition, and equipment.



An uncharged elementary particle present in all known atomic nuclei except the hydrogen nucleus.



A term referring to the fact that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our homes are released by consumer and household products, and these chemicals then enter the indoor air we breathe.


A naturally occurring mineral containing a valuable substance (such as metal) for which it is mined and worked.

Organic Matter

Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms. 



An organism living in, with, or on another organism (host); gets nutrients from its host.


An oily liquid, made of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with small amounts of other substances, that occurs in many places in the upper strata of the earth; is prepared for use as gasoline, naphtha, or other products by various refining processes.


Of or relating to the production and sale of drugs and medicine.


An infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pesti, found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them.


A chemical added to materials to make them more flexible or stretchable.

Pleural Membrane

The delicate layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs.


Radioactive Tracers

A radioactive drug used to create images of internal organs and to diagnose and treat disease; specially designed cameras allow doctors to track the path of the drug as it moves through the body.

Radioactive Waste

Waste exibiting radioactivity, which is the property of emitting energetic particles (such as electrons or alpha particles) or waves resulting from the disintegration of atomic nuclei.

Rat-Bite Fever

A rare bacterial disease spread by the bite of an infected rodent.

Reverse Osmosis System

A drinking water purification technology that forces water through a semipermeable membrane to remove most contaminants; also used in wastewater treatment.

Riptides (Rip Current)

A strong, usually narrow surface current flowing outward from a shore; at ocean beaches, strong surf and riptides can injure swimmers or cause them to drown.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

A bacterial disease spread by the bite of an infected tick.



A group of bacteria that is a common cause of foodborne illness.


Used for sewage treatment and disposal.

Silica Dust

A natural compound of silicon and oxygen found mostly in sand; long-term exposure to fine particulate silica dust from quartz rock causes progressive lung injury, silicosis.


A lung disease caused by breathing in (inhaling) silica dust.


A facility that melts or fuses ore to separate its metal content; emissions may cause pollution.


The brownish haze that pollutes the air, making it difficult for some people to breathe; its primary component is ozone.


To kill germs to prevent infections.

Subsistence Fishing/Hunting

A system of hunting or fishing that provides all or almost all the goods required by the family, usually without any significant surplus for sale.


Of, relating to, or produced by chemical or biochemical synthesis; especially: produced artificially. 



Residue separated in the preparation of various products (such as grain or ores)—usually used in plural. 


The white, nearly tasteless solid-rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants.


Woven or knit fabric; a fiber or yarn used in making cloth.

Thyroid Gland

An organ located beneath the larynx (voice box) that makes hormons that regulate growth, development and metabolism.

Tidal Flats

Commonly muddy or marshy land that is covered and uncovered by the rise and fall of tides.


A ringing in one or both ears that may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched; it may cause trouble hearing, working, or sleeping.



The circulation of air through a building in order to expel noxious air and admit clean, fresh air.



A person who has no established home and wanders from place to place without lawful or visible means of support.


The circulation of air through a building in order to expel noxious air and admit clean, fresh air.


A feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, or that the room is spinning.


West Nile Virus

An infectious disease spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.


Yellow Fever

A viral infection spread by mosquitoes.


Zika Virus

A virus that is spread mostly by mosquitoes; a pregnant mother can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth; it can spread through sexual contact.

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