Can Certain Chemicals Cause Lung Cancer?


Although there are many causes of lung cancer, including smoking and genetics, research indicates that there are certain chemicals which have been linked to lung cancer. Each day, Americans use more than 100,000 chemicals, and more than 1,000 new chemicals are introduced each year.

Although the majority of these chemicals are harmless, the following are some common chemicals that may lead to a lung cancer diagnosis.


Arsenic is a natural element found in rocks, soil, water, plants, and animals. People can be exposed to asbestos in a variety of ways. It has been used in pressure-treated wood and was formerly used in pesticides, although that has been prohibited since 1993.

You may still be exposed to arsenic if you work in copper or lead smelting as well as wood treating. If you live near a current or former industrial area, you could also be exposed to asbestos.

Breathing in high levels of arsenic can cause irritated lungs and sore throats. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies inorganic arsenic as a human carcinogen with links not only to lung cancer but also bladder, kidney, skin, and liver cancers.


There is considerable evidence that asbestos can cause lung cancer. Asbestos occurs in two forms. The chrysotile, or white asbestos, is normally used in industrial applications, while amphibole asbestos has fibers that are straight and needle-like. Because asbestos is resistant to heat and does not conduct electricity, it is often used as insulation.

One of the biggest issues with asbestos is that lung cancer can develop 15 to 35 years after exposure to dangerous chemicals, including both forms of asbestos. Not only is someone who works with asbestos at risk, family members can also be at risk from fibers caught on clothing and work into the home.


Cadmium is found in the earth and is often combined with other elements to create pigments, metal coating, plastic and batteries. Anyone can be exposed to cadmium through food, secondhand smoke and from the soil. Lung cancer normally forms in those who work in industries where cadmium is commonly used, including:

  • Alloy production
  • Battery production
  • Pigment production
  • Plastics production
  • Refining
  • Smelting


The National Institutes of Health reports that people who are exposed to chromium have higher incidences of lung cancer, especially in older people. In one study, 25 percent of workers exposed to chromium developed small cell lung cancer.


Nickel is found in the Earth’s crust and is often combined with other elements to form compounds. It is useful in the creation of metal alloys as it is corrosion and heat resistant. In industries where nickel compounds are common, such as casting, grinding, mining, smelting or welding, you can breathe in nickel particles which can increase the risk of lung cancer.


Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that forms from the breakdown of soil and rock. Exposure to radon occurs inside buildings and levels of the gas differ significantly throughout the United States.

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Concrete and wallboard may contain some levels of radon, although the levels are usually fairly low. You may also be exposed to radon if you work in certain industries such as mining where high levels of radon may exist.

It was studies of radon-exposed minors in the 1950s and 1960s that confirmed the link between radon and cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society now says that radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.


In 2013, a new report released by a journal published for medical clinicians reported a significant link between silica and lung cancer.

Silica is found in sand, stone, rock, concrete, and brick that are used in a wide range of industries, including construction, mining and manufacturing. You may be exposed to silica while you are cutting, sawing or drilling something that contains silica and about 2.2 million workers in the United States are exposed to silica each year.

If you have been exposed to any of these chemicals on the job and you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be eligible for compensation. It is an employer’s duty to keep their workers safe. When they fail to remove toxins, provide proper safety gear, or to provide proper training, it’s your right to hold them accountable.

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