Last updated: December 12, 2020

What Does Contaminant Mean?

A contaminant is any substance is unwanted and likely to cause harm to a person or other living thing. Contaminants may be chemical, biological, physical, or radiological. Contaminants may be found in the soil, air, or water. A contaminant may occur naturally or be cause by human activity. For example, both human activity and natural processes may cause methane gas to be released into the atmosphere. Lead can contaminate soil due to run off from industrial activities but is also a naturally occurring element.


WorkplaceTesting Explains Contaminant

In the workplace setting, contaminants are hazardous substances to which exposure places workers at risk. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines several types of contaminants, including airborne and surface contaminants. Airborne contaminants include dusts, fumes, mists or aerosols, fibers, or gases and vapors. Contaminants are not always chemicals. Biological contaminants such as fungi, viruses, or molds can also put workers at risk. Radioactive contamination may also be a hazard in some workplaces.

To protect against the potential harm of contaminants in the workplace employers must monitor and control exposures to known contaminants. Control procedures may include elimination of hazardous substances, engineering controls such as air filtration, safe work practices to reduce risks of exposure, and the use of personal protective equipment.


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