Other Substances and Contaminants

10 Hazardous Substances For Sample Testing

Depending on the substance, best practices will vary when collecting these samples. Unless you are comfortable with doing it yourself, please call in advance before you retrieve any sample; exposure to these substances can be risky.  It’s a good idea to read Health Canada’s occupational guide to the management of hazardous material before collection.

1. Vermiculite

Before 1990 some vermiculite (a substance used to make insulation) contained asbestos.

Between 1919 and 1990 a mine close to Libby, Montana produced over 70% of the vermiculite sold in North America. The problem is that there was an asbestos deposit nearby, so the vermiculite was contaminated.

If there is vermiculite insulation in your home, it’s best to leave it alone and undisturbed, unless you’re doing renovations.

2. Mercury

Released into the environment from coal burning and gold mining, the most common mercury exposure to humans is through eating fish, dental fillings and industrial work.

Symptoms of metal poisoning from mercury exposure include:

  • Weak muscles
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Rashes
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty speaking, hearing and seeing

3. Silica

Silica is a fine dust most commonly associated with abrasive sandblasting. Short-term exposure can cause irritation to the nose and throat. Long-term exposure can cause lung damage, and it is a known carcinogen.

4. Acrylonitrile

Used as a bonding agent in plastics it is also found in automotive parts, pipe fittings, drinking tumblers and other housewares items. The effects of acrylonitrile poisoning are likened to cyanide poisoning, and it is highly toxic even at low doses.

5. Arsenic

Used as an alloy in lead, arsenic can be found in car batteries, glass production, wood preservation and electronics. It has also been known to occur in drinking water in some parts of the country, and exists both naturally in the environment and from the result of industrial activity.

6. Benzene

Benzene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and a natural petrochemical found in fossil fuel products. Exposure to humans can occur through vehicle exhaust, and has also been known to occur in drinking water.

7. Coke Oven Emissions

Used for the production of steel, coke ovens give off a variety of toxic chemicals that leave workers and surrounding environment subject to exposure. While creative cleanup efforts of former steel mills exist, environmental monitoring is crucial to maintaining public and workers health.

8. Ethylene Oxide

Highly toxic, highly flammable colourless gas, ethylene oxide is a classified carcinogen found in antifreeze, sterilizing agents, disinfectants, fumigants, and insecticides. Exposure can cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation and neurological impairment.

9. Isocyanates

Found in the production of plastics, rigid foam and pesticides, isocyanates are a powerful eye, respiratory and gastrointestinal irritant. Methyl isocyanates were also the cause of the worst industrial accident in history.

10. Vinyl Chloride

Highly flammable, highly toxic carcinogen, vinyl chloride is an important chemical used in the production of plastics (PVC piping in particular). Typically, exposure occurs at the industrial worker level, but it also harbors the potential to leach into local water supplies.

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Victims of asbestos exposure often end up with lung cancer or other harmful lung problems. We donate a portion of our proceeds to Lung Cancer Canada for research towards finding a cure and to support educational programs on healthy breathing.