Chemicals Profile


Chromium is a naturally-occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, and soil, where it exists in combination with other elements to form various compounds. The three main forms of chromium are:

  • Chromium(0)(metal), which is most commonly produced by industrial processes
  • Chromium(III), which occurs naturally and is an essential nutrient
  • Chromium(VI), which is most commonly produced by industrial processes

Small amounts of chromium (III) are needed for human health to enable normal glucose, protein, and fat metabolism. The body has several systems for reducing chromium (VI) to chromium (III). This chromium (VI) detoxification leads to increased levels of chromium (III). The metal chromium is used mainly for making steel and other alloys. Chromium compounds, in either the chromium (III) or chromium (VI) forms, are used for chrome plating, the manufacture of dyes and pigments, leather and wood preservation, and treatment of cooling tower water. Smaller amounts are used in drilling muds, textiles, and toner for copying machines. 

Sources of exposure

Chromium can be found in air, soil, and water either from natural sources or after release from industries that use chromium, such as industries involved in electroplating, leather tanning, textile production, and the manufacture of chromium-based products. Chromium can be found in E-waste. Chromium can also be released into the environment from the burning of natural gas, oil, or coal. Chromium does not usually remain in the atmosphere, but is deposited into the soil and water. Chromium can change from one form to another in water and soil, depending on the conditions present. 


The highest potential exposure occurs in the metallurgy and tanning industries, where workers may be exposed to high air concentrations. Exposure can also happen through inappropriate and unsafe management practices related to disposal and recycling of e-waste. It’s also possible to be exposed through drinking water containing chromium or bathing in water containing chromium. The general population is most likely to be exposed to trace levels of chromium in the food and/or drinking water. Low levels of chromium(III) occur naturally in a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages, and meats. Chromium(VI) is changed to chromium(III) in the body and can be eliminated in the urine within a week, although some may remain in cells for longer. 

Vulnerable groups 

People who live in the vicinity of chromium waste disposal sites or chromium manufacturing and processing plants have a greater probability of elevated chromium exposure than the general population. These exposures are generally to mixed chromium (VI) and chromium(III)

Chromium(0)Blue-white to steel-gray, lustrous, brittle, hard solidProduced by industrial processes. It has been used as a component of alloys used for orthodontic appliances and orthopaedic implants.Orthopaedic patients carrying orthodontic appliance and orthopaedic implant made of chromium alloys can be exposed to chromium.
Chromium(III)Can be found as dry powder, other solid, pellets, large crystals or in liquid form. Appearance varies depending upon the specific compound.Can be found in rocks, animals, plants, and soilChromium(III)is widely used for tanning of leather as well asin paints, plastics, concrete building products, artistic colours, ceramics, and glass. Hydrated chromium oxide pigment is used in cosmetic and personal care products.It’s also used as dietary supplement. The general population is exposed to chromium (III) by eating food, drinking water,and inhaling air that contains the chemical.Also,exposure is possible using personal care products or dietary supplements containing Chromium.Occupational exposure may occur in activities related to production, formulation, and uses of Chromium (tannery). 
Chromium(VI)Can be found as dry powder, other solid, pellets, large crystals or in liquid form. Appearance vary depending upon the specific compound.Produced by industrial processesMainly occupational exposure which occurs from chromate production, stainless-steel production, chrome plating, and working in tanning industries.

Health effects

The most common health problems in workers exposed to chromium involve the respiratory tract and include irritation of the nose, runny nose,cough, shortness of breath, wheezing. Workers have also developed allergies to chromium compounds, which can cause breathing difficulties, i.e. asthma and skin rashes. These effects occur at much lower concentrations for chromium(VI) compared to chromium(III). Inhalation of high concentrations of chromium (VI) can induce gastrointestinal and neurological effects, while dermal exposure causes skin burns. Ingestion of high amounts of chromium (VI) causes gastrointestinal effects in humans including abdominal pain, vomiting, and haemorrhage. Exposure to chromium (VI) may result in complications during pregnancy and childbirth. There is no information available on the reproductive or developmental effects nor on the carcinogenic potential of chromium (III) compounds alone in humans. 
Chromium has been identified long time ago by WHO occupational carcinogen. 
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified chromium(VI) in Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans) and metallic chromium and chromium(III) in Group 3 (not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans). 

Reference levels


The WHO Guidelines for drinking-water quality – 4th ed – 2017 sets the following provisional guideline value: total chromium: 0.05 mg/l (50 μg/l). The guideline value is designated as provisional because of uncertainties in the toxicological database. 


For chromium VI, a limit value of 0,005 mg/m3 has been set as occupational exposure limit for an 8-hour period of work, but a transitional period has been introduced during which the limit value of 0,010 mg/m3 should apply. For the specific situation where the work activity concerns work involving welding or plasma cutting processes or similar such processes that generate fume, a limit value of 0,025 mg/m3 should apply during that transitional period, after which the generally applicable limit value of 0,005 mg/m3 should apply in January 2025. 


Levels in drinking water set by EPAThe EPA has established a maximum contaminant level of 0.1 mg/L for total chromium in drinking water. 
Levels in bottled water set by FDAThe FDA has determined that the chromium concentration in bottled drinking water should not exceed 0.1 mg/L. 
Levels in workplace air set by OSHAOSHA set a legal limit for chromium(VI) of 0.005 mg/m3 chromium in air averaged over an 8-hour work day, for chromium(III) of 0.5 mg/m3 chromium in air averaged over an 8-hour work day, and for chromium(0) of 1.0 mg/m3 chromium in air averaged over an 8-hour work day.
Levels in workplace air set by NIOSH NIOSH recommends an exposure limit of 0.5 mg/m3 chromium as chromium metal and chromium(II) and chromium(III) compounds in air averaged over an 8-hour work day. NIOSH also recommends an exposure limit of 0.001 mg/m3 for chromium(VI) compounds in air averaged over 10-hour work day


DDT is a non-systemic contact insecticide with a broad spectrum of activity which has been used extensively in agriculture worldwide since the 1940s and 1950s. DDT was the first modern pesticide developed initially to combat mosquitoes spreading malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne human diseases, and as an agricultural insecticide. It was banned in several countries in the early 1970s because of human health and ecological considerations, and many other countries have more recently restricted or banned its use except when it is needed for the protection of human health. More than 30 years after the insecticide was banned, historic residues of DDT persist in agricultural soils, constituting the largest source of DDT contamination to the air. DDT is still present in soil and sediment because of its persistent chemical structure. 
DDT is currently listed in Annex B to the Stockholm Convention with its production and/or use restricted for disease vector control purposes in accordance with related World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and guidelines. Countries that are party to the Convention can produce and/or use DDT for disease vector control when locally safe, effective and affordable alternatives are not available. The Conference of Parties (COP), in consultation with WHO, evaluates the continued need for DDT for disease vector control during its regular meetings.In2009 the COP endorsed the establishment of a Global Alliance for the development and deployment of products, methods and strategies as alternatives to DDT for disease vector control. In 2011, the COP invited the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to lead its implementation while in2013,the COP invited the UNEP, in consultation with WHO, the DDT expert group and the Secretariat, to prepare a road map for the development of locally safe, effective, affordable and environmentally sound alternatives to DDT. 

Source of exposure

DDT’s manufacture sites. Persistent residues in soil and sediment of DDT used in the past, use of DDT as insecticide for vector control.Illegal trade in DDT, and actual or suspected use of DDT outside of the health sector have been reported.


Current human exposure to DDT in countries where the insecticide is no longer used in agriculture or public health is expected to be through food. Depending on the soil type, DDT can still be found in soil and sediment.In countries still using DDT for indoor residual spraying (IRS),exposure is related to the use of DDT for controlling vectors and to the contact with residues in soils and sediments. In additional to general population exposure, occupational exposure can include workers involved in producing and dispensing DDT and public health workers involved in vector control.In such instances where DDT is being used illegally in the agriculture sector, there would likely be associated sources of exposure for end users and consumers.

Vulnerable groups

The most common scenario would be exposure to residues in the home following indoor spraying. Children are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of DDT and women of childbearing age who can transfer DDT and its metabolites to the foetus in pregnancy and to the infant via lactation.In most cases, vector control operations control access to DDT and DDT-contaminated containers. In instances where systems are less secure, it would be very concerning if containers were being used for food/water storage, as this could lead to acute poisoning particularly of children.

Isomer mix containing roughly 75-85% p,p’-DDT, 10-15% o,p’-DDT and a small amount of o,o’-DDT.Crystalline solid. Available as aerosols, dustable powders, emulsifiable concentrates, granules and wettable powders. Practically insoluble in water. Soluble in organic solvents.DDT does not occur naturally in the environment. Occurrence may be due to pesticide application processes for sanitary purposes, release from manufacturing sites or landfills, or to precipitation. Due to its stability it can be found in soil and sediments.Occupational exposure of agents in charge of vector control or working in DDT manufactuers. People living in countries where DDT is still used as insecticide to control the vector population or where DDT has been used in the past and is still present in soil and sediments.People illegally buying and using DDT.

Health effects

Ingestion of DDT can result in sign and symptoms as paraesthesia, dizziness, confusion, headache, fatigue and sore throat.Tremor is a characteristic manifestation, usually involving first the neck and head and particularly the eyelids. Ingestion of large doses of DDT can induce vomiting and/or diarrhoea due to local gastric irritation. Convulsions and unusual hearth rhythm can be induced as well as pulmonary problems. Prolonged and repeated exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose and throat.

The IARC’s DDT monograph, updated in July 2018, classifies the pesticide as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A). Also, WHO published a risk assessment for the use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spraying, especially for occupational exposure and for exposure of residents and exposure via breast milk. Where studies have been done on residents of treated homes, Indoor Residual Spraying is the major source of the DDT in breast milk. Infants are exposed to DDT and its metabolites through breast feeding. For highly exposed mothers in controlled IRS studies, an average total DDT concentration of 12.8 mg/kg milk fat is found,while for the general population in malarial countries without specific exposure to IRS, a mean total DDT concentration is 2.8 mg/kg milk fat is reported.

Reference levels

The JMPR Meeting (FAO/WHO, 2001) derived a provisional tolerable daily intake(PTDI) of 0.01 mg/kg of body weight. This PTDI is used for the derivation of the water guideline value. Because infants and children may be exposed to greater amounts of chemicals in relation to their body weight and because of concern over the bioaccumulation of DDT, the guideline value was calculated on the basis of a 10-kg child drinking 1 litre of water per day. Moreover, because there can be significant exposure to DDT by routes other than water, a 1% allocation of the PTDI to drinking water was chosen. This leads to a guideline value for DDT and metabolites in drinking water of 1μg/litre. It should be emphasized that, as for all pesticides, the recommended guideline value for DDT in drinking-water is set at a level to protect human health; it may not be suitable for the protection of the environment or aquatic life. The benefits of DDT use in malaria and other vector control programmes outweigh any health risk from the presence of DDT in drinking-water.


Endosulfan (CAS No. 115-29-7) is an insecticide which has been used for over 50 years to effectively control several pests, e.g. chewing, sucking and boring insects, including aphids, thrips, beetles, foliar feeding caterpillars, mites, borers, cutworms, bollworms, bugs, white flies, leafhoppers, snails in rice paddies, and tsetse flies. It has been used in countries throughout the world to control pests on fruit, vegetables, tea and on non-food crops such as tobacco and cotton. In addition to its agricultural use, it is used in the control of the tsetse fly, as a wood preservative and for the control of home garden pests. It is sold as a mixture of two different forms of the same chemical (referred to as α-and β-endosulfan).
The use of endosulfan is 2017 was banned in at least 75 countries, with former uses replaced with alternative products and methods.

Source of exposure

Endosulfan currently used as a pesticide and persistent residues in soil and sediment of endosulfan used in the past. Manufacture sites.


The main source of endosulfan exposure to the general population is dietary intake. Exposure will also occur by breathing contaminated air, drinking contaminated water or touching vegetable products sprayed with endosulfan. Farm workers are expected to be exposed to higher amounts of endosulfan compared to the general population. These exposures may occur through direct handling and application or through exposure in fields that were previously sprayed (occupational re-entry). Another source of exposure to endosulfan for the general population is the use of tobacco products. Endosulfan is absorbed across the skin and absorption is increased with oils or lotions on the skin, and through cuts.

Vulnerable groups

Endosulfan can pass though the placental barrier and this may have critical effects on physical development and cognitive functioning of the child. Endosulfan and its metabolites are commonly found in breast milk as well, which means that children born from an exposed mother are exposed after birth as well.

Synthetic cyclodiene non-systemic insecticide and acaricideTechnical endosulfan is a cream-to-brown-coloured solid that may appear crystalline or in flakes consisting of α-and β-isomers in the ratio of approximately 70:30. It is available in several formulation, including wettable powder and solution.Endosulfan can occur into the air, water, and soil in areas where it is applied as a pesticide.Farm workers who handle and apply endosulfan. General population who eat or touch contaminated vegetables, or breathe endosulfan when it’s sprayed. General population drinking contaminated water.

Health effects

Acute effects of occupational inhalation and dermal exposure to endosulfan are primarily neurotoxic: headaches, irritated eyes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, irritability, weakness, shortness of breath and irregular heart rhythm, abdominal discomfort after meals; diarrhoea, muscle twitching and convulsions. Effects of ingestion of endosulfan include similar symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, dizziness, agitation, convulsions, loss of consciousness and respiratory problems. Exposure to high doses of endosulfan can lead to death which occur from cardiorespiratory arrest, heart failure, pulmonary oedema, and cerebral hernia from massive cerebral oedema. Short-term high level and long-term low level exposures can both induce chronic liver and kidney damage. Several adverse reproductive outcomes linked with endosulfan have been reported, especially in boys and men. Endosulfan is classified as “fatal if inhaled”, but is not classified as carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic.

Endosulfan is an endocrine disruptor. It is oestrogenic and antiandrogenic in human cells. It is toxic to and suppresses the immune system, as well as promoting allergic responses. It is linked to long-term neurological effects such as epilepsy, and may cause Parkinson’s disease. Birth defects have been seen in laboratory studies and in human populations exposed to endosulfan. Many studies show endosulfan to be mutagenic and genotoxic, and there is evidence of cancer in both laboratory animals and exposed human populations.

Numerous intentional and unintentional deaths have occurred from ingestion of endosulfan, and poisonings are reported for Benin, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey and USA.

Reference levels

Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (2006) :

  • ADI (acceptable daily intake) = 0.006 mg/kg body weight
  • ARfD (acute reference dose) = 0.02 mg/kg body weight

According to WHO, health-based value of 20 μg/litre can be calculated on the basis of the ADI of 0.006 mg/kg of body weight, with an allocation of 10% of the ADI to drinking-water, and with the assumption that a 60-kg adult consumes 2 litres of drinking-water per day. However, endosulfan usually occurs at concentrations in drinking-water well below those at which toxic effects can be expected to occur, and it is therefore not considered necessary to derive a guideline value for endosulfan in drinking-water.


  • Minimum Risk Level (acute, oral) = 0.005 mg/kg/day
  • Minimum Risk Level (chronic, oral) = 0.002 mg/kg/day

The U.S. EPA recommends that the amount of endosulfan sulfate in lakes, rivers, and streams should not be more than 62 micrograms per liter (μg/L).


  • Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children
  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
  • Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing foetus.
  • There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered without harmful effects.
  • Lead exposure is preventable.

Lead is released by various natural and anthropogenic sources to the atmosphere and to aquatic and terrestrial environments and there are fluxes between these compartments. Lead released into theatmosphere is deposited on land and into aquatic environments and some lead released onto soil overtime is also washed out to aquatic environments. Once emitted to air, lead is subject to atmospheric transport. It is mainly emitted to the atmosphere in particle form.

Important releases of lead: 

  • releases resulting from the natural mobilization of naturally occurring lead from the Earth’s crust and mantle, such as volcanic activity and the weathering of rocks; 
  • anthropogenic releases from the mobilization of lead impurities in raw materials such as fossil fuels and other extracted and treated metals; 
  • anthropogenic releases of lead used in products and processes as a result of mining and processing activities, manufacturing, use, disposal, recycling and reclamation; 
  • releases from incineration and installations for municipal waste, open burning and from residues containing lead; 
  • mobilization of historical lead releases previously deposited in soils, sediments and wastes.
  •  Emissions from aviation fuel for light aircraft 
  • Probably oceans can be considered as the sources of relevance for the long-range transport of lead.

Sources of exposure

  • Leaded petrol poisoning has been one of the world’s most serious environmental health problems, responsible for 90% or more of human lead exposure, but nowadays only  2 countries still use leaded petrol. Current sources of exposure include lead in paint, low temperature-fired ceramics, informal sector recycling of car batteries, mine tailings and the air, soil and dust in the vicinity of point sources (e.g., smelters)
  • Dust in homes with paint containing lead pigment and driers can cause elevated blood lead levels in children
  • Tap water from leaded pipes can also be an important exposure source
  • Other potential sources of exposure include products containing lead, such as cosmetics, traditional medicines, toys and trinkets, contaminated spices and food colouring


  • Inhalation is an important route of exposure for people in the vicinity of point sources, including open burning of wastes containing lead products, for people living in the 2 countries that still use lead in petrol, for people living around airfields and in some occupational settings including secondary lead recovery
  • Ingestion of lead in dust and soil is a major exposure pathway in children, because of their biological and behavioural characteristics
  • Intake of food and beverages is usually the primary source of exposure for adults in the general population

Vulnerable groups:

  • Special vulnerability of small children. Exposure of children can be magnified bytheir activities and behavioural patterns and biological characteristics
  • Exposure starts in utero since lead passes through the placenta into the foetus; thus pregnant women are a population of concern
  • Occupational exposure (E.g: workers in the informal recycling sector, but also workers in the formal sector where occupational health and safety standards are poor)
  • Other vulnerable population groups include socially and economically disadvantaged populations and the malnourished, whose diets are deficient in proteins and calcium

There are three chemical forms of lead: metallic lead, inorganic lead compounds and organic lead compounds (containing carbon).

Metallic leadThe main lead mineral is galena (PbS)Metallic lead is the product of mining and smelting, is available as a raw material for manufacturing, and can exist as particles emitted into the atmosphere after various processes.Through inhalation.
Inorganic lead compoundsInorganic salts. Depending on the type of salt the water solubility changes.Widespread occurrence of lead in the environment is largely the result of human activity, such as mining, smelting, refining and informal recycling of leadFor general population the exposure to lead occurs as a result of ingestion of foodstuffs, water and other beverages, and from air. Inhalation is the dominant pathway for lead exposure of workers in industries producing, refining, using or disposing of lead and lead compounds. Lead paint has been a source of exposure.
Organic lead compoundsLead combined primarily with carbon and hydrogen gives organic lead compounds.Organic lead compounds, such as tetraethyl lead and tetramethyl lead have been used as fuel additives.In the past, when lead was added to gasoline, breathing automobile exhaust was the major source of lead exposure for most people. Now lead is still added to some aviation fuels.

Health effects

The most critical effect of lead in young children is that on the developing nervous system. Subtle effects on intelligence quotient (IQ) may occur from blood lead levels at least as low as 5 µg/dl (50µg/l), and the effects gradually increase with increasing levels of lead in blood. Lead exposure has also been linked epidemiologically to attention deficit disorder and aggression. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.

Chronic lead exposure commonly causes haematological effects, such as anaemia, or neurological disturbances, including headache, irritability, lethargy, convulsions, muscle weakness, ataxia, tremors and paralysis. According to IARC, inorganic lead compounds are probably carcinogenic to humans, and therefore have been classified in Group 2A, while Organic lead compounds are not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans, and therefore have been classified in Group 3.

Reference levels

Tolerable intake level

In a review of the latest scientific evidence, conducted in 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) estimated that the previously established provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) of 25 μg/kg body weight per week could no longer be considered health protective and withdrew it. As the dose–response analyses did not provide any indication of a threshold for the key adverse effects of lead, the Committee concluded that it was not possible to establish a new PTWI that would be health protective.

Drinking-water guideline

A provisional guideline value for lead of 0.01 milligrams per liter (mg/l) (10 μg/l) has been established by WHO (WHO, 2017). This is not a health-based guideline value but is designated on the on the basis of treatment performance and analytical achievability. The EU Directive 98/83/EC established a reference value of 0.01 milligrams per liter (mg/l) (10 μg/l). The value applies to a sample of water intended for human consumption. The EPA regulations for drinking water (also known as the Maximum Contaminant Level [or MCL]) limits lead in drinking water to 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) (15 μg/l).

Lead in air

The WHO Air Quality Guidelines (WHO, 2001) established guideline values for lead as a time-weighted average of 0.5 μg/m3 (annual averaging time). The same limit has been set by the European Union. The EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards 0.15 μg/m3 even though in areas designated nonattainment for the Pb standards prior to the promulgation of the 2008 standards, and for which implementation plans to attain or maintain the 2008) standards have not been submitted and approved, the previous standards (1.5 µg/m3 as a calendar quarter average) also remain in effect.


Lindane is the common name for the gamma isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane (gamma-HCH). It has been used as a broad-spectrum insecticide for seed and soil treatment, foliar applications, tree and wood treatment and against ectoparasites in both veterinary and human applications. The production of lindane has decreased rapidly in the last few years and it is now produced by 13 manufacturers worldwide only, including 7 in India and 4 in China, and is available from 42 suppliers, including 19 suppliers in the USA.

Lindane were primarily used as insecticides to treat wood, seed, and livestock but all such uses of lindane were banned under the Stockholm Convention. It is still used as a human health pharmaceutical for control of head lice and scabies, but these exemptions are coming to an end. As mentioned in the lindane monograph of IARC, major uses today are as insecticide for fruit and vegetable crops, and in baits and seed treatments for rodent control. Being banned, the access to lindane is only possible through illegal channels.

Lindane is mobile in the environment and, as a result of long-range atmospheric transport, has been deposited worldwide. It has been measured in food, air, surface water, groundwater, sediment, soil, fish, wildlife, and humans. Lindane is persistent, bioaccumulates easily in the food chain and bioconcentrates rapidly. There is evidence for toxic effects (immunotoxic, reproductive and developmental effects) in laboratory animals and aquatic organisms.

Source of exposure

Lindane has been produced and used as a broad-spectrum insecticide, which acts by contact, for both agricultural and non-agricultural purposes. A considerable amount of residues was generated during the manufacture of this insecticide. For decades, the waste isomers were generally disposed of in open landfills like fields and other disposal sites near the HCH manufacturing facilities. After disposal, degradation, volatilization, and run off of the waste isomers occurred.


Occupational exposure occurs to people working in lindane factories or farmers still using it as a pesticide, probably obtained through illegal channels. Exposure of the general population occurs mainly through the diet because lindane can bio-accumulate in the food chain due to its high lipid solubility and can bioconcentrate rapidly in microorganisms, invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals. Exposure can occur to people living near pesticide plants and hazardous waste sites.

Vulnerable groups

Children are particularly vulnerable. Gamma-HCH has been found in human maternal adipose tissue, maternal blood, umbilical cord blood and breast milk. Lindane has also been found to pass through the placental barrier. An additional exposure route for children exists in regions where lindane is applied directly to milk and meat producing livestock for pest control. Medical use of products to treat head lice and scabies is also of concern when applied to children

It is listed under the Rotterdam and the Stockholm conventions. 

Lindane – Gamma Hexachlorocyclohexane (γ-HCH isomer)White to yellow, crystalline powder. Available in liquid formulation. Practically insoluble in water. Soluble in benzene ethanol and chloroform.Lindane does not occur naturally in the environment. Occurrence may be due to pesticide application processes, release from manufacturing sites or landfills, or to precipitation. Due to its stability it can be found in sediments.Occupational exposure during the manufacture, formulation and use of lindane. In the majority of countries the use of lindane as insecticide is not permitted, but if the general population can obtain it through illegal channels, they can be exposed through inhalation. General population can also be exposed through dermal contact if used as lice and scabies control, and through ingestion of contaminated food and water.

Health effects

Lindane (gamma-HCH) is the most acutely toxic HCH isomer affecting the central nervous and endocrine systems. In humans, effects from acute exposure at high concentrations to lindane may range from mild skin irritation to dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and even convulsions and death. Respiratory, cardiovascular, hepatic and endocrine effects have also been reported for humans, following acute or chronic lindane inhalation. Hematological alterations following chronic human occupational exposure to gamma-HCH at production facilities have also been reported. Gamma-HCH has been detected in the blood serum, adipose tissue and semen of occupationally and environmentally exposed individuals. According to IARC evaluation there is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of lindane. In 2015, IARC classified lindane as “Carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)”. Lindane causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Human exposure to lindane, particularly in pregnant women and children, is a concern heightened by the ongoing presence of HCH isomers, including lindane, in human tissues and breast milk. Direct exposure from the use of pharmaceutical products for scabies and lice treatment should be of concern. Exposure from food sources is possibly of concern for high animal lipid content diets and subsistence diets of particular ethnic groups.

Reference levels 

FAO/WHO JMPR evaluationEU evaluation 
ADI0.005 mg/kg bw per dayADI based on 2year rat study, applying a safety factor of 1000.001 mg/kg bw per dayThe ADI is based on a NOAEL from the chronic rat study, applying a safety factor of 500, pending submission and evaluation of the outstanding developmental neurotoxicity data. The ARfD is based on the NOAEL of 5 mg/kg bw per day from the developmental study in rabbit and applying a safety factor of 500, pending submission and evaluation of the outstanding developmental neurotoxicity data.
ARfD0.06 mg/kg bwARfD based on rat acute neurotoxicity study, applying a safety factor of 1000.01 mg/kg bw

WHO guidelines for lindane in drinking water 0.002mg/l (Sources 1 and 2)


  • Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil
  • Exposure to mercury –even small amounts –may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
  • Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
  • Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.
  • People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.
  • Methylmercury is very different to ethyl mercury. Ethyl mercury is used as a preservative in some vaccines and does not pose a health risk.

Sources of exposure

Mercury occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is released into the environment from volcanic activity, weathering of rocks and as a result of human activity. Human activity is the main cause of mercury releases, particularly coal-fired power stations, residential coal burning for heating and cooking, industrial processes, waste incinerators and as a result of mining for mercury, gold and other metals. The skin lightning products can be source of exposure to inorganic mercury. Once in the environment, mercury can be transformed by bacteria into methylmercury, which can bioaccumulate in fish and shellfish and can also biomagnify.


People may be exposed to mercury in any of its forms under different circumstances. However, exposure mainly occurs through consumption of fish and shellfish and marine mammals contaminated with methylmercury and through worker inhalation of elemental mercury vapours during industrial or mining processes. Inorganic mercury compounds may be absorbed through the skin in toxicologically relevant quantities. Biological measurement of mercury, for example in hair and blood, allows exposure to be quantified and linked to possible health effects. It also permits estimates of the burden of disease (BoD). WHO is applying its BoD framework approach to better quantify the health impacts.

Vulnerable groups:

Children are especially vulnerable and may be exposed directly in particular by eating contaminated fish, shellfish and marine mammals. Methylmercury bio accumulated in fish, shellfish and marine mammals and consumed by pregnant women may lead to neurodevelopmental problems in the developing foetus. Trans placental exposure is the most dangerous, as the foetal brain is very sensitive. Riverside populations living in areas with artisanal small-scale gold mining, and relying heavily on fish consumption, have been identified as the most vulnerable population in terms of methylmercury exposure and developmental neurotoxicity.

Elemental mercury is lipid soluble and easily penetrates biological membranes, including the blood–brain barrier and the placenta. Metabolism of mercury compounds to other forms of mercury can occur within the tissues of the body.


Elemental mercury 

CAS No. 7439-97-6

The most volatile form of mercury. Relatively insoluble in water, soluble in lipids.The main form of mercury released into the air as a vapour by natural and industrial processes.Through inhaling mercury vapours/fumes. Extracting gold with mercury,and dental amalgam are significant sources of exposure.
Inorganic mercury / ionic mercury such as: Mercuric chloride Mercurous chloride Mercuric sulfideMercuric acetateRelatively soluble in water and alcohol.Inorganic mercury occurs as salts or crystals.Through food and water ingestion. Also through skin when cosmetic products containing mercury are used.A minor route of exposure is inhalation in presence of dusts.
Organic mercury such as: Methylmercury EthylmercuryBiotransformation of inorganic mercury to methylmercury by aqueous microorganisms.Methylmercury, may be bioconcentrated in aquatic/marine animals in the food web from both water and food.Through diet, especially through the consumption of freshwater and marine fish and other animals that consume fish (such as marine mammals).

Health effects

Elemental and methylmercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous system. The inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. Due to its greater lipid solubility, methylmercury is easily absorbed into the bloodstream via the gastrointestinal tract.Methylmercury can also cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the central nervous system. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested

The most sensitive target for mercury is the central nervous system. Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal application of different mercury compounds. Similar effects are seen after all durations of exposure but the symptoms may intensify and/or become irreversible as exposure duration and/or dose increase. 

Prominent symptoms include tremors, emotional lability,insomnia, memory loss, weakness, muscle atrophy, muscle twitching, headaches, paraesthesia and performance deficits in tests of cognitive function. Some long-term exposures to elemental mercury vapour have resulted in unsteady walking, poor concentration, tremulous speech, blurred vision, performance decrements in psychomotor skills and other signs of neurotoxicity

Respiratory symptoms are a prominent effect of short-term, high-level exposure to elemental mercury vapours. The most commonly reported symptoms include cough, dyspnoea, and chest tightness or burning pains in the chest. Pulmonary function may also be impaired. Long term effects include airway obstruction, airway restriction, as well as decreased vital capacity. Inorganic mercury compounds can also cause respiratory effects. 

The exposure to high concentrations of mercury vapours may resulted in increased blood pressure and palpitations.

Among the gastrointestinal effects inflammation of the oral mucosa, excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing have been reported. Short-term exposure to high levels of mercury can also produce abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhoea. Ingestion of mercuric chloride is highly irritating to the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. 

Inhalation and ingestion of mercury can impair the renal function leading to urinary excretion of several proteins and degeneration of renal tissues and structures.

Inhalation, oral, or dermal exposure to elemental mercury vapours or inorganic mercury can induce skin rashes, contact dermatitis, heavy perspiration and reddened and/or peeling skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The exposure to high concentrations of elemental mercury vapours can also lead to red and burning eyes and conjunctivitis. 

Health effects on young children and foetus exposed in utero are mainly neurological symptoms including mental retardation, seizures, vision and hearing loss, delayed development, language disorders and memory loss. The main health effects of mercury are summarized in the figure below. 

effects of mercury in english

Reference levels

Elemental mercury

WHO indicates a tolerable concentration of 0.2 μg/m3for long term inhalation exposure to elemental mercury vapour for occupational exposure.

EU established the occupational exposure limit value of 0.02 mg/m3 as TWA (8 hours time-weighted average).

US EPA indicates the reference concentration (RfC) of 0.3 μg/m3 for elemental mercury. 

Inorganic mercury

WHO reports a PTWI (Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake) of 4 μg/kg bw.

WHO guidelines for inorganic mercury in drinking water indicates a reference value of 0.006 mg/l.

US EPA Reference Dose(RfD) for mercuric chloride is 0.3μg/kg/day.

Methyl mercury

Several Governments and other organizations have estimated tolerable weekly intake /reference levels for methylmercury exposure that are intended to be protective against adverse effects, as shown in the table below: 

Country/OrganizationReference Level (μg MeHg/kg bw/ week)Year Adopted
Netherlands0.7 2000 
United States0.72001

Table reported at page 34 of the WHO document Guidance for Identifying population at risk from mercury exposure.

Variations among reference levels reflect the different risk assessment assumptions, data sets, and uncertainty factors employed.


The WHO air quality guideline for mercury is 1μg/m3 (annual average) (WHO, 2017).

The JointFAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) for total mercury is 1.6μg/kg body weight, based on an assessment of results from various epidemiological studies involving fish-eating populations and developmental neurotoxicity.

Dioxins and PCBs

  • Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants (POPs)
  • Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment and they accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. 
  • More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish. 
  • Dioxins are omnipresent and highly toxic and all people have background exposure, which is not expected to affect human health. Higher than background exposure can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. 

The term “dioxins and dioxin-like substances” commonly refers to polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The compounds often have similar toxicity profiles and common mechanisms of action and are generally considered together as a group to set guidelines. 

PCDDs and PCDFs are widely present in the environment, occurring naturally and as by-products of combustion and of various industrial processes but they have never been manufactured deliberately and have no known uses. PCBs are not natural substances but were globally manufactured and used in the past. Although PCB manufacture is prohibited under the Stockholm Convention, their release into the environment still occurs from the disposal of large-scale electrical equipment and waste. 

Sources of exposure 

Dioxins are unwanted by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. Dioxins can also result from natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Waste incinerators working at low to moderate temperatures (solid waste and hospital waste) are also sources of contamination, due to incomplete burning. The use of modern incineration technology destroys dioxins and furans, whereas inadequate incineration creates them. 


Human exposure occurs mainly through consumption of contaminated food, particularly meat, fish, and poultry, but also through air and drinking-water. Once dioxins enter the body, they are absorbed and stored in fatty tissues and have a half-life estimated to be 7 to 11 years. 

Vulnerable groups 

The developing foetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure. New borns with rapidly developing organ systems, may also be more vulnerable to certain effects. Some people or groups of people may be exposed to higher levels of dioxins because of their diet (such as high consumers of fish in certain parts of the world) 1 or their occupation (such as workers in the pulp and paper industry, in incineration plants, and at hazardous waste sites). 

Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) Gaseous emissionBy-products of industrial processes, They can also be generated by natural events, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires.Mainly by food ingestion. Inhalation and dermal routes of exposure are not considered as they represent only a small proportion of the total exposure
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Gaseous emissionGlobally manufactured and used in the past. PCB manufacture is now prohibited, but their release into the environment still occurs from the disposal of large-scale electrical equipment and waste.Mainly by food ingestion. Inhalation and dermal routes of exposure are not considered as they represent only a small proportion of the total exposure 

Health effects 

Short-term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions, such as chloracne and patchy darkening of the skin, and altered liver function. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions

WHO published in 2015 for the first time estimates of the global burden of foodborne disease associated with consumption of food that is unsafe because of chemical and parasitic contaminants. Dioxins’ effects on fertility and on thyroid function were considered in this context, and only considering these 2 endpoints shows that this exposure can contribute significantly to foodborne disease burden in some parts of the world. 

In the Monograph 107 published in 2016, IARC states that PCBs are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). “Dioxin-like” PCBs, with a toxicity equivalency factor (TEF) according to WHO (PCB-77, PCB-81, PCB-105, PCB-114, PCB-118, PCB-123, PCB -126, PCB -169, PCB -156, PCB -157, PCB -167, PCB-189), are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)

Reference levels 

The TEF method (sources 1, 2) is an interim procedure for assessing the risks associated with exposures to complex mixtures of chemicals, such as PCDDs and PCDFs. The method relates the toxicity of all PCDDs and PCDFs to the most toxic form, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD). The TEF approach is especially useful for purposes requiring concise communication of the toxicological significance of complex mixture of PCDDs/PCDFs, such as in risk assessments and regulations. The toxic equivalency concept was developed during the mid-1980’s and last revised in 2005. The WHO-TEF is now widely accepted and TEF values have been published by WHO.


The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) established a provisional tolerable monthly intake (PTMI) of 70 pg/kg body weight for dioxins and dl-PCBs in 2002. Converted to a tolerable daily basis, this equates to a dose of 2.3 pg/kg body weight per day. 

No water quality guidelines have been set by WHO for these substances because of their low water solubility. 

No air quality guideline for PCBs have been set by WHO because direct inhalation exposures constitute only a small proportion of the total exposure, in the order of 1–2% of the daily intake from food. Although this air concentration is only a minor contributor to direct human exposure, it is a major contributor to contamination of the food-chain. 


In EU the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) adopted in 2001 an opinion on dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in food fixing a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 14 pg World Health Organisation toxic equivalent (WHO-TEQ)/kg body weight for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. 


The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) published an assessment of the non-cancer endpoints for dioxins in February 2012, establishing an oral reference dose (RfD) of 0.7 pg per kg/ body weight per day(US EPA, 2012). The US EPA define the oral RfD as ‘an estimate (with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude) of a daily oral exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime’. 

EPA has set the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL=the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water) for PCBs at 0.0005 mg/L.


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