This month, I’ve taken a look back over the 100 articles I’ve written for Moonshine Ink since 2002, and chosen a topic that has popped up in articles, ranging from candles to household cleaners, water bottles to barbequeing, and pesticides to body care products.
Most people don’t realize how often they’re exposed to toxic chemicals. But everyday activities like taking a shower, doing laundry, and housecleaning, as well as cooking, storing, and eating food, bring us in contact with hundreds of foreign compounds that enter our bloodstream via skin absorption, breathing, and eating.
The effect of these toxins on children is especially acute. Due to their size and physiology, children (and fetuses) are profoundly more sensitive to chemicals and are much less able to detoxify them than adults.
Teenagers are vulnerable, too. The natural hormones driving critical changes to their brains, metabolism, and reproductive systems are present in amounts as miniscule as one part per trillion, making a teen’s exposure to even tiny amounts of artificial hormone disruptors problematic.
But here’s the good news: You can significantly reduce your body burden of carcinogens and hormone disruptors simply by swapping out many of the products in your home for safer ones.
Pesticides on Food
More than three quarters of pesticides are known carcinogens, and others are neurotoxins and hormone disrupters. All are designed to kill living organisms. Though you can’t see pesticides on food, U.S. Food and Drug Administration data show that 65 percent of food samples carry detectible residues.
In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control’s national biomonitoring program showed that out of 5,000 Americans over the age of 6, a stunning 96 percent tested positive for pesticides, and more than 50 percent harbored seven pesticides or more. Other studies found that when pregnant women were exposed to pesticides in their diets, their children suffered lower IQ and impaired brain function that lasted until age 9.
You can remove the lion’s share of pesticides from your diet simply by buying organic versions of the Dirty Dozen worst foods for pesticide residues. You’re fairly safe, though, buying non-organic versions of the Clean Fifteen, which are lowest in residues. Download the Environmental Working Group app to keep these lists handy when shopping.
Body Care Products
Bath and body products abound with preservatives known as parabens and chemical plasticizers called phthalates. Parabens mimic estrogen, and can stimulate the growth of certain breast cancer cells. Phthalates, which add luster to lotions, make hair spray and nail polish more flexible, and help disperse fragrances, have been linked to birth defects, sperm damage, obesity, insulin resistance, and thyroid problems.
When EWG tested teen girls in 2008, they found that the girls harbored an average of 13 hormone-disrupting compounds.
Choose products free of parabens and fragrance, terms which allow companies to hide the word “phthalates.” Beware the term “natural,” which means little. Refer to EWG’s Skin Deep database, which lists the ingredients of thousands of products by brand.
The kind of plastics you use, and how you use them, can affect the amount of hormone-disrupting Bisphenyl A (BPA), phthalate plasticizers, and other compounds that enter your body. Never microwave any plastic unless it says “microwave safe.” Better yet, use glass or ceramic containers for food storage and heating. Though unlabeled, most food can liners and register receipts contain BPA.
The Good Plastics
• #1 and 2: Single-use water, sport drink, and milk bottles, CamelBak bladders
• #4: Bicycle bottles
• #5: Yogurt and cottage cheese containers, Tupperware-style containers
The Bad Plastics
• #3 (PVC): Shower curtains, raincoats, toys, hoses, vinyl floors
• #6 (Polystyrene): “Styrofoam” cups, take-out boxes, plastic cutlery
• Some #7: Hard water bottles, unless “BPA free”
Be sure to recycle any plastic that is cracked, crinkled, or turning cloudy.
If the point of housecleaning and killing germs is to keep your family healthy, why use products that harm them? Avoid cleaners with ammonia, bleach (chlorine) petroleum distillates, lye, and products carrying the words danger, poison, or warning. Replace them with non-toxic cleaners, which are available for every job, including kitchen, bath, floors, and furniture.
Many laundry products, including detergent, fabric softener, bleach, and scented dryer sheets, leave behind residues that can aggravate allergies, asthma, rashes, and respiratory problems.
EWG’s website (ewg.org) can help you choose household cleaners and laundry products that are truly safe.
These products don’t make your home or car fresher — they fill it with nasty compounds, many of which are suspected carcinogens. To retain trade secrets, manufacturers don’t have to disclose all their ingredients.
Clean homes don’t need fake smelling plug-ins or pop-up deodorizers. For problem areas, like near a cat box, or if you like your house smelling like something other than neutral, try a diffuser that uses 100 percent pure essential botanical oils. But be aware that some people can be sensitive to them.
Most candles are artificially scented and made of paraffin, a petroleum product containing benzene and other carcinogens. Safer alternatives are unscented candles made of soy oil, palm oil, or beeswax.
The charring of meat, poultry, and fish creates compounds called HCAs that increase your risk of stomach, breast, and colon cancer. To prevent HCAs from forming, choose lean cuts, marinate foods in citrus vinaigrettes, and cook them on lower heat.