What Are Hazardous Chemicals and
Air Pollutants (HAPs)?

Also known as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), hazardous chemicals, and air toxics. HAPs can be found in job sites of specific trades all around the U.S. and worldwide. This puts thousands of workers at risk each year for dangerous levels of exposure to toxins. While this is mainly because of improper waste management, other hazardous materials were utilized in several industries before researchers discovered their toxic properties. Some major HAPs that are still being discovered on job sites include asbestos, chromium, and radon, to name a few.

The Link to Lung Cancer

Some toxins have been linked to causing severe diseases like lung cancer, among others. This is because workers tend to inhale poisonous dust and gas during projects that involve mining, milling, producing, or distributing contaminated products. There are approximately 187 HAPs, but only some of them cause lung cancer. Other HAPs can cause skin, blood, or neurological diseases. If you feel you’ve been dangerously exposed to toxins, there are steps a person can take to help prevent lung cancer, or improve their lung cancer prognosis if they’ve already been diagnosed. Talk to your doctor about the specifics and they can give you specialized recommendations.

Where to Find Hazardous Chemicals and Air Pollutants

Depending on the hazardous air pollutant, toxins can be found in some worksites, outside locations, residences, schools, or other areas with older structures. Workers or nearby residents can inhale many pollutants directly from the air in certain places outside. Toxic chemicals can also be found in the dirt, rock and soil deposits, lakes, rivers, and streams. If fish eat these toxins, people can be exposed by eating those fish.

At the workplace, a primary source of hazardous air pollutants can come from inhaling emissions, handling machinery, materials, chemicals, or products that come from:

It’s the business/building owner’s legal responsibility to ensure that job sites are void of dangerous levels of HAPs.

5 Air Toxins That Can Cause Lung Cancer

Here are 5 of the most common hazardous air pollutants that have been linked to lung cancer and where they can be found.

This is an icon displaying what asbestos looks like in a home.

A naturally occurring mineral that can be discovered in underground rock and soil deposits, asbestos has been linked to lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma, cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. The mineral was once heavily used in the construction of several building structures, materials, tools, and products used all around the world because of its resistance to fire and electricity, as well as its durability. This was decades before researchers discovered its cancer-causing properties.

This is an icon representing different types of cadmium exposure.

Cadmium is a metal element that’s found in small levels throughout the environment. It’s present in the air, water, soil, and certain foods.

Employees who work where cadmium products are made have a bigger chance of inhaling cadmium dust and fumes. Various battery products can contain cadmium. Those who extract zinc and copper are also at risk for cadmium exposure, as these metals can sometimes occur next to each other.

This is an icon representing different types of chromium exposure.

This is an odorless, metallic element that can be mined from deep within the earth’s crust. Electroplating, welding, and chromate painting trades are at an elevated risk for exposure to this element. Workers have a heightened chance for inhaling dust, mists, or fumes from chromium products. Prolonged exposure to chromium has been known to cause lung cancers and tumors in the paranasal sinus or nasal cavity.

This is an icon of the chemical formaldehyde.

Also, a colorless and flammable, formaldehyde is a chemical used in many building materials and household products. It can be found in pressed-wood materials like particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard. Formaldehyde is also used in adhesives, glues, insulation products, coatings, germicide, fungicide, disinfectants, and as a preservative in mortuaries and labs. Materials containing this toxin are known to release harmful gasses or vapors that can be inhaled and eventually cause lung cancer or other illnesses.

This is an icon representing radon exposure in a home.

Radon is a radioactive gas that gets released into the atmosphere from the natural decay of some elements. These elements include uranium, thorium, and radium and are found in rocks and dirt. There are small amounts of radon in all outside air, and everybody breathes in low levels of this gas every day. However, the levels people breathe in daily don’t generally cause harm unless the gas gets inside and collects into a more concentrated indoor space.

Dangerous radon levels can seep into homes through breaks and cracks in the floors, ceilings, walls, or foundations. If the gas gets inside, collects, and builds up, this could be very toxic to the resident or worker.

Regulating Hazardous Air Pollutants

There are governmental organizations that put laws and regulations to protect workers and residents from hazardous air pollutants. The World Health Organization (WHO) passed the Clean Air Act, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate hazardous air pollutants from industrial facilities. Building owners, managers, and employees are required to follow the phases of regulation, and there are two.

Phase 1 involves the EPA using technology to develop standards for maintaining low enough levels of toxic emissions. This phase is “technology-based,” and employees must follow maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards that the EPA enforces.

Phase 2 is a “risk-based” approach that is also referred to as residual risk. Exposure levels of air toxins may be higher at this stage, and the EPA must decide on more health-protective standards.

The EPA is also required to re-examine conditions every 8 years to ensure MACT standards are being maintained. There’s a first-year review combined with a residual risk review known as the risk and technology review (RTR).

Think You’ve Been Exposed?

If you develop lung cancer or other diseases due to exposure to one of these or other toxins, you could take legal action against the company responsible for your exposure. A lawyer can navigate the situation, gather all necessary information, and submit a litigation claim on your behalf. However, action must be taken quickly because the statute of limitations (time limit to file a claim) begins right after your diagnosis.