Glossary of Terms

Antibody — When an antigen (germs) enters a person’s body, the immune system responds by producing small molecules called antibodies. These antibodies attach to the antigen and help the body fight off the infection or disease.

Antigen — Foreign substances (germs) that enter a person’s body and can cause illness or infection.

Allergen — Anything that causes an allergic reaction, such as pollen, dust mites, or animal dander (skin protein that flakes off).

Asthma — A chronic disease of the lungs and airways that causes a person to have difficulty breathing. When a person has an asthma “attack,” the airways become partially blocked. Asthma occurs most commonly in people who become sensitized to certain allergens in our environment.

Asthma trigger — A substance that brings on an asthma attack. Different people with asthma react to different triggers. Common triggers include air pollution, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, cockroach particles, dust mites, cat or dog dander, mold, and pesticides.

Atopy / Atopic — the tendency to develop allergic reactions to substances such as pollen, food, dander, and insect venoms and manifested by hay fever, asthma, or similar allergic conditions

Biomarkers — Changes in molecular composition, structure, or function indicating exposure to, susceptibility to, or early damage from pollutants.

Blood assay — A lab test conducted on a blood sample. CCCEH tests blood from women and their babies for biomarkers that indicate exposure to harmful substances or allergens. Blood from a person who has been sensitized to an allergen typically contains high levels of antibodies. In the lab, blood cells react when exposed to the allergen.

BMI — Body Mass Index, a measure used to indicate weight status. Free calculators can be found at the CDC, and is a ratio of weight to height. Both the adult and child calculators help classify people into underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese categories.

Carcinogen — A substance known or suspected to increase a person’s risk of cancer. These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – small particles that get into the air when fuel is burned; chemicals found in tobacco smoke; and insecticides such as chlorpyrifos.

Cell receptor — A structure on a cell that helps hormones, medications, and other substances in the body function properly. When pollutants enter the body, they can disrupt proper functioning of cell receptors.

Chlorpyrifos — A chemical insecticide that prevents or destroys unwanted pests, such as cockroaches and mice.

Chronic disease — A long-lasting health condition such as asthma.

Cognitive development — Brain growth from birth through adolescence that effects memory, speech and language, and problem solving skills.

Cohort — A group of people participating in a research study.

Cord blood — Blood from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord. When analyzed, cord blood can show if an infant was exposed to any allergens or toxins before birth.

Developmental disorder — A delay or problem in a child’s brain or nervous system growth. This can appear as a learning disability or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) — A synthetic chemical that when absorbed into the body either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functions.

Environmental pollutant — A substance in the environment (indoor or outdoor) that can harm healthy child development and adult health. Common pollutants include pesticides, PAHs, environmental tobacco smoke, pest allergens, lead, and mercury.

Environmental exposure — A person’s contact with pollutants and the levels absorbed by their bodies.

Epigenetics — The field of study that examines how environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed.

IgE — An antibody that is associated with allergy and hypersensitivity.

Intervention — An activity or change designed to improve a person’s environment and/or health.

Low birth weight infant — A baby born weighing less than 5-1/2 pounds. These babies are more likely to need medical attention early in life.

Molecular epidemiology — A field of science that studies the health of communities with a focus on monitoring molecular changes. This type of research can help predict risk of disease in childhood as well as later in life.

Naphthalene — Part of a class of compounds that make up the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Examples of sources include air pollution and mothballs.

Phthalates — Chemicals used to soften plastics in many consumer products, including children’s toys, plastic containers, and personal care products. Phthalates can seep out of these products, and studies have shown that phthalates can disrupt the endocrine system, which is the body’s system of regulating hormones.

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) — A compound most commonly used as a flame retardant.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) — Small particles of pollution that get into the air when fuel is burned. PAHs are carcinogenic. They are generally inhaled and can also enter the body when eating charred or blackened food.

Prenatal exposure — Contact with a toxin or allergen before birth. When a pregnant woman is exposed to allergens or other toxins, her unborn child may be exposed as well.

Pyrene — Part of a class of compounds that make up the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Pyrene was first isolated from coal tar, where it occurs up to 2% by weight.

Pyrethroids — Currently constitute the majority of commercial household insecticides, replacing Chlorpyrifos.

Sensitization — The process of becoming allergic to a substance to which a person has been exposed. This process can occur before birth, during childhood, or in adulthood.

Social stressors — Community conditions such as poverty, overcrowding, high rates of violent crime, unemployment, and substandard housing. These conditions are likely to affect the majority of people living in particular communities, rather than just a few individuals.

Toxicant — A  type of poison made by humans. This is in contrast to a toxin, which is a poison produced naturally by an organism (e.g. plant, animal, insect).

Toxin — A poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms.