This is a selection of 'The NTTC Glossary of Environmental Terms'.
The extensive original glossary can be found at

Acid Rain
A complex chemical and atmospheric phenomenon that occurs when emissions of sulfur and nitrogen compounds and other substances are transformed by chemical processes in the atmosphere, often far from the original sources, and then deposited on earth in either wet or dry form. The wet forms (precipitation) are popularly called "acid rain" and fall as rain, snow, or fog. The dry forms are acidic gases or particulates.

Active Ingredient
In any pesticide product, the component that kills, or otherwise controls, target pests. Pesticides are regulated primarily on the basis of active ingredients.

Agricultural Waste
Poultry and livestock manure, and residual materials in liquid or solid form generated from the production and marketing of poultry, livestock, furbearing animals, and their products. Also includes grain, vegetable, and fruit harvest residue.

Air Quality Standards
The level of selected pollutants set by law that may not be exceeded in outside air. Used to determine the amount of pollutants that may be emitted by industry.

A mineral fiber that can pollute air or water and cause cancer or asbestosis when inhaled. EPA has banned or severely restricted the use of asbestos in manufacturing and construction.

Assimilative Capacity
The ability of a natural body of water to receive wastewaters or toxic materials without harmful effects and without damage to aquatic life.

A pesticide used to control or destroy bacteria, typically in the home, schools, or on hospital equipment.

A method of testing a material's effects on living organisms.

Chemicals that are either naturally occurring or identical to naturally occurring substances. Examples include hormones, pheromones, and enzymes. Biochemicals function as pesticides through non-toxic, non-lethal modes of action, such as disrupting the mating pattern of insects, regulating growth, or acting as repellants. Biochemicals tend to be environmentally compatible and are thus important to Integrated Pest management programs.

The ability of a substance to be broken down physically and/or chemically by microorganisms. For example, many chemicals, food scraps, cotton, wool, and paper are bio-degradable; plastics and polyester generally are not.

The number and variety of different organisms in the ecological complexes in which they naturally occur. Organisms are organized at many levels, ranging from complete ecosystems to the biochemical structures that are the molecular basis of heredity. Thus, the term encompasses different ecosystems, species, and genes that must be present for a healthy environment. A large number of species must characterize the food chain, representing multiple predator-prey relationships.

Biological pesticides
Certain microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that are effective in controlling target pests. These agents usually do not have toxic effects on animals and people and do not leave toxic or persistent chemical residues in the environment.

The use of living organisms (e.g., bacteria) to clean up oil spills or remove other pollutants from soil, water, and wastewater.

All living organisms in a given area.

Carcinogenic or Carcinogen
Capable of causing cancer. A suspected carcinogen is a substance that may cause cancer in humans or animals but for which the evidence is not conclusive.

Adding chlorine to water or wastewater, generally for the purpose of disinfection, but frequently for accomplishing other biological or chemical results. Chlorine also is used almost universally in manufacturing processes, particularly for the plastics industry.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
A family of chemicals commonly used in air conditioners and refrigerators as coolants and also as solvents and aerosol propellants. CFCs drift into the upper atmosphere where their chlorine components destroy ozone. CFCs are thought to be a major cause of the ozone hole over Antarctica.

Chronic Effect
An adverse effect on any living organism in which symptoms develop slowly over a long period of time or recur frequently.

Clear Cut
Harvesting all the trees in one area at one time, a practice that destroys vital habitat and biodiversity and encourages rainfall or snowmelt runoff, erosion, sedimentation of streams and lakes, and flooding.

In biotechnology, obtaining a group of genetically identical cells from a single cell; making identical copies of a gene.

Climate Change
This term is commonly used interchangeably with "global warming" and "the greenhouse effect," but is a more descriptive term. Climate change refers to the buildup of man-made gases in the atmosphere that trap the suns heat, causing changes in weather patterns on a global scale. The effects include changes in rainfall patterns, sea level rise,potential droughts, habitat loss, and heat stress. The greenhouse gases of most concern are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides. If these gases in our atmosphere double, the earth could warm up by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees by the year 2050, with changes in global precipitation having the greatest consequences.

Commercial Waste
All solid waste from businesses. This category includes, but is not limited to, solid waste originating in stores, markets, office buildings, restaurants, shopping centers, and theaters.

Community Relations
Two-way communications with the public to foster understanding of EPA programs and actions and to increase citizen input into EPA decisions. Specific community relations activities such as holding public meetings and comment periods and opening information repositories are required at Superfund sites.

Decomposed organic material that is produced when bacteria in soil break down garbage and biodegradable trash, making organic fertilizer. Making compost requires turning and mixing and exposing the materials to air. Gardeners and farmers use compost for soil enrichment.

The relative amount of a substance mixed with another substance. An example is five parts per million of carbon monoxide in air or 1 milligram/liter of iron in water.

Construction and Demolition Waste
Waste building materials, dredging materials, tree stumps, and rubble resulting from construction, remodeling, repair, and demolition operations on houses, commercial buildings and other structures, and pavements. May contain lead, asbestos, or other hazardous materials.

A substance that eats or wears away materials gradually by chemical action.

Preserving and renewing natural resources to assure their highest economic or social benefit over the longest period of time. Clean rivers and lakes, wilderness areas, a diverse wildlife population, healthy soil, and clean air are natural resources worth conserving for future generations.

Deep Well Injection
A process by which waste fluids are injected deep below the surface of the earth.

The release of any waste into the environment from a point source. Usually refers to the release of a liquid waste into a body of water through an outlet such as a pipe, but also refers to air emissions.

The discharge, deposit, injection, dumping, spilling, leaking, or placing of any solid waste or hazardous waste into the environment (land, surface water, ground water, and air).

Disposal Facility
A landfill, incinerator, or other facility which receives waste for disposal. The facility may have one or many disposal methods available for use. Does not include wastewater treatment.

Dissolved Oxygen (DO)
Oxygen that is freely available in water to sustain the lives of fish and other aquatic organisms.

In terms of monitoring exposure levels, the amount of a toxic substance taken into the body over a given period of time.

Dose Response
How an organism's response to a toxic substance changes as its overall exposure to the substance changes. For example, a small dose of carbon monoxide may cause drowsiness; a large dose can be fatal.

A land site where wastes are discarded in a disorderly or haphazard fashion without regard to protecting the environment. Uncontrolled dumping is an indiscriminate and illegal form of waste disposal. Problems associated with dumps include multiplication of disease-carrying organisms and pests, fires, air and water pollution,unsightliness, loss of habitat, and personal injury.

Emergency Broadcasting System (EBS)
Used to inform the public about an emergency and the protective actions to take. The EBS is a service of local radio and television stations, activated as needed and approved by a local emergency management agency.

The study of the relationships between all living organisms and the environment, especially the totality or pattern of interactions; a view that includes all plant and animal species and their unique contributions to a particular habitat.

The interacting synergism of all living organisms in a particular environment; every plant, insect, aquatic animal, bird, or land species that forms a complex web of interdependency. An action taken at any level in the food chain, use of a pesticide for example, has a potential domino effect on every other occupant of that system.

The release or discharge of a substance into the environment. Generally refers to the release of gases or particulates into the air.

Emission Standards
Government standards that establish limits on discharges of pollutants into the environment (usually in reference to air).

Endangered Species
Animals, plants, birds, fish, or other living organisms threatened with extinction by man-made or natural changes in the environment.

Energy Recovery
To capture energy from waste through any of a variety of processes (e.g., burning). Many new technology incinerators are waste-to-energy recovery units.

Environmental Equity
Equal protection from environmental hazards for individuals, groups, or communities regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status.

Environmental Justice
The fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, incomes, and educational levels with respect to the development and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment implies that no population should be forced to shoulder a disproportionate share of exposure to the negative effects of pollution due to lack of political or economic strength.

The wearing away of soil by wind or water, intensified by land-clearing practices related to farming, residential or industrial development, road building, or logging.

A complex ecosystem between a river and near-shore ocean waters where fresh and salt water mix. These brackish areas include bays, mouths of rivers, salt marshes, wetlands, and lagoons and are influenced by tides and currents. Estuaries provide valuable habitat for marine animals, birds, and other wildlife.
Radiation or pollutants that come into contact with the body and present a potential health threat. The most common routes of exposure are through the skin, mouth, or by inhalation.

Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS)
Any of 366 (+ or -) chemicals or hazardous substances identified by EPA on the basis of hazard or toxicity and listed under EPCRA. The list is periodically revised.

First Draw
The water that comes out when a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom is first opened, which is likely to have the highest level of lead contamination from old plumbing solder and pipes.

Fugitive Emissions
Air pollutants released to the air other than those from stacks or vents; typically small releases from leaks in plant equipment such as valves, pump seals, flanges, sampling connections, etc.

A pesticide used to control or destroy fungi on food or grain crops.

Food waste (animal and vegetable) resulting from the handling, storage, packaging, sale, preparation, cooking, and serving of foods.

Global Warming
See definition for Climate Change.

Greenhouse Effect
See definition for Climate Change.

Ground Water
Water found below the surface of the land, usually in porous rock formations. Ground water is the source of water found in wells and springs and is used frequently for drinking.

Heavy Metal
A common hazardous waste; can damage organisms at low concentrations and tends to accumulate in the food chain.

A pesticide designed to control or kill plants, weeds, or grasses. Almost 70% of all pesticide used by farmers and ranchers are herbicides. These chemicals have wide-ranging effects on non-target species (other than those the pesticide is meant to control).

Household or Domestic Waste
Solid waste, composed of garbage and rubbish, which normally originates from residential, private households, or apartment buildings. Domestic waste may contain a significant amount of toxic or hazardous waste from improperly discarded pesticides, paints, batteries, and cleaners.

Chemicals that consist entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons contribute to air pollution problems like smog.

The destruction of solid, liquid, or gaseous wastes by controlled burning at high temperatures. Hazardous organic compounds are converted to ash, carbon dioxide, and water. Burning destroys organics, reduces the volume of waste, and vaporizes water and other liquids the wastes may contain. The residue ash produced may contain some hazardous material, such as non-combustible heavy metals, concentrated from the original waste.

Indoor Air
Breathing air inside a habitable structure, often highly polluted because of lack of exchange with fresh oxygen from outdoors. Solvents, smoke, paints, furniture glues, carpet padding, and other synthetic chemicals trapped inside contribute to an often unhealthy environment.

Industrial Waste
Unwanted materials produced in or eliminated from an industrial operation and categorized under a variety of headings, such as liquid wastes, sludge, solid wastes, and hazardous wastes.

A pesticide compound specifically used to kill or prevent the growth of insects.

Irradiated Food
Food that has been briefly exposed to radioactivity (usually gamma rays) to kill insects, bacteria, and mold. Irradiated food can be stored without refrigeration or chemical preservatives and has a long "shelf life."

A method for final disposal of solid waste on land. The refuse is spread and compacted and a cover of soil applied so that effects on the environment (including public health and safety) are minimized. Under current regulations, landfills are required to have liners and leachate treatment systems to prevent contamination of ground water and surface waters. An industrial landfill disposes of non-hazardous industrial wastes. A municipal landfill disposes of domestic waste including garbage, paper, etc. This waste may include toxins that are used in the home, such as insect sprays and powders, engine oil, paints, solvents, and weed killers.

The highly visible portion of solid waste (usually packaging material) which is generated by the consumer and carelessly discarded outside of the regular garbage disposal system, as on the highways or in streets.

Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)
The maximum level of certain contaminants permitted in drinking water supplied by a public water system as set by EPA under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Bacteria, yeasts, simple fungi, algae, protozoans, and a number of other organisms that are microscopic in size. Most are beneficial but some produce disease. Others are involved in composting and sewage treatment. Milligrams/liter (mg/l)
A measure of concentration used in the measurement of fluids. Mg/l is the most common way to present a concentration in water and is roughly equivalent to parts per million.

The property of a chemical that causes the genetic characteristics of an organism to change in such a way that future generations are permanently affected.

Organically Grown
Food, feed crops, and livestock grown within an intentionally-diversified, self-sustaining agro-ecosystem. In practice, farmers build up nutrients in the soil using compost, agricultural wastes, and cover crops instead of synthetically derived fertilizers to increase productivity, rotate crops, weed mechanically, and reduce dramatically their dependence on the entire family of pesticides. Farmers must be certified to characterize crops as organically grown and can only use approved natural and synthetic biochemicals, agents, and materials for three consecutive years prior to harvest. Livestock must be fed a diet that includes grains and forages that have been organically grown and cannot receive hormones, sub-therapeutic antibiotics, or other growth promoters.

Any living being, whether plant, mammal, bird, insect, reptile, fish, crustacean, aquatic or estuarine animal, or bacterium.

A substance containing oxygen that reacts chemically with other materials to produce new substances. Oxidants are the primary ingredients in smog.

Three molecule oxygen compound (O3) found in two layers of the earth's atmosphere. One layer of beneficial ozone occurs at seven to 18 miles above the surface and shields the earth from ultraviolet light. Several holes in this protective layer have been documented by scientists. Ozone also concentrates at the surface as a result of reactions between by-products of fossil fuel combustion and sunlight, having harmful health effects.

Substances intended to repel, kill, or control any species designated a "pest" including weeds, insects, rodents, fungi, bacteria, or other organisms. The family of pesticides includes herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides, and bactericides.

The measure of acidity or alkalinity of a chemical solution, from 014. Anything neutral, for example, has a pH of 7. Acids have a pH less than 7, bases (alkaline) greater than 7.

A concentration of contaminants in air, soil, or water usually extending from a distinct source.

Any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants.

Pollution Prevention
Actively identifying equipment, processes, and activities which generate excessive wastes or use toxic chemicals and then making substitutions, alterations, or product improvements. Conserving energy and minimizing wastes are pollution prevention concepts used in manufacturing, sustainable agriculture, recycling, and clean air/clean water technologies.

Public Water System
Any water system that regularly supplies piped water to the public for consumption, serving at least an average of 25 individuals per day for at least 60 days per year, or has at least 15 service connections.

Radioactive Waste
Any waste that emits energy as rays, waves, or streams of energetic particles. Radioactive materials are often mixed with hazardous waste, usually from nuclear reactors, research institutions, or hospitals.

A colorless, naturally occurring gas formed by radioactive decay of radium atoms. Radon accumulating in basements and other areas of buildings without proper ventilation has been identified as a leading cause of lung cancer.

Reusing materials and objects in original or changed forms rather than discarding them as wastes.

Reference Dose (RfD)
The particular concentration of a chemical that is known to cause health problems. A standard that also may be referred to as the acceptable daily intake.

Any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing into the environment of a hazardous or toxic chemical, or extremely hazardous substance.

Resource Recovery
The extraction of useful materials or energy from solid waste. Such materials can include paper, glass, and metals that can be reprocessed for re-use. Resource recovery also is employed in pollution prevention.

A pesticide or other agent used to kill rats and other rodents or to prevent them from damaging food, crops, or forage.

Sanitary Water
Water discharged from restrooms, showers, food preparation facilities, or other nonindustrial operations; also known as "gray water."

Septic tank
An underground tank to collect wastes from homes that are not connected to a municipal sewer system. Waste goes from the home to the tank and is decomposed by bacteria. Solids and dead bacteria settle to the bottom as sludge while the liquid portion flows into the ground through drains. While properly placed and maintained septic systems can effectively treat domestic wastewater, others are a major source of ground water and surface water pollution.

Dust, smoke, or chemical fumes that pollute the air and make hazy, unhealthy conditions (literally, the word is a blend of moke and fog). Automobile, truck, bus, and other vehicle exhausts and particulates are usually trapped close to the ground, obscuring visibility and contributing to a number of respiratory problems.

Solid Waste
As defined under RCRA, any solid, semi-solid, liquid, or contained gaseous materials discarded from industrial, commercial, mining, or agricultural operations, and from community activities. Solid waste includes garbage, construction debris, commercial refuse, sludge from water supply or waste treatment plants, or air pollution control facilities, and other discarded materials. Solid Waste Management Facility
Any disposal or resource recovery system; any system, program, or facility for resource conservation; any facility for the treatment of solid wastes.

Source Reduction
The design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials (such as products and packaging) to reduce the amount or toxicity of garbage generated. Source reduction can help reduce waste disposal and handling charges because the costs of recycling, municipal composting, landfilling, and combustion are avoided. Source reduction conserves resources and reduces pollution.

Source Separation
Organizing materials by type (such as paper, metal, plastic, and glass) so that these items can be recycled instead of thrown away. For example, many of us separate these items from the rest of our household and office wastes. Industries also organize materials in this fashion.

Surface Water
All water naturally open to the atmosphere (rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, streams, seas, estuaries) and all springs, wells, or other collectors directly influenced by surface water.

Sustainable Agriculture
Environmentally friendly methods of farming that allow the production of crops or livestock without damage to the farm as an ecosystem, including effects on soil, water supplies, biodiversity, or other surrounding natural resources. The concept of sustainable agriculture is an "intergenerational" one in which we pass on a conserved or improved natural resource base instead of one which has been depleted or polluted. Terms often associated with farms or ranches that are self-sustaining include "low-input," organic, "ecological," "biodynamic," and "permaculture."

The cooperative action of two or more organisms producing a greater total result than the sum of their independent effects; chemicals or muscles in synergy enhance the effectiveness of one another beyond what an individual could have produced.

A substance capable of causing birth defects.

Permissible residue level for pesticides in raw agricultural produce and processed foods. Whenever a pesticide is registered for use on a food or feed crop, a tolerance must be established. EPA establishes the tolerance levels, which are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.Tonnage
The amount of waste that a landfill accepts, usually expressed as tons per month. The rate at which a landfill accepts waste is limited by the landfill's permit.

Toxic Chemical
Substances that can cause severe illness, poisoning, birth defects, disease, or death when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by living organisms. Toxic Cloud
An airborne mass of gases, vapors, fumes, or aerosols of toxic materials.

Any substance which evaporates quickly.

Water Quality Standard (WQS)
The combination of a designated use and the maximum concentration of a pollutant which will protect that use for any given body of water. For example, in a trout stream, the concentration of iron should not exceed 1 mg/l.

Wellhead Protection Area
A protected surface and subsurface zone surrounding a well or well field that supplies a public water system and through which contaminants could likely reach well water.

Areas that are soaked or flooded by surface or ground water frequently enough or for sufficient duration to support plants, birds, animals, and aquatic life. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, estuaries, and other inland and coastal areas, and are federally protected. Wetlands frequently serve as recharge/discharge areas and are known as "nature's kidneys" since they help purify water. Wetlands also have been referred to as natural sponges that absorb flood waters, functioning like natural tubs to collect overflow. Wetlands are important wildlife habitats, breeding grounds, and nurseries because of their biodiversity. Many endangered species as well as countless estuarine and marine fish and shellfish, mammals, waterfowl, and other migratory birds use wetland habitat for growth, reproduction, food, and shelter. Wetlands are among the most fertile, natural ecosystems in the world since they produce great volumes of food (plant material). Wildlife Refuge
An area designated for the protection of wild animals, within which hunting and fishing are either prohibited or strictly controlled.

Wood Treatment Facility
An industrial facility which treats lumber and other wood products for outdoor use. The process involves use of chromated copper arsenate and other toxic chemicals which are regulated as hazardous materials. Xenobiotic
A term for non-natural or man-made substances found in the environment (i.e., synthetics, plastics).

Green Networld
Westfield, Massachusetts
Email: networld@westfield-ma.com

Last update: 9/02/1998