Before 1978, when the EPA banned the use of lead paint, we covered our walls and furniture with a substance later proven to cause mental impairment, kidney failure, seizures, coma, and even death. Before that we regularly used tin cans to store food, though we now know that the tin leeches into food and causes severe damage to the nervous system. There are things in your home right now, bought at the grocery store and advertised on TV, that are toxic to your family. Many of these chemicals are absorbed into the body through inhalation or the skin. Unlike toxins which are ingested and filtered through the liver, these chemicals go straight to the organs to wreak havoc. Below is a list of the most common toxic household products I see in my friend’s houses that have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.
Flame retardant pajamas: In order to comply with federal requirements, manufacturers of children’s pajamas must make certain categories flame retardant (16 C.F.R. Parts 1615 & 1616). Cotton pajamas can be made flame retardant by adding PROBAN (tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chlorida, or THPC) into the fabric. THPC has been linked to genetic abnormalities and damage to the liver, skin and nervous system. It also promotes the growth of cancerous tumors. I look for snug fitting cotton pajamas with the label “not intended for sleep wear.”
Pretty scents: These are plug in or aerosol air fresheners, dish soap, even scented toilet paper. The fragrance contains a chemical called Phthalates. According to the Center for Disease Control, Phthalates are a known endocrine disruptor, meaning they can effect fertility or create complications. They are also known to cause migraines and trigger asthma. I struggled with headaches for the longest time. In the last several years since we have made efforts to get rid of toxins in our home, I never get headaches. According to the Environmental Working Group, “fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” What to look for? Because fragrance is considered proprietary (trade secret) they don’t have to tell. Try using essential oils, and opening the windows as much as possible to allow fresh air in the house. Also, house plants help clean the air naturally. Here is a tip, to keep house plants from dying I tell the kids to give them ice cubes.
Carpets: Carpeting has come under scrutiny EPA lately for containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It seems to be worse at the time of installation and abates within a few days. Older carpet brings another problem- carpet cleaner. Most carpet/upholstery cleaners and spot removers contain a chemical known as “PERC” which is short for Perchloroethylene. PERC is a known neurotoxin, and a “possible carcinogen” according to the EPA. California plans to eliminate all uses of PERC by 2023 and the EPA has ordered a phase out of PERC used in dry cleaning facilities in residential areas by 2020. When having carpets installed asked to have the carpets aired out before installing. When cleaning spots look for a simple soap like castile. We have almost no carpet in our house, just a few rugs by the door to trap mud. Chemicals not withstanding it is hard to keep carpets clean and even natural pests like fleas and dust mites can abound. So bottom line with carpets- yuck.
Anything “Antibacterial:” Oh how I cringe all the time when well intentioned grown-ups squeeze hand sanitizer on my kids’ hands. No one ever thinks to ask because “anti bacterial” seems so safe right? Wrong. There is no replacement for good hand washing. Watching TV commercials will make you feel compelled to go out and buy every product available as “anti bacterial.” Most of these products are harmful for two reasons 1) They are leading to bacterial resistance and 2) They are toxic to us too. There is an appropriate use for these powerful anti bacterial agents, such as hospitals or individuals with compromised immune systems, but these are not appropriate or everyday household use. Products like hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps are leading to an increased risk for developing treatment-resistant bacteria. Certain strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to even our most powerful antibiotics, the “Super Bacteria.”
The most aggressive antibacterial agent is Triclosan. It’s found in everything from soaps to toys to clothing, and in many popular hand sanitizers. According to the FDA “there is no evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.” The American Medical Association has published a similar opinion. Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. Another chemical added to antibacterial sanitizers and shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soaps is paraben, which can prevent microbe growth in products. They are also linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation On a label it may read: ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS” are found in fabric softener liquids and sheets, and some household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.” Similar to Triclosan they are helping to create the Super Bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant, in fact a leading cause for contact dermatitis, and to blame for some respiratory disorders such as asthma.
Look for a cleaner without these chemicals or make your own. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant. Vinegar works great too.
Powerful Cleaners: There is an alphabet soup of toxins in many common household cleaners. The bottom line is vinegar and baking soda work just as well without the side effects. Many of the additives in household cleaners are also listed as toxins in the U.S. Clean Air and Water Acts. Some of these below have been banned in other countries.
Butoxyethanol is found in window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners. Might be listed as “glycol ethers,” or not at all as current law doesn’t require labeling of it. According to the EPA high levels of glycol ethers can contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Chlorinated phenols found in toilet bowl cleaners are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Diethylene glycol found in window cleaners depresses the nervous system. Phenols found in disinfectants are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Nonylphenol ethoxylate, a common surfactant (detergent) found in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners. Butyl cellosolve, common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners, damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver
Beauty Products: Like the household products discussed above, shampoos, soaps, lotions, perfumes, anything you would use to get yourself clean and pretty scented could potentially contain toxic chemicals too. Your body absorbs these chemicals through the skin as you apply them, accelerating free radicals, causing respiratory damage, and causing other aging and health affects, as well. Be on the look out for shampoos, body washes, cleansers and bubble baths that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which can damage mucous membranes, the respiratory tract, and the immune system. They may also contain DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine) or TEA (triethanolamine). These chemicals are carcinogens and hormone disrupters, which can prematurely age you.
I applaud my sister-in-law who now makes her own products. We are not “there” yet, but we like products such as Burts Bees and Arbonne, which guarantee an absence of these chemicals. Look for products that promise “NO SLS, SLES, DEA,” otherwise they could be a hidden ingredient.