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Environmental Glossary


Air Pollutant
Any substance in air that could, in high enough concentration, harm people, animals, vegetation or materials. Pollutants may include almost any natural or artificial composition of airborne matter capable of being airborne. They may be in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, gases, or a combination thereof. Air pollutants are often grouped in categories for ease in classification; some of the categories are: solids, sulphur compounds, volatile organic chemicals, particulate matter, nitrogen compounds, oxygen compounds, halogen compounds, radioactive compound, and odours.

Air Pollution
The presence of contaminants or pollutant substances in the air that interfere with human health or welfare, or produce other harmful environmental effects.

Allergen/ Allergy
A substance that causes an allergic reaction in individuals sensitive to it.

Alternative Fuels
Substitutes for traditional liquid, oil-derived motor vehicle fuels like gasoline and diesel. Includes mixtures of alcohol-based fuels with gasoline, methanol, ethanol, compressed natural gas, and others.



Microscopic living organisms that can aid in pollution control by processing organic matter in sewage, oil spills or other pollutants. However, bacteria in soil, water or air can also cause humans, animals and plants health problems.

Capable of decomposing under natural conditions. This is a product that is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. Very good for the environment with no negative impact.

Refers to the variety and variability among living organisms and the environments in which they occur. Diversity can be defined as the number of different items and their relative frequencies. The term encompasses different ecosystems, species, and genes.

Bio Dynamic agriculture
A method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.



Carbon Adsorption
A treatment system that removes contaminants from ground or surface water by forcing it through tanks.

Carbon Monoxide
A colourless, odourless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete fossil fuel combustion.

Chemical Compound
A distinct and pure substance formed by the union of two or more elements.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
A family of nontoxic and easily liquefied chemicals used in refrigeration, air conditioning, packaging, insulation, or as solvents and aerosol propellants. Because CFCs are not destroyed in the lower atmosphere they drift into the upper atmosphere where their chlorine components destroy ozone.

Clean Fuels
Blends or substitutes for gasoline fuels, including compressed natural gas, methanol, ethanol, and liquefied petroleum gas.

Climate Change
The term 'climate change' is sometimes used to refer to all forms of climatic inconsistency, but because the Earth's climate is never static, the term is more properly used to imply a significant change from one climatic condition to another. In some cases, 'climate change' has been used synonymously with the term, 'global warming'; scientists however, tend to use the term in the wider sense to also include natural changes in climate.

A soil-like material created from aerobic, microbial decomposition of organic materials such as food scraps, yard trimmings, and manure. It should be turned periodically and is excellent to put on your garden.

Preserving and renewing, when possible, human and natural resources. The use, protection, and improvement of natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits.  The preservation or restoration of the natural environment and wildlife. Careful use of a resource: energy conservation.  This applies to both natural and unnatural resources.  For instance; water, minerals and animals to buildings and antiques.

The dissolution and wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction such as between water and the pipes, chemicals touching a metal surface, or contact between two metals.

A chemical agent that reacts with the surface of a material causing it to deteriorate or wear away.



The breakdown of matter by bacteria and fungi, changing the chemical makeup and physical appearance of materials.

Removal of harmful substances such as noxious chemicals, harmful bacteria or other organisms, or radioactive material from exposed individuals, rooms and furnishings in buildings, or the exterior environment.

A measure of how heavy a specific volume of a solid, liquid, or gas is in comparison to water. depending on the chemical.

Synthetic washing agent that helps to remove dirt and oil. Some contain compounds which kill useful bacteria and encourage algae growth when they are in wastewater that reaches receiving waters.

Consumer products, other items, and packaging used once or a few times and discarded. A disposable product or material can be used only once before discarding.

Final placement or destruction of toxic, radioactive, or other wastes; surplus or banned pesticides or other chemicals; polluted soils; and drums containing hazardous materials from removal actions or accidental releases. Disposal may be accomplished through use of approved secure landfills, surface impoundments, land farming, deep-well injection, ocean dumping, or incineration.

The act of purifying liquids through boiling, so that the steam or gaseous vapours condense to a pure liquid. Pollutants and contaminants may remain in a concentrated residue.



When purchasing something that has been classified as eco-select it means that you are investing in something which will live on.  For instance, with timber it means that the wood is harvested under strict  guidelines to try to protect the surrounding flora and fauna.

The relationship between organisms and their environment. This is a branch of biology that deals with the relationships organisms have to each other and their surroundings. The relationship of living things to one another and their environment, or the study of such relationships.

The natural environment, consisting of all the varieties of plants, animals and micro-organisms in an area, functioning as one with the non-living factors of the environment.

Pollution discharged into the atmosphere from smokestacks, other vents, and surface areas of commercial or industrial facilities; from residential chimneys; and from motor vehicle, locomotive, or aircraft exhausts.

Both our natural and unnatural surroundings.

Environmental/Ecological Risk
The potential for adverse effects on living organisms associated with pollution of the environment by effluents, emissions, wastes, or accidental chemical releases; energy use; or the depletion of natural resources.

Environmental Sustainability
Long-term maintenance of ecosystem components and functions for future generations.

An alternative automotive fuel derived from grain and corn; usually blended with gasoline to form gasohol.




Any material that ignites easily and will burn rapidly.

The addition of a chemical to increase the concentration of fluoride ions in drinking water to reduce the incidence of tooth decay.

Gaseous, solid, or dissolved compounds containing fluorine that result from industrial processes. Excessive amounts in food can lead to fluorosis.

Fluorocarbons (FCs)
Any of a number of organic compounds analogous to hydrocarbons in which one or more hydrogen atoms are replaced by fluorine. Once used in the United States as a propellant for domestic aerosols, they are now found mainly in coolants and some industrial processes. FCs containing chlorine are called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). They are believed to be modifying the ozone layer in the stratosphere, thereby allowing more harmful solar radiation to reach the Earth's surface.

Fossil Fuel
Fuel derived from ancient organic remains; e.g. peat, coal, crude oil, and natural gas.



Global Warming
An increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. Global warming has occurred in the distant past as the result of natural influences, but the term is most often used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists generally agree that the Earth's surface has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past 140 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently concluded that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing an increase in the Earth's surface temperature and that increased concentrations of sulphate aerosols have led to relative cooling in some regions, generally over and downwind of heavily industrialized areas. The gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.

Global Warming Potential
The ratio of the warming caused by a substance to the warming caused by a similar mass of carbon dioxide. CFC-12, for example, has a GWP of 8,500, while water has a GWP of zero.

Greenhouse Effect
The warming of the Earth's atmosphere attributed to a build-up of carbon dioxide or other gases; some scientists think that this build-up allows the sun's rays to heat the Earth, while making the infra-red radiation atmosphere opaque to infra-red radiation, thereby preventing a counterbalancing loss of heat. The trapping of the sun’s warmth in a planet’s lower atmosphere, due to pollution and the thinning of the ozone layer the atmosphere becomes more visible to radiation from the sun.

Greenhouse Gas
A gas, such as carbon dioxide or methane, which contributes to potential climate change.



Capable of burning or causing a fire



Latex/ Latex Foam
This is also known as rubber or natural latex. Also known as rubber or natural latex. It is a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree around the equator. It is used in a wide variety of consumer products, including rubber gloves, tubing, rubber bands, and when made into a foam it becomes ideal for mattresses.  Dust mites do not harbour in it and it is hypo-allergenic.




Memory foam/Visco-Elastic Foam/ NASA Foam
Memory foam was originally made by NASA to soften to impact in the space shuttle on entry and re-entry into the atmosphere; however it has never actually been used in space travel.  It is a synthetic (chemical) product that is designed to soften as a person or the surroundings get warmer. It has been used by people who spend a lot of time in bed as they require a softer surface.  It is designed to mould to s persons shape more quickly.



Something existing in or derived from nature; not made, caused by, or processed by people. For instance; water and grass.

Non-Renewable Resource
Natural resources, such as coal, oil, or natural gas that take millions of years to form naturally and therefore cannot be replaced once it is consumed; they will eventually be used up. The main energy sources used by humans are non-renewable



Off-gassing is the evaporation of volatile chemicals at normal temperatures at normal atmospheric pressure. An example of this is the new car smell or a freshly painted room. This can continue for years after the products are made and people are continuously breathing them in.

1. Referring to or derived from living organisms.
2. In chemistry, any compound containing carbon.
Relating to or derived from living matter. Not involving or produced with chemical fertilisers or other artificial chemicals.

Organic Chemicals/Compounds
Naturally occuring (animal or plant-produced or synthetic) substances containing mainly carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.

Organic Matter
Carbonaceous waste contained in plant or animal matter and originating from domestic or industrial sources.

Any form of animal or plant life.

Ozone (O3)
Found in two layers of the atmosphere, the stratosphere and the troposphere. In the stratosphere (the atmospheric layer 7 to 10 miles or more above the earth's surface) ozone is a natural form of oxygen that provides a protective layer shielding the earth from ultraviolet radiation. In the troposphere (the layer extending up 7 to 10 miles from the earth's surface), ozone is a chemical oxidant and major component of photochemical smog. It can seriously impair the respiratory system and is one of the most wide- spread of all the criteria pollutants for which the Clean Air Act required EPA to set standards. Ozone in the troposphere is produced through complex chemical reactions of nitrogen oxides, which are among the primary pollutants emitted by combustion sources; hydrocarbons, released into the atmosphere through the combustion, handling and processing of petroleum products; and sunlight.

Ozone Depletion

Destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation harmful to life. This destruction of ozone is caused by the breakdown of certain chlorine and/or bromine containing compounds (chlorofluorocarbons or halons), which break down when they reach the stratosphere and then catalytically destroy ozone molecules.

Ozone Hole
A thinning break in the stratospheric ozone layer. Designation of amount of such depletion as an "ozone hole" is made when the detected amount of depletion exceeds fifty percent. Seasonal ozone holes have been observed over both the Antarctic and Arctic regions, part of Canada, and the extreme north-eastern United States.

Ozone Layer
The protective layer in the atmosphere, about 15 miles above the ground, that absorbs some of the sun's ultraviolet rays, thereby reducing the amount of potentially harmful radiation that reaches the earth's surface.



Crude oil or any fraction thereof that is liquid under normal conditions of temperature and pressure. The term includes petroleum-based substances comprising a complex blend of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil through the process of separation, conversion, upgrading, and finishing, such as motor fuel, jet oil, lubricants, petroleum solvents, and used oil.

Generally, the presence of a substance in the environment that because of its chemical composition or quantity prevents the functioning of natural processes and produces undesirable environmental and health effects. Under the Clean Water Act, for example, the term has been defined as the man-made or man-induced alteration of the physical, biological, chemical, and radiological integrity of water and other media.  Pollution
Discarding of unnatural things into the environment and atmosphere.



Convert (waste) into reusable material. To use something again.

Renewable Materials
Natural raw materials such as timber and grasses, which can be grown or restored over time.



Sustainability refers to the ability to build for today and tomorrow without depleting future resources.  Both economically by giving people on going jobs (for instance with the protected latex plantations) or environmentally (an example being sustainable forests, where people are not allowed to cut down trees).




The degree to which a substance or mixture of substances can harm humans or animals. Acute toxicity involves harmful effects in an organism through a single or short-term exposure. Chronic toxicity is the ability of a substance or mixture of substances to cause harmful effects over an extended period, usually upon repeated or continuous exposure sometimes lasting for the entire life of the exposed organism. Subchronic toxicity is the ability of the substance to cause effects for more than one year but less than the lifetime of the exposed organism.




Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) are chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature. The term “organic” indicates that the compounds contain carbon. VOC exposures are often associated with an odour while other times there is no odour. Both can be harmful. There are thousands of different VOC’s produced and used in our daily lives.