Understand common environmental health terminology with the help of the Center’s useful 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.
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.
Blood assay — A lab test conducted on a blood sample. The Center 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.
Bisphenol-A — Also known as BPA, considered an endocrine disrupting chemical that either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body’s normal functioning. To learn more about phthalates and what you can do, see our Bisphenol-A page.
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 (PAH) – 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.
Environmental pollutant — A substance in the environment (indoor or outdoor) that can harm healthy child development and adult health. Common pollutants include pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), bipshenol-A (BPA) environmental tobacco smoke, pest allergens, lead, and mercury.
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.
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. To learn more about phthalates and what you can do, see our phthalates page.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) — A compound most commonly used as a flame retardant. To learn more about phthalates and what you can do, see our PBDEs page.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) — Small particles of pollution that get into the air when fuel is burned. PAH are carcinogenic. They are generally inhaled and can also enter the body when eating charred or blackened food. To learn more about air pollution and PAH and what you can do, see our air pollution page.
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.