Unfortunately we live in a world where we are surrounded by human-made chemicals (more than 80,000 are in use in the U.S.). Of those, only a few hundred have been tested for safety. I learned a lot in a recent article in Natural Home and Garden Magazine (July/August 2011) titled “Chemical Warfare” by K. Lerner and A. Kingfisher. Here is a summary of their advice in avoiding 10 of the most dangerous chemicals found in and around our homes (five this week and five next week) :
1. Phthalates: These are endocrine-disrupting chemicals used to make #3 plastics flexible. PVC plastic leaches these chemicals when it is heated or worn down. They are also found in personal-care products and detergents often labeled as “fragrance.” To minimize: never microwave plastic containers. Store food in glass or metal containers. Avoid vinyl flooring, shower curtains, PVC pipes and products with “fragrance.”
2. BPA: Biphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine disrupter found in reusable polycarbonate (#7 plastic) food and beverage containers (including baby bottles); the lining of food and beverage cans and on receipts and money. To minimize: same advice as above in addition, avoid canned foods — choose bulk, frozen or fresh instead or look for BPA-free canned goods. Buy “BPA-free” reusable water bottles and wash your hands after handling receipts or money.
3. Chlorine: Used as a disinfectant in municipal water systems, chlorine is toxic, even at low concentrations. To minimize: Filter chlorine with a whole-house filter or with a chlorine-filtering showerhead and a granular-activated charcoal drinking water filter. Avoid swimming in chlorinated water — especially don’t swallow the water.
4. Radon: This chemical is a natural, odorless radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the ground. It can be detected with a test kit. To minimize: Test for radon with a simple kit — you may have to call in a professional to fix the problem if the levels are too high.
5. PFCs: Perfluorochemicals are persistent organic pollutants used on stain-resistant clothing and upholstery, cooking pans, fast food wrappers and inside pet food and microwave popcorn bags. Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex are all PFCs. To minimize: Forego stain treatments on furniture or carpet; don’t wear clothing labeled stain- or water-resistant; avoid nonstick pans; pop popcorn on the stove or with an air popper; and choose personal-care articles without “PTFE” and “perfluoro” in the ingredients.
More on this next week. Until then, take a serious look at some of these suggestions just to help you and your family lower your chemical exposure.
Tuesday Trippier lives in Delaware, is a writer and mother of three, soon to be four, with a special interest in green living.