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Glossary of Environmental Health & Safety Terms
An A-Z of the environment
Aluminium (Al)
Aluminium is one of the main components of the most common rock species. Increased acidification in the soil releases aluminium which travels in the and then runs into the sea and lakes where it has a negative effect on the reproductive capability of fish and birds, for example. The metal aluminium is made from bauxite. Its production consumes a huge amount of energy, but at the same time aluminium is easy to recycle many times.
 
Biodiversity
Biodiversity means that there are many different types of species and that there is large-scale genetic variation within each of them.
 
Biofuel
The joint name of fuels which originate from plants (biomass). This can include everything from wood and straw to refined biofuels such as pellets and ethanol. Biofuels are converted solar energy; plants transform solar energy into chemical energy in the form of different types of sugar. Biofuels are renewable because they can be re-created in a relatively short period of time once they have been used, as long as we do not consume more than we grow. Cutting down too many trees can have a negative effect on biodiversity. Peat is no longer regarded as a biofuel.
 
Biotope
A biotope is the special type of nature in which a plant or animal species lives and is dependent on. A biotope can be a highland deciduous forest, the edge of a ditch, forests near the mountains or another type of nature with special characteristics. When the biotope changes, the living conditions for the individuals living there also change. Many biotopes are changed as a result of human intervention, such as cutting down forests, drainage or eutrophication.
 
Bromine flame retardants
Bromine flame retardants are added to plastic, plastic insulation material, the plastic casing of electronic systems and printed circuit boards. Samples from the bed of the Baltic Sea reveal that the levels of bromine aromatic substances are rapidly increasing and this could cause a new problem like that posed by PCB.
 
Brundtland Report
The result of the so-called Brundtland Commission's work in 1983-1987. This commission was asked by the UN to:
Suggest long-term environmental strategies, designed to achieve acceptable development after the year 2000
Suggest methods for developing collaboration between countries with the aim of producing environmental improvements.
The Brundtland Commission coined the phrase "sustainable development".
 
Cadmium (Cd)
Cadmium is easily absorbed by the body and by the kidneys and liver in particular. Acidification increases the leaching of cadmium into the sea and lakes. In the future, chronic cadmium poisoning is expected to be substantial, primarily as a result of the amounts in artificial fertiliser. Cadmium removes zinc, a necessary metal in the body. As a result of its toxicity, it is important that the use of cadmium ceases completely.
 
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
A gas which occurs naturally in the atmosphere and which is essential for plants. In the mid-19th century, the level of CO2 was about 270 ppm (parts per million), but, as a result of burning fossil fuels, it has risen to 350 ppm. CO2 is not a health hazard, but it is the most important cause of global warming.
 
CFC
See Chlorofluorocarbons.
 
Chlorofluorocarbons
Chlorofluorocarbons are synthetic gases consisting of chlorine, carbon, fluorine and nitrogen. They are often known as CFC, Du Pont's trading name. Among other things, CFC is used to transfer heat or cold in freezers, refrigerators, air-conditioning systems and so on, in the production of foam plastic and to clean electronic equipment. CFC destroys the ozone layer in the stratosphere, thereby significantly increasing harmful ultraviolet radiation on earth. CFC is also an aggressive greenhouse gas and is thought to be able to alter DNA. HCFC is usually known as "soft CFC", as it does not contribute so extensively to ozone depletion as CFC. One replacement is HFC, which does not affect the ozone layer. In addition, it contributes less heavily to global warming than CFC.
 
Chrome (Cr)
Chrome normally occurs in two forms, trivalent and hexavalent chrome. Trivalent chrome is both a health hazard and an allergen. Hexavalent chrome is thought to be able to cause cancer and is both a health hazard and an allergen (when it is inhaled). It is important to remember that the chrome that is extracted from a mine never disappears but will always be somewhere in the ecosystem. It could, for example, end up in the ground water under a landfill and then travel to the sea where it ends up in the fish we eat.
 
Closed process
The purpose of this kind of process is to obtain zero emissions; this means that all the residual products are used in the process and no residual products are discharged into the environment. In practice, however, closed processes mean that residual products are conducted back into the process, but nonetheless some waste is produced and ends up in the environment.
 
CO2
See Carbon dioxide.
 
Composting
Composting is the process which occurs when plant and food waste, in conditions in which oxygen is available, is broken down to produce soil (humus). Humus can be used in parks, gardens and agriculture. Large-scale composting requires the waste to be sorted to prevent the heavy metal content of compost humus being too high.
 
Copper (Cu)
An important trace element for human beings, although we only need the tiniest concentrations. Copper is included in a number of important enzymes, for example. Copper salts have a negative effect on algae and disrupt their photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Increased copper levels have been found in acidified ground water.
 
Cycle
There are many cycles in the environment and the basic one involves green plants producing oxygen and sugar from carbon dioxide and water during photosynthesis. Animals use the nutrition in plants by eating plants or other animals. In the cells of plants and animals, cell respiration transforms the sugar and oxygen into energy, carbon dioxide and water. The cycle ends when the plants absorb the carbon dioxide and water again. In a cycle, all the residual products from a process are used again and no useless waste is left. To create cycles in industrial processes, residual products have to be re-used so that no waste is produced.
 
DDT
DDT is a highly environmentally-hazardous and toxic insecticide which is banned in many countries. For more details, see PCB, which has similar properties.
 
Dioxin
Dioxin is the collective name for certain organic chlorine compounds. There are 210 of them, some of which are highly toxic.
 
Ecology
The study of the interplay between living organisms and their surroundings.
 
Eco management systems
Are being used by more and more companies as a tool to obtain a better overview of the environmental impact their operations have. An effective eco management system can also help a company to control and limit this environmental impact. Introducing an eco management system makes it possible to integrate environmental programmes naturally with other operations. A company that uses eco management should draw up an environmental policy and environmental objectives, define an environmental programme and conduct regular environmental audits. See also EMAS and ISO 14001.
 
EMAS
An acronym for Eco Management and Audit Scheme, a voluntary directive within the European Union relating to eco management and environmental audits for companies. EMAS is designed to help companies work on environmental issues in a systematic manner and resembles the ISO 9000 quality standard when it comes to its working methods. There is also a parallel eco management system which is known as ISO 14001. According to EMAS, companies should draw up an environmental policy, an environmental programme and an eco management programme. Companies should also openly share the results of their environmental programmes with the general public via what is known as an environmental report. See also Eco management systems.
 
Energy
Energy cannot be destroyed only converted. Energy sources can be divided into three main groups — solar energy, fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Solar energy can be used directly as wind, water and biofuels. Fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas. Different carriers of energy such as electricity, water and air help to make it available for use. Energy can be used for work, lighting, heating and transport. In principle, all energy use has an environmental impact, but the impact varies depending on the source of energy that is used.
 
Environmental audit
A systematic evaluation to ensure that a company's eco management system is working and that environmental programmes are being run according to the law and in a satisfactory manner by internal standards. During this audit, the company's effect on the external environment, the way the internal organisation handles environmental issues and the documentation which is designed to guide and control environmental programmes are all examined.
 
Environmental economy
The part of national economy which attempts to integrate an economic approach with an ecological one. In short, it would be true to say that environmental economy constitutes an attempt to make concealed environmental costs visible — i.e. costs which current economic thinking does not take into account. Present-day environmental economists use environmental accounts, economic management systems, tax exchange and so on.
 
Ethanol
The name given to alcohol which can be used as a renewable fuel in vehicles. Ethanol also functions as a solvent and is produced by allowing biological material to ferment and then be distillet.
 
Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels consist of plants and parts of plants which sank into the earth's crust millions of years ago and were transformed into fossil material (coal, gas and oil). Fossil fuels are an example of stored resources. When fossil fuels are burnt, carbon dioxide is produced, among other things. As this carbon is not a natural part of the biological cycle, the atmosphere receives additional carbon dioxide which helps to produce global warming. During incineration, bound substances such as sulphur and heavy metals are released and increase the natural levels in the environment.
 
Heavy metals
Metals with high density, such as cadmium, lead, copper, mercury and chrome. In everyday language, heavy metals are the metals which are toxic and have a very negative effect on the environment. See each of the heavy metals for more information.
 
Hydropower
Is generated indirectly by the sun when water is heated, falls as rain and fills watercourses. In principle, hydropower produces no emissions, but it still has a major impact locally and regionally and changes the living conditions in and around the watercourses where dams are built. Flows are changed by dams, and rivers in some areas are drained. Dams flood areas so that the plants and animals that previously lived there disappear and the people who live there are forced to move.
 
ICC (International Chamber of Commerce)
The ICC's Charter for Sustainable Development is often named in a corporate context. The ICC programme comprises 16 principles for environmental programmes, which are vital for sustainable development in a commercial context. This programme is designed to guide companies in their efforts to safeguard the many different aspects of the environment. Companies are encouraged publicly to state their support for this programme and to use it as the starting-point for improvements.
 
Iron (Fe)
Iron is a vital metal for human beings, for example, the iron in red blood cells helps to bind the oxygen in the blood. Negative effects can be created by iron-oxide particles in smoke from iron-processing industries which are thought to produce a benign form of pneumoconiosis, which can in turn increase the risk of lung cancer.
 
ISO 14001
An eco management standard. Whereas EMAS only applies within the European Union (EU), ISO 14001 is international and is used by companies both within and outside the EU. ISO 14001 is one of a "family" of international standards governing the environment. Work on developing other standards for areas such as environmental audits, environmental performance, eco labelling and life cycle assessments is in progress. See also Eco management systems. ISO 14001 is often used in environmental discussions between suppliers and customers.
 
Landfills
Landfills are a modern type of rubbish dump which comply with certain environmental requirements; there has to be some form of foundation plate under the waste which makes it possible to collect and treat the rainwater which is polluted by the toxins stored in the landfill. Dumping waste at a landfill means that it is deposited at a rubbish dump instead of being incinerated or recycled.
 
Lead (Pb)
Lead is a heavy metal which is highly toxic. It is excreted very slowly from the body and is therefore stored there. Among other things, lead interferes with the formation of haemoglobin, which is needed to bind oxygen to the blood. Leaded fuel has been a major source of lead emissions and still remains a problem in many parts of the world. Lead is also used in electrical cables and as an additive in paint, for example. Lead is one of the toxic heavy metals we must stop using if we are to improve the environment in the longer term.
 
Lost Time Injury Rate
Lost Time Injury Rates (LTIR) are calculated as the number of occurrences of injury*, divided by the total number of hours worked by all workers in the recording unit, for 200.000 hours worked.
Injuries* x 200.000
____________________ = LTIR
Worked hours
* Injuries which caused more than one day of absence from work.
 
Lost Time Severity Rate
Lost Time Severity Rate = Workdays lost per 200,000 hours worked
 
Low-energy bulbs
Produce the same amount of light as a normal bulb but consume 5-6 times less energy. Their service life is 8-10 times longer than that of a corresponding standard bulb.
 
LTI
See: Lost Time Injury Rate
 
LTIR
See: Lost Time Injury Rate
 
LTSR
See: Lost Time Severity Rate
 
Mercury (Hg)
Mercury has unique technical characteristics as it melts at a temperature as low as -39°C. Vapour is produced at temperatures of as little as 20°C, even if its boiling point is 375°C. Mercury in metallic form does not affect the environment, but metallic vapour is easily absorbed by the respiratory system and collects in the central nervous system, for example, and gradually causes damage to the human heart and kidneys. Mercury easily combines with other substances thus becoming highly toxic. It also becomes easily absorbed by plants and animals and causes serious damage. When mercury emissions are large-scale, the mercury is stored in the body, as more mercury is supplied than the body can dispose of. The further up the food chain you come, the higher the accumulation. This has affected the reproductive capability of animals, for instance birds. A teaspoonful of mercury is sufficient to pollute an entire lake and, because of its toxicity and volatility, mercury should therefore not be used but should be left in the earth's crust in inactive form. Metal which has already been extracted should be stored in such a way that it does not leak into the environment.
 
Metals
Consist of many different substances, all of which are elements and therefore cannot disappear or be broken down. They can, however, combine with other substances and thereby acquire different characteristics and environmental impacts.
 
Natural gas
A fossil fuel which is stored in the earth's crust. Causes fewer emissions of carbon dioxide and sulphur than oil incineration. In some cases, natural gas can be replaced by biogas, which is a renewable fuel.
 
Nitrogen oxide (NOx)
Nitrogen oxide is formed during incineration as the nitrogen in the incineration air is oxidised. Emissions of nitrogen oxide contribute to acidification, eutrophication and "smog", and can cause direct damage to vegetation.
 
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is a relatively new energy form which utilises the energy which holds two atoms together. Splitting them produces energy which we call nuclear power. The radioactive substance uranium is used for this purpose and, when it is split, it produces other radioactive fission products. The principal environmental problems when it comes to nuclear energy are the handling and emission of radioactive substances. Because of the disastrous effect these substances have on living organisms (molecules in live cells are changed, thereby producing different effects such as cancer and genetic defects), nuclear power is strictly regulated in most countries. Most emissions of radioactive substances take place in connection with faults and catastrophes. Another threat with nuclear power is that the waste can be reprocessed to produce plutonium, which is used in nuclear weapons.
 
OHSAS 18001
OHSAS 18001 is an Occupation Health and Safety Assessment Series for health and safety management systems. It is intended to help an organizations to control occupational health and safety risks. It was developed in response to widespread demand for a recognized standard against which occupational safety management systems can be assessed. It is compatible with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. It covers issues such as planning for hazard identification, risk assessment/control, OHS management, awareness and competence, training, communication, emergency preparedness and response, performance measuring and improvement
 
Ozone layer (O3)
A thin layer of ozone which provides protection from the sun's harmful UV radiation. Ozone consists of three oxygen molecules which in turn break up to form oxygen (with two oxygen atoms) and then form ozone again. The current increase in the occurrence of skin cancer is thought to be due in part to the depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone layer is to be found in the stratosphere at a height of 25 km. In recent years, it has been depleted and has temporarily disappeared in certain areas — primarily around the Poles. Ozone molecules are broken down by natural gases like methane and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and by chlorine and bromine compounds (CFC, HCFC and halogens).
 
PCB
PCB is a long-lasting substance which is foreign to nature. So far, most of the negative effects have been seen in fish and birds. As PCB passes through food chains, it finally also affects human beings. At the present time, all animals and human beings have this type of environmental toxin stored in their bodies.
 
Petrol
A fossil fuel which is made from crude oil. When it is incinerated, petrol generates emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), among other things. The incineration of petrol also helps to produce global warming, acidification and eutrophication.
A catalytic converter reduces the emission of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide but not carbon dioxide.
 
Phosphorus (P)
Together with nitrogen, phosphorus is one of the most important nutrients and a nutrient salt which is vital to all living animals and plants. Most of the phosphorus which reaches the sea and lakes comes from leachate in forest and agricultural land where artificial fertilisers are used and from treatment plants. An unnaturally large supply of phosphorus leads to "eutrophication (over-fertilisation)".
 
Photosynthesis
A process in green plants which transforms energy from sunlight, using carbon dioxide and water, into chemically-bound energy in the form of sugar where oxygen is a vital by-product. During this process, the plants bind the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The green cells in plants are Mother Nature's master builder and photosynthesis is the basis of the ecological cycle and life on earth.
 
Plastics
A collective name for different materials with different characteristics consisting of long carbon chains. Plastic is made almost exclusively of fossil carbon from oil or natural gas which is mixed with different chemicals. Plastic can be divided up in different ways. One division is thermoplastics, which can be transformed when they are heated, and hardened plastics, which cannot be transformed when they are heated but are instead hardened. The environmental impact of plastic is included at every stage from the extraction of oil and gas to the production of plastic and subsequent waste handling. There are few extensive studies of the environmental impact of plastic and it is difficult to state categorically which plastic is better than others. It is, however, possible to say with some certainty that chlorine-based plastics (like PVC below) are worse than other thermoplastics from an environmental angle. This is largely due to the fact that the chlorine in the plastic can combine with organic compounds which often have a very negative effect on the environment.
 
PVC
Polyvinyl chloride plastic is used for flooring, vinyl wallpaper, electric cables and so on. PVC contains chlorine and, when it is burnt, hydrochloric acid and chlorinated hydrocarbons are produced. They help to increase chlorine-organic compounds, such as dioxins, in the soil and water.
 
Recipient
Recipient is the name given to the receiver of emissions; i.e. the water, air or soil where the emissions end up.
 
Renewable energy
Renewable types of energy include solar power, windpower and hydropower and different types of biofuel. The basic feature of renewable energy is that it can be re-created within a foreseeable period, with the exception of the sun which constantly generates energy (if we disregard the fact that many billions of years from now the sun will disappear).
 
Solvents
Solvents are the collective name for substances which dissolve other substances. Organic solvents have attracted the most interest as a result of their health risks and, in recent years, their influence on the environment has also aroused interest. This applies in particular to the organically volatile substances. They help to produce ground-level ozone, for example. Benzine, xylene and trichloroethylene are all associated with major health risks.
 
Sulphur (S)
When fuel containing sulphur, such as coal and oil, is burnt, sulphur dioxide is formed. In the air, it is transformed into sulphuric acid. This is the most important cause of acidification in the soil and water. At the same time, sulphur is a vital substance, in small quantities, for living organisms.
 
Thermodynamics
A branch of science within physics which deals with the conformity of energy and material consumption in different processes.
1. The first principle of thermodynamics states that energy and material can be neither newly produced nor consumed. On the other hand, energy can be transformed from one form to another. Kinetic energy can, for example, be converted into electrical energy which can then be transformed into thermal energy.
2. The second principle of thermodynamics states that disorder, enthropy, increases in a closed system. Expressed in another way, this means that everything displays a tendency to spread on its own. It is possible to recreate order from disorder locally by supplying energy, but the problem is that there is always further increase in disorder somewhere else in the system.
 
Toxic
Means poisonous. Different substances have different toxic effects. Some, like dioxins, are toxic immediately and at very low doses. Others, like trace elements, are toxic in large doses and after long periods of storage in the body.
 
Windpower
Indirect energy from the sun which is produced when air is heated and rises upwards and is replaced by cooler air from the side, thereby creating circulation. Windpower has very little environmental impact. Noise and the effect on the natural and cultural values by changing the landscape can, however, make certain locations unsuitable.
 
VOC
Volatile Organic Compounds, which consist of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine and other atoms which easily produce gases. The organic solvents that are used in industry and at home are examples of VOCs. They help to produce ground-level ozone and "smog".
 
 
 
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