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Definition of the Subject

Organic chemicals play an invaluable role in the modern lifestyle. They include pharmaceuticals, pesticides, plastics, fuels, solvents, explosives, surface coatings, adhesives, disinfectants, and fire retardants. From the perspective of conservation and sustainability, the preferred strategy is to use chemicals such that they perform their desired function, cause no unintended adverse effects, and hence leave no legacy of contamination. This is a fundamental component in the move toward “green chemistry ” which also strives to reduce resource depletion, energy use, ozone depletion, and interference with natural biogeochemical cycles . Of the over 50 million chemicals that have been characterized, most are organic compounds. Some 100,000 are commercially produced in quantities large enough to raise concerns that they may become present in the...

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Abbreviations

Bioaccumulation:

The phenomenon similar to bioconcentration but including uptake from food as well as uptake from the ambient environment. This is expressed as a bioaccumulation factor (BAF) and generally applies to organisms in the environment. The BAF is the steady-state ratio of the chemical concentration in the organism to that in the environment.

Bioconcentration:

The phenomenon by which an organism, such as a fish, absorbs chemical from its ambient environment of water or air by respiratory uptake and/or dermal absorption. The steady-state ratio of the chemical concentration in the organism to the chemical concentration in its ambient environment of water or air is the bioconcentration factor, (BCF) and the BCF is usually measured in a laboratory test.

Biomagnification:

The ratio of the chemical concentration in the predator to that of the prey.

Hazard:

The inherent toxic potency of a chemical, usually expressed as the quantity or concentration of the substance necessary to elicit a defined adverse effect in the organism.

Mass Balance Model:

A mathematical description of the fate and transport of a chemical in the environment, usually in the form of a computer program. The model provides a complete accounting of all processes experienced by the chemical and is used to estimate environmental concentrations, persistence, and exposures. Models may also be used to forecast future changes in concentrations as a result of actions to reduce contamination.

Persistence:

The average time that a discharged chemical survives in the environment before it is degraded into another substance or substances. It may be expressed as a “half-life” by analogy to radioactive substances or as a residence time.

Risk:

The likelihood that there will be an adverse effect as a result of exposure to the chemical. Risk thus depends both on toxic potency (hazard) and the prevailing exposure.

Toxicity:

The phenomenon by which a chemical substance elicits an adverse effect on an exposed organism. The effect may be death (lethality) or a less severe effect such as a failure to reproduce, an increased vulnerability to predation or significant behavioral changes.

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Correspondence to Simanga Gama .

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Gama, S., Arnot, J.A., Mackay, D. (2012). Toxic Organic Chemicals . In: Meyers, R.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0851-3_639

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