Healthy Living Dictionary: P-R



P – R
Perchloroethylene (Perc)
Personal Care Product
Plastic Recycling Numbers
Poison (on Pesticide and Cleaning Labels)
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE)
Post Consumer Waste
Precautionary Principle
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Term: Paraben (par-ə-ben)

Also Known As

  • butylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • methylparaben
  • polyparaben
  • propylparaben
  • sobutylparaben 

Purpose/ Definition: anti-microbial agents used to preserve food, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products

Health Effects

Parabens act like estrogen and may disrupt normal hormone functioning, possibly increasing risks for certain types of cancer, causing impaired fertility, or alteration of the development of a fetus or young child.

Related Research
Journal of Applied Toxicology, Volume 24, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2004). British researchers sampling 20 breast cancer tumors found six parabens in the tumors. Methyl paraben represented 62% of the measured parabens. Perhaps because it is the most widely used or because it is more readily absorbed. Read the report here.

LMG Articles of Interest
Pet Peeves: The Summer Months Can Bring Hazards to Animals, July 2011

Greener Choices for Your Next Picnic, May 2011

Top 5 Personal Care Ingredients to Avoid and Suggested Alternatives, Fall 2010

Non-Toxic Nursery, Spring 2008

Fun in the Sun, Summer 2006

Lip Balms and Lotions, Winter 2006



Term: Perchloroethylene (pər-ˌklȯr-ō-ˈe-thə-ˌlēn)

Also known as: Perc, PCE, Tetrachloroethylene

Purpose/ Definition

Colorless nonflammable toxic liquid (C2Cl4) used as a solvent in dry cleaning and for removal of grease from metal. It can be added to aerosol formulations, solvent soaps, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, polishes, lubricants, and silicones. Typewriter correction fluid and shoe polish are among the consumer products that can contain Perc.

Health Effects

Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”, according to U.S. National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 13th Report on Carcinogens.

According to the U.S, EPA, “Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the human nervous system.  Effects range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.  Contact with PERC liquid or vapor irritates the skin, the eyes, the nose, and the throat.  These effects are not likely to occur at levels of PERC that are normally found in the environment.”

“Breathing perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage in humans.  Workers exposed repeatedly to large amounts of PERC in air can also experience memory loss and confusion. Laboratory studies show that PERC causes kidney and liver damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and by mouth.  Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC in air may likewise cause cancer in humans.”


According to the U.S. EPA, “Exposure to perchloroethylene can occur in the workplace or in the environment following releases to air, water, land, or groundwater.

Exposure can also occur when people:

  • use products containing PERC,
  • spend time in dry cleaning facilities that use PERC,
  • live above or adjacent to these dry cleaning facilities, or
  • bring dry cleaned garments into their home

According to NTP, “Tetrachloroethylene concentrations in homes with freshly dry-cleaned clothing stored in the closets may be 2 to 30 times higher than average background levels.” NTP states, “Tetrachloroethylene has also been detected in rainwater, sea water, rivers, groundwater, commercial deionized charcoal-filtered water, dairy products, meats, oils and fats, beverages, fruits and vegetables, fresh bread, fish, shellfish, marine mammals,…”

According to EPA, “PERC enters the body when breathed in with contaminated air or when consumed with contaminated food or water.  It is less likely to be absorbed through skin contact.  Once in the body PERC can remain, stored in fat tissue.”

Find alternatives to PERC in the LocalMotionGreen Library:
Local Less-Toxic “Dry” Cleaning. Spring 2007

H2O Cleaners, Summer 2006

Wetcleaning; A Clean Conscience, December 2003



Food & Drug Administration:

“People often use the term ‘personal care products’ to refer to a wide variety of items that we commonly find in the health and beauty departments of drug and department stores.The term “personal care product,” however, is not defined by law.”

“Under the law, some of the products commonly referred to as “personal care products” are cosmetics. These include, for example, skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup preparations, shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, toothpastes, and deodorants.”

“Some, however, are regulated as drugs. Among these are skin protectants (such as lip balms and diaper ointments), mouthwashes marketed with therapeutic claims, antiperspirants, and treatments for dandruff or acne.”

“In addition, some ‘personal care products’ may belong to other regulatory categories, including medical devices (such as certain hair removal and microdermabrasion devices), dietary supplements (such as vitamin or mineral tablets or capsules), or other consumer products (such as manicure sets).”
Source: FDA Cosmetics Q&A



Pesticide is a broad umbrella term that includes: insecticides (kills insects), herbicides (kills weeds and other plants), rodenticides (controls mice, rats, and other rodents), fungicides (kills fungi, mildew, and mold), and other “cides” that are designed to kill a living organism.

Some pesticides are biopesticides derived from natural materials. Most are synthetic chemicals.

Check out the EPA's Types of Pesticides for a full listing of 19 types of pesticides, as well explanations and examples of chemical pesticides and biopesticides.

Chemical pesticides may be categorized according to their chemical class:

Class Examples
Carbamates aldicarb (Temik), bendiocarb, carbaryl (Sevin), carbofuron, fenoxycarb, methomyl, pirimicarb and propoxur
Chlorophenoxy herbicides 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, Agent Orange, Dicamba, mecoprop (MCPP), MCPA
Neonicotinoid insecticides  
Organochlorine insecticides  
Organophosphates azinphos-methyl, chlorpyrifos (Dursban, Lorsban), diazinon, disulfoton, fonofos, malathion, methyl parathion
Pyrethroid pesticides  



Term: PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, C8

Purpose/ Definition

PFOA is a synthetic chemical used as a processing aid in the manufacture of non-stick coatings, such as Teflon. PFOA is also used in food packaging designed to repel grease. Microwave popcorn bags have the most PFOA of any food wrappers. It may also occur in pizza boxes and candy wrappers. Teflon, and other fluorotelomer coatings, can break down into PFOA.

Health Effects

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency considers PFOA a likely human carcinogen. EPA states that PFOA causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.


umans may ingest PFOA when eating some microwave popcorns. PFOA can migrate from the bag to the popcorn oil. It can also off-gas from heated microwave popcorn bags and non-stick pans. A 2007 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found PFOA in microwave popcorn vapors. As well, the authors found, “…residual PFOA is not completely removed during the fabrication process of the nonstick coating for cookware.They remain as residuals on the surface and may be off-gassed when heated at normal cooking temperatures.” Source: Environmental Science & Technology


According to the EPA, “PFOA is very persistent in the environment and was being found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population…PFOA also appears to remain in the human body for a long time.” A February 2006 study from Johns Hopkins found PFOA in 298 of 300 umbilical cords.  
Sources: the EPA and the Baltimore Sun

December 2005: DuPont agrees to pay the highest settlement in EPA history ($10.25 million plus $6.25 million in environmental projects) for failing to provide the EPA with a study that found PFOA transferred from a pregnant worker to her fetus and other pertinent toxicological information regarding PFOA.

January 2006: Eight major manufacturers of PFOA, including DuPont, BASF Corporation, 3M, Clariant, and Solvay Solexis, agree to reduce facility emissions and product content of PFOA by 95% no later than 2010 (based on 2000 levels). They also agree to work towards elimination of PFOA by 2015. 

October 2008: EPA summarizes data from all eight companies showing reductions in emissions and product content ranging from 4% to 99%. EPA 2008 tables.

LMG Articles of Interest
Breathe Easy This Winter: Keeping Indoor Air Clean, November 2011
Municipal Water Testing: Can We Pass and Still Fail?, Part Two, April 2011
Pop Goes the PFOA, Winter 2007



Term: Phthalate (tha-ˌlāt)

Also known as:

  • DBP (DnBP) or di-n-butyl phthalate
  • DEHP or di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate
  • BBP (BBzP) or n-butyl benzyl phthalate


Fragrance: the term “fragrance” may appear on a personal care product label. Fragrances are proprietary and are likely to contain phthalates.


 Used in latex adhesives, nail polish [prevents chipping] and other cosmetic products [skin penetrator], as a plasticizer in cellulose plastics, as a solvent in some dyes, and as a plasticizer in PVC.

DEHP: Used mostly in PVC plastics, which typically can contain 30% DEHP by weight.

BBP: Used as a plasticizer for vinyl tile, carpet tile and artificial leather, and also in some adhesives.
Source: "Our Stolen Future"

Phthalates are also commonly used as fixatives in cologne, perfume, air fresheners, and any product containing synthetic fragrance.

Health Effects

  • DBP and DEHP are considered mutagens and are banned in Europe (for use in cosmetics).
  • Studies show DBP to cause cancer and birth defects, such as testicular atrophy, structural defects of the penis, and reduced sperm count in laboratory animals.
  • U.S. EPA classifies DEHP as “B2, Probable Human Carcinogen
  • U.S. National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 13th Report on Carcinogens lists DEHP as “Reasonably Anticipated to be a Human Carcinogen


Find alternatives to phthalates in the LocalMotionGreen Library:
Greener Choices for Your Next Picnic, May 11

Scents of the Season, Dec 10

Pretty Pure Polish, Fall 10

Tips to Avoid Exposures to Four Environment-Related Diseases, Fall 10

Green Gifts for Everyone on Your List, Fall 09

Non-Toxic Nursery, Spring 08

Fresh Air?, Spring 08

New Car Smell, Fall 07

Fun in the Sun (water bottles, car interiors), Summer 06

Air “Fresheners”, Winter 06

Cosmetics Get Makeover, Summer 05

New & Improved Nail Polish, Fall 04

Packing the Perfect Picnic, June 04

Green Renovations, March 04



 Recycling numbers are found on the bottoms of plastic containers within the chasing arrows symbol. These numbers are used to describe the type of plastic. Most numbers are easily recyclable (#3 and #6 may be more difficult).

Number Notes
1 (PET or PETE): Single use. Common for water bottles. May leach phthalates (hormone-disruptors) if used repeatedly. Bacteria build-up is a concern if reused without washing
2 (HDPE): Reusable. More durable than #1
3 (PVC or Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride): Avoid. Can leach phthalates (hormone-disruptors). May contain lead as a stabilizer. Common for packaging, toys, shower curtains, siding for homes, mini-blinds, & more.
4 (LDPE): Mostly used for plastic wrap and plastic bags. Not known to leach chemicals.
5 (PP or Polypropylene): Reusable. More durable than #1.
6 (PS or Polystyrene): Avoid. Can leach styrene (hormone-disruptor).
7 (PC or Polycarbonate): Reuse with Caution or simply Avoid. Research has shown as the bottles age or when they are washed with harsh detergents or put in the dishwasher they leach Bisphenol-A (BPA), an estrogen compound that can affect the endocrine and reproductive systems. Recent research has shown even brand new PC bottles can leach BPA. If you choose to use them, clean with white vinegar or 1-2 drops liquid soap. Rinse thoroughly.


For water on the go or food storage at home try to use non-plastic containers. Stainless steel water bottles are a sound investment. Or, simply wash and reuse and empty glass juice bottle. Many brands and sizes of covered glass or ceramic bowls are available for food. Thermos (R) brand offers many options for food storage on the go.

  • Remember plastics start to deteriorate when exposed to extreme heat or cold. If frozen, microwaved, or left in a hot car, plastics can leach harmful chemicals.
  • Never microwave food in plastic.
  • Clean any plastics with white vinegar or 1-2 drops liquid soap. Rinse thoroughly. Discontinue use if scratched or cloudy, or otherwise worn.

LMG Articles of Interest
Sigg Reveals Bottles Did Contain BPA, Fall 2009

Green Gifts for Everyone on Your List, Fall 2009

Greener Cleaners: Fresh Air?, Spring 2008

New Car Smell, Fall 07

Fun in the Sun, Summer 2006

Lead for Lunch?, Winter 2006

Picnic Perfect, June 2004


POISON (on Pesticide and Cleaning Labels)

“Caution,” “Warning,” and “Danger” are signal words used to denote the level of toxicity for household cleaners and pesticides according to EPA standards. One of the three following terms is found on the label.

Caution: Low toxicity: lethal dose is an ounce to more than a pint. Caution category is very broad. Includes products with varying degrees of safety.

Warning: Moderately toxic: lethal dose is a teaspoon to a tablespoon. Warning category may include such cleaners as: floor cleaners and disinfectant sprays.

Danger: Highly toxic: lethal dose is a few drops to a teaspoon. Danger category may include such cleaners as: oven cleaners, drain openers, rust removers, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Poison and the skull and crossbones symbol  : Will appear on products labeled “Danger” if the product is highly toxic according to acute oral, acute dermal, or acute inhalation toxicity studies OR if methanol is present at 4% or more.

Other cleaner and pesticide label signal words:

Corrosive: Will appear on products labeled “Danger” if the product causes permanent damage to the eye or if the product damages or scars the skin beyond the surface layer where nerve endings and blood vessels occur.

Flammable: Product is inherently more dangerous due to flammable nature. The term “Flammable” also indicates the product likely contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate readily (offgas) at room temperature. Many VOCs are linked to cancer and other negative health effects.

For more information:
EPA Label Review Manual

Download a PDF: EPA Signal Words



Term: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether or PBDE (\ˌpä-lē-ˈbrō-mə-ˌnā-təd  dī-ˈfe-nəl, ˈē-thər\)

Purpose/ Definition: Chemicals used as fire retardants.

Health Effects

Low levels of exposure can harm the developing human brain, affecting memory, behavior, and learning. PBDEs have been shown to be thyroid toxins and liver toxins in laboratory animals.


PBDEs accumulate in animal and human tissue and in mothers’ milk. Exposure occurs through breathing in household dust and from eating the fatty tissue of animals–particularly fish.

Fire fighters are exposed when entering a building in which products containing PBDEs are burning. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, “…when PBDEs burn they release dense fumes and black smoke that reduce visibility and a highly corrosive gas known as hydrogen bromide.”


PBDEs have been incorporated into upholstery and other fabric as well as the plastic casings of computers and other electronics and small appliances to slow down the spread of flames during a fire.

Historically three forms of PBDEs, Penta-, Octa-, and Deca- (referred to as such due to the amount of bromine atoms attached to the molecule), have been used. Michigan banned the manufacture, use, and distribution of Penta-BDE and Octa-BDE in 2004. By the end of 2004, Penta-BDE and Octa-BDE were voluntarily phased out nation-wide by the manufacturer.

Michigan House Bill 4841 (2011/12) seeks to phase out the third form, Deca-BDE, in residential furniture, mattresses, TVs and, computers. Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Oregon have banned all three forms of PBDEs.

LMG Article of Interest
Disrupted Development, Part One: Endocrine Disruptors and Our Health, February 2012

Environmental Legislation: 2011 in Review, December 2011

Breathe Easy this Winter: Keeping Indoor Air Clean, November 2011

Non-Toxic Nursery, Fall 2009

MDEQ Seeks to Extinguish PBDEs, Fall 2007

Dangerous Dust Bunnies, December 2003

Toxic Flame Retardants Being Phased Out, December 2003



Post Consumer Waste refers to products such as paper or plastic that have been used by a consumer (you and me), then put into a recycling bin and made into a new product.

A manufacturer or mill may collect paper or plastic scraps from their own manufacturing process and call them “recycled”. For example 100% recycled paper may contain 30% post-consumer waste. If so, the other 70% would be recycled scraps from the mill that were never used by consumers.

Look for the highest PCW content in all recycled products.



The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, June 1992) identifies 27 Principles in recognition of “the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home.” Principle 15 defines the precautionary principle as:

“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

Environment Canada embraces this definition acknowledging, “The government’s actions to protect the environment and health are guided by the precautionary principle…” 

A 2001 landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada cited the precautionary principle when it upheld the city of Hudson’s 1991 pesticide bylaws restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides. Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé:

“It is reasonable to conclude that the town bylaw’s purpose is to minimize the use of allegedly harmful pesticides in order to promote the health of its inhabitants…Permitting the town to regulate pesticide use is consistent with international law’s ‘precautionary principle,’ which states it is better to be overly cautious than to create a potential risk to the environment.”

Additionally, a conference held in 1998, The Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle, gave its own definition of the practice as:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

(Convened by the Science and Environmental Health Network, the Johnson Foundation, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the C.S. Fund and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.)



Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic growth hormone also referred to as rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin). This hormone is given to cows to stimulate more milk production.

The Monsanto Company is the sole manufacturer of the hormone. According to the article Hormone Fuels a Fight in Tillamook (Pulaski, 2005), “Its manufacturer, Monsanto Co., suggests that dairies can increase milk yields by 10 percent to 15 percent by injecting cows every 14 days.”

Dairy products from cows receiving the growth hormone do not have to be labeled as such. Organically raised cows are not injected with growth hormones. 



Term: Roundup Ⓡ
Active ingredient: glyphosate (glahy-fos-eyt)
Chemical formula: C₃H₈NO₅P

Purpose/ Definition: Non-selective herbicide used to kill weeds, grass, woody brush, trees

History/ Usage

First marketed in 1974. Re-registered in 1993. Glyphosate is the second most commonly used pesticide for homes and gardens (after 2,4-D) with totals of 5 – 8 million pounds per year (2001) according to EPA data. Use in agriculture has expanded recently with the increased use of crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate treatment.

How it Works

Liquid applied to leaves is absorbed and translocates (moves within the plant) to the root system. Within a minimum of 2 – 7 days the plant and roots will die.

EPA Toxicity

EPA Acute Toxicity Category: III (Slightly toxic)
(Category I is most toxic, Category IV is least)

EPA Oncogen (tumor causing substance) classification for glyphosate: Group E oncogen showing evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans based on lack of convincing evidence.

EPA Signal Word on Label: Caution! Causes Moderate Eye Irritation (Caution is least toxic)

According to EPA, glyphosate ranks high among pesticides for causing illness or injury to workers due to splashing during mixing and loading, causing eye and skin irritation.

Toxicity Studies
In humans, Roundup® or its active ingredient, glyphosate, is linked to:

  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Rapid cell division of breast cancer cells
  • Genetic damage of blood cells and connective tissue
  • Inhibited growth and development of nerve cells
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • EPA states, “Glyphosate does not cause mutations.” However, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (a division of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) describes glyphosate as a “mutagen,” according to Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Animal studies show exposure to Roundup® or glyphosate can:

  • Affect the pancreas, liver, and kidneys
  • Increase the number of abnormal skeletons in offspring
  • Decrease body weight gain in pregnant females
  • Reduce sex hormone production in males
  • Alter enzyme activity in the brains of fetuses

Source: Glyphosate factsheet, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides

Inert Ingredients

Roundup’s® most well-known and documented inert ingredient is POEA, which:

  • helps glyphosate get absorbed into the plant
  • has been linked to adverse effects to the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous system.
  • can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells

Studies show the formulation of Roundup® is more toxic than glyphosate alone.

LMG Articles of Interest
Pesticides in Clean Water, May 2011

Greener Choices for Your Next Picnic, May 2011

Pesticides: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You, Summer 2010

Roundup Factsheet, Summer 2010

Lawn Sign Update, Spring 2008

“Roundup Ready” Seeds Go to Court, Spring 2007

Spring Checklist for a Health Yard, Spring 2007

Progressive Pesticide Policies, June 2004


Published on January 23, 2015