With the number of chemicals that we’re exposed to on a daily basis and the growing dichotomy between people who are either hysterical or extremely skeptical, it can be difficult to sort out what chemicals pose a real threat to our health. Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out how to take practical steps to limit exposure to the substances that are truly harmful.  After all, it’s not very practical to walk around in a space suit or (if you’re a parent) to provide space suits for all your children.  In an attempt to make things a little simpler, we’ve compiled a list of a few of the chemicals that pose real threats and ways to easily avoid them.  

BPA – Bisphenol A: an organic chemical used in the production of hard plastics.  BPA is a xenoestrogen and functions as a hormone in the body, disrupting the endocrine system and the body’s normal hormone function.  Studies have found that even low doses of BPA can affect reproductive health and normal development.  There’s evidence to suggest that ingestion of BPA can also contribute to neurological problems, weight gain, thyroid disfunction, and cancer.

  • Common sources of exposure: Canned foods, water bottles and other #7 plastics, coffee makers made with hard plastic, and receipts.
  • Ways to limit exposure: Instead of buying canned foods, buy frozen or jarred foods.  Purchase BPA-free plastic drinking bottles or use stainless steel containers.  Handle receipts as little as possible and be sure to wash your hands after touching them.  

PTFE (Polytetrafluoroetheylene) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid): chemicals used in the production of non-stick cookware, as well as waterproofing, friction-reducing, and stain-resistant technologies.  PTFE is relatively stable and harmless in its solid state, but when heated at high temperatures it breaks down (starting at 392 degrees) and emits toxic fumes.  PTFE fumes have killed pet birds and are toxic for human inhalation.  PFOA is a toxic and highly pervasive pollutant and can last in the environment indefinitely.  PFOA disrupts normal hormone function, damages cells, and is carcinogenic.

  • Common sources of exposure: teflon, non-stick cookware, snack food/popcorn bags, stain-repellant sprays and coatings.
  • Ways to limit exposure: Cook with stainless steel or ceramic coated cookware.  Eat less greasy snack foods and more whole foods.  Avoid using stain repellants by getting a cover for your furniture.  Wear untreated cotton or wool fabrics.

Pesticides: There are a variety of pesticides used on America’s vast crops.  Some of them include: Pyrethrins, dibromochlorophane, Imazalil, organophosphates, and clothianidin.  Government agencies and chemical companies have tried to say that use of these chemicals isn’t posing any real harm, but if that’s the case then why do they cause health problems for the workers that are regularly exposed to them?  In the lab pesticides are known to disrupt the endocrine system, negatively affect reproductive health, cause cancer , and worsen outcomes for neurological health.  There’s also increasing evidence that non-occupational exposure is having negative outcomes for the general population.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently made a recommendation to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides, as early exposure is associated with cancer and decreased cognitive abilities.  

  • Common sources of exposure: non-organic fruits and vegetables, water, and the air.
  • Ways to limit exposure: If you live near an area where there is constant spraying of pesticides, you might consider moving.  Otherwise, buying organic fruits and vegetables is an easy and proven way to reduce pesticide exposure.   According to the the Environmental Working Group, the 10 fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of pesticides, starting with the highest, are: apples, celery, sweet peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, and cucumbers.  Buy these fruits and vegetables organic whenever possible.  

Disinfectant products, Chromium-6, Nitrate, and Arsenic: toxic and carcinogenic chemicals commonly found in our water supply and in some foods.  Chromium-6, in particularly, has been found at levels above proposed goals in a number of municipal water sources.  

  • Common sources of exposure: Tap water, Rice (Arsenic)
  • Ways to limit exposure: Install a charcoal water filter.  If you eat rice, choose brown rice and soak it in water for a day before consuming, then rinse and drain before cooking.

Triclosan: an organic chemical used for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  Its anti-bacterial health benefits, however, are limited.  Exposure to triclosan is connected to an increased occurrence of allergies. It is toxic when inhaled and may disrupt thyroid function.  Triclosan can also react to form dioxins, which are extremely toxic and carcinogenic.

  • Common sources of exposure: Hand soap, toothpaste, and deodorant.
  • Ways to limit exposure: Read the labels on soaps, toothpastes, and deodorants and choose triclosan-free options.

The effect manmade chemicals can have on human health is another example of how human civilization often brings us further away from good health, instead of closer to it.  It’s important to carefully examine and discriminately select human technologies based on the consequences they have for all living creatures.  We don’t have to live in a bubble or wear a space suit; we just need to make smart choices.

Chemical-free product suggestions:
Kleen Kanteen (REI) – stainless steel, BPA-free drinking container
Ceramic-Coated Non-Stick Frying Pan – PTFE and PFOA-free (Amazon.com)
Brita or Under-Sink charcoal water filters
Natural soap -triclosan-free (Amazon.com)

Environmental Working Group, BPA and Male Infertility, BPA Exposure and Child Obesity, PFOA Toxicity, PTFE Inhalation, PTFE and PFOA in Food Packaging,  Are Organic Foods Safer?Pesticides Pose Serious Risk to Children

Originally posted 2013-02-26 23:17:00.


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