- BPA — Bisphenol A
BPA is used to make lightweight, clear, heat-resistant plastic. It's also used in epoxy resins.
A growing body of research suggests that BPA poses a potential cancer risk and may disrupt the extremely sensitive chemical signals in your body called the endocrine system.
To avoid it, buy stainless steel bottles and glass food storage containers. Switch to fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. If you buy plastic, check for the number on the bottom — if there is a number 7, assume the container contains BPA unless it explicitly says otherwise.
This family of chemicals softens plastics. Phthalates are considered endocrine disrupters. Research has also shown phthalates disrupt reproductive development. Avoid shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products that list "fragrance" as an ingredient.
- PFOA — Perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8)
PFOA is used to make Teflon and other nonstick and stain- or water-repellent products. PFOA causes cancer and developmental problems. You can reduce your potential exposure by using stainless steel or cast iron cookware. If you use nonstick cookware, do not overheat it — this releases toxic gas.
Formaldehyde is an ingredient in resins that act as a glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products. It is a known human carcinogen, causing cancers of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.
Buying furniture free from formaldehyde eliminates much of the exposure you face from the chemical. If you have wood products containing formaldehyde, increase ventilation, reduce humidity with air conditioning or dehumidifiers and keep your home cool.
- PBDEs — Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
PBDEs are a group of chemicals used as flame retardants. Toxicology tests show PBDEs may damage your liver and kidneys and affect your brain and behavior. Try to find products without PBDE flame retardants and be sure to sweep up dust.
Thanks to the spoils of the industrial revolution, your body is now home to a growing cocktail of chemicals.
Intermingling with your red and white blood cells, your endocrine system, brain, tissues and other organs are chemicals used to make epoxy resins, non-stock cookware, flame-resistant upholstery and plastic -- clearly substances that have no business taking residence in a living, breathing creature such as yourself.
Your Body Probably Contains Over 200 Chemicals
A typical American comes in regular contact with 6,000 chemicals and an untold number of potentially toxic substances on a less frequent basis. There are about 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries, so you could potentially be exposed to any number of them.
Given the vast amounts of chemicals in the environment, it's not too surprising that the CDC's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals found an average of 212 chemicals in Americans' blood or urine.
Likewise, an Environmental Working Group study found that blood samples from newborns contained an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, and Teflon chemicals, and this is from exposures they received before birth.
When it comes to the potentially hazardous chemicals you and your family are exposed to as you go about your daily lives, it can easily feel overwhelming. There are chemicals literally everywhere, but rather than feeling burdened by the thought I encourage you instead to focus on simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
A good starting point, as CNN as suggested above, is to focus on avoiding some of the most pervasive, and most toxic, chemicals that are virtually guaranteed to be in your home right now.
Five Top Common Chemicals to Avoid …
The five chemicals listed by CNN are definitely worthy of eliminating from your life as much as possible, and given that they are among the most widely used chemicals around, doing so will make a serious positive impact on your chemical exposure.
They gave a great summary above, but I'll touch on them again briefly here:
- BPA: BPA is one of the world's highest production-volume chemicals and is widely used in the production of plastics, canned foods and soda cans, food packaging, baby bottles and toys and more.
The chemical can lead to heart disease, diabetes and liver problems in adults, and previous research has linked BPA to serious developmental and reproductive problems.
You can find 10 tips to minimize your BPA exposure here.
- Phthalates: Phthalates, or "plasticizers," are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They're also one of the most pervasive of the endocrine disrupters.
These chemicals have increasingly become associated with changes in development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults.
- PFOA: Teflon-coated cookware is the primary source of dangerous perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs). Teflon pans quickly reach temperatures that cause the non-stick coating to begin breaking down, releasing toxins that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and thyroid disease into the air in your kitchen.
I highly recommend you throw away this type of non-stick cookware immediately and replace it with either ceramic or glass. My personal choice is ceramic cookware, because it's very durable and easy to clean, and there's absolutely no risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde, most commonly known as embalming fluid, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. It is actually frequently used in fabrics to give them a variety of "easy care properties" as well as being a common component of pressed-wood products.
Formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and may cause cancer in humans. Other common adverse health effects include fatigue, skin rashes, and allergic reactions. Choosing all natural materials for your clothing and furniture can help cut down on your exposure.
- PBDEs: These flame-retardant chemicals have been linked to altered thyroid levels, decreased fertility and numerous problems with development when exposure occurs in utero. PBDEs are commonly found in household items like upholstery and television and computer housings. Fortunately, several states now ban the use of PBDEs, so there is some progress toward reducing exposure.
Another common source of PBDEs is your mattress, and since you can spend up to a third of your life in bed, this is a significant health concern. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. Look for 100 percent wool, toxin-free mattresses.
Another viable option is to look for a mattress that uses a Kevlar, bullet-proof type of material in lieu of chemicals for fire-proofing. Stearns and Foster uses this process for their mattresses, which is sufficient to pass fire safety standards.
What Else Can You do to Reduce Unnecessary Chemical Exposure to Your Family?
Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it's far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath). My personal favorite, and the one I personally use, is a high-quality reverse osmosis (RO) filter. You just need to add a few minerals back to the water, but RO reliably removes virtually every possible contaminant that could be in the water.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your Teflon pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware or a safe nonstick pan.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door.
It is important to make these positive and gradual steps toward decreasing your chemical risk through healthy lifestyle choices. While you make the switch to remove and reduce chemicals around your home, remember that one of the ways to significantly reduce your toxic load is to pay careful attention to what you eat.
Organically-grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat right, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxins your body encounters from other sources.