It is a commonly held belief that our families are the safest when in the comfort of our own homes. While this may be true to some degree, it is also true that there are currently certain everyday chemicals present in your home that may be putting your family at risk. Read below to learn more about five common household chemicals and the negative health impacts they could be having on your family.
Although BPA was first discovered in the 1891, it was not until the 1950s when chemists realized it could be used in conjunction with other compounds to make plastics that were stronger and more resilient than what was available at that time. Today, BPA is still used in a wide variety of products even though there is evidence that it can be toxic to consumers.
There are a number of common household items which contain BPA, and it is highly likely that any of these products currently exist in your home. Items such as plastic water bottles, toiletry bottles, eyeglasses lenses, CDs or DVDs, canned foods, feminine hygiene products, baby bottles, sports equipment, household electronics and any other product packaged in plastic containers can contain BPA. Since the potential dangers of BPA have become popular knowledge, many companies have attempted to replace BPA in their products with different chemicals to either protect or appease consumers. However, the replacements for BPA, including bisphenol-S (BPS) or bisphenol-F (BPF), can have similar effects to BPA on the body.
The number one way in which you and your family will be exposed to BPA is through your diet. When the plastic containers surrounding your food and drinks are made, not all of the BPA is successfully sealed into the plastic. This means that some of the BPA in the plastic container will leak into the contents of the container. In one study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, it was found that 93% of people tested had BPA in their urine. When participants of this study abstained from eating foods packaged in plastic, the BPA levels in their urine decreased by 66%.
If you have infants or small children, they may also be exposed to BPA when putting their hands or fingers in their mouths after touching a material which contains BPA. Additionally, babies who are fed liquid formulas from bottles containing BPA are eight times more likely to have higher BPA levels than breastfed babies. Fetuses can also be exposed to BPA through their mothers.
It is believed that BPA emulates the shape and function of estrogen. Because it is similar to estrogen in structure, BPA is able to bind with estrogen receptors in the body and influence bodily functions including growth, energy levels, cell repair, reproduction and fetal development. BPA might also communicate with and alter the function of thyroid receptors. Human bodies are very sensitive to fluctuations in hormone levels making BPA’s impersonation of hormones like estrogen a threat to the natural hormone balance necessary for optimal function.
The effects of these hormone imbalances caused by BPA may generate a variety of health problems. One of the health implications of BPA in men and women might be infertility. Studies show that women with higher levels of BPA in their bodies are three times less likely to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to full term. Additionally, men with high level of BPA were between three and four times more likely to have a low sperm count or low sperm concentration. Children who are born to parents with high levels of BPA have been found to be more anxious, depressed and hyperactive than children born to mothers with low levels of BPA. Those with high levels of BPA have also been shown to have a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and poor function of the thyroid, liver, brain and immune system.
There are ways you can actively protect your family from the potential risks of exposure to BPA. A great first step is to look for a “non-toxic” label on the items you purchase for your home and your family. If you are unsure whether or not a product you have purchased is non-toxic, call the manufacturer to ask if it contains BPA. You can also cut down on your consumption of canned food and food or drinks that are packaged in plastic containers. This includes avoiding plastic food storage. Opt for fresh foods, food in glass jars and glass food storage instead. If you do find that it is necessary for your family to use plastic storage, use plastic #4 and avoid using plastic #7, #1 and #2. These three plastic types are either not BPA free or are BPA free but not recommended for reuse. You can identify a product’s plastic type by looking for the number inside of the recycling symbol on the item. Finally, avoid microwaving or heating your food in plastic containers, use glass or stainless steal reusable water bottles and look for a “non-toxic” or “BPA-free” label when purchasing children’s toys. Not only can some of these recommendations positively impact your family’s health, but using less plastic also has environmental benefits.
First introduced in the 1920s, phthalates, or plasticizers, are a colorless and odorless family of chemicals which are used to soften plastics, making them more flexible and harder to break. Upon their development, these chemicals quickly replaced earlier forms of plasticizers which were being used to soften plastics at that time.
Phthalates are used in hundreds of household and personal-care products including vinyl flooring, detergents, soaps, shower curtains, wall coverings, garden hoses, inflatable toys, food packaging, perfumes, shampoos and conditioners, nail polishes, hairspray and even coatings on time-released medications. Since some studies have shown that phthalates can produce negative health effects on those who are exposed to them, many companies have started removing phthalates from their products. If a product does not contain phthalates, you will usually find a “phthalate-free” label on the item. If you are unsure, you can call the manufacturer who should be able to provide you with that information.
Although there is more research to be done surrounding the extent to which phthalates can affect human health, it has been found in some studies that phthalates may cause reproductive harms to those exposed. Two studies from Harvard have concluded that exposure to phthalates can potentially increase the risk of gestational diabetes and miscarriage. One particular phthalate called DEHP is known as a possible carcinogen to humans.
There are three primary ways that you and your family may be exposed to phthalates: ingestion, inhalation and skin contact. When you eat food or drink liquids that have been packaged in plastic, you are at risk of ingesting phthalates, as phthalates can contaminate the contents of the plastic packaging. Children are also at risk of phthalate exposure by chewing on vinyl toys or products which contain phthalates. You may also be exposed to phthalates when inhaling dust in a space with wallpaper or flooring which contain phthalates. Lastly, touching products made with phthalates, including personal care products, can increase your risk of exposure.
By reducing your consumption of foods and drinks packaged in plastic, you can decrease phthalate exposure by ingestion. You can also purchase household items that do not contain PVC, as phthalates are often used to soften PVC in items such as shower curtains, blinds or linoleum floors. To reduce your exposure through skin contact, avoid personal-care products that list “fragrance” or “parfum” as ingredients. Many times, the fragrances in the products we use will contain phthalates. Instead, look for “fragrance-free” or “phthalate-free” labels on the items you buy.
PFOA is a man-made chemical used to make Teflon and many other water and stain repelling, non-stick products.
PFOA will most commonly be found on cookware, such as non-stick pans with a Teflon coating, waterproof clothing, carpets and furniture. You can also find PFOA in contaminated water.
High levels of PFOA in your water source is usually the most dangerous form of exposure due to its long lasting consequences. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFOA exposure is linked to developmental delays, thyroid imbalances, reproductive health problems, cancer, cardiovascular issues and kidney and liver problems. Homes located in close proximity to military bases or chemical plants that use PFOA usually have higher levels of PFOA in their water sources.
If you notice that your water is cloudy, has an unpleasant odor or tastes unusual or if your water bill unexpectedly increases, you might need to get your water tested for PFOA. You can find testing laboratories in your area by contacting your state or local health department. It is worth noting that the EPA has encouraged many companies to ban the use of PFOAs in their products which will hopefully result in less contamination and exposure for humans.
Formaldehyde is an ingredient used in the manufacturing of building materials and a number of household products. This ingredient has a pungent pickle-like smell and is colorless.
Many household items found in your home will contain formaldehyde. These include plywood, particle board, furniture, cabinets, curtains, paints, glues, caulks, cosmetics, gas stoves and detergents. In 2016, the EPA put a national rule in place that would limit the emission of formaldehyde from particular wood products that were either manufactured domestically or imported to the United Stated from abroad. Although this rule was set, there is still risk of exposure to formaldehyde for Americans.
There are different symptoms for long-term exposure and short-term exposure to formaldehyde. If you have been acutely exposed to formaldehyde in your home, you might experience itchy and watery eyes, cough, sore throat, nausea, dizziness, headaches or nosebleeds. Additionally, those who live with asthma may find that exposure to formaldehyde will exacerbate their breathing problems. The National Cancer Institute declares that long-term exposure to formaldehyde can be associated with some types of cancers, including respiratory and gastrointestinal. Exposure to formaldehyde from cosmetics can also cause allergic reactions with symptoms including itchy red rash and blisters.
One primary way to reduce your family’s exposure to formaldehyde is to use exterior-grade pressed wood products, such as cabinetry, building materials and furniture. Exterior grade products release less formaldehyde than interior-grade wood. You can also reduce the level of formaldehyde in your home by disallowing your family members or guests to smoke in your home, as cigarette smoke emits formaldehyde. Additionally, make sure that your home stays properly ventilated with low humidity and a moderate temperature. If you are concerned with formaldehyde in cosmetic products, choose natural beauty products instead or look for products that have a “formaldehyde free” label.
PDBEs are a group of flame retardant chemicals that are used in many household items to help prevent them from catching fire. Although the use of these chemicals is well intended, they can pose some health risks to you and your family.
You can find PBDEs in televisions, wire insulation, furniture foam, computers and other household electronics. As time passes, these items will shed PBDEs and the PBDEs will accumulate in household dust and consequently, the air inside your home. As these chemicals mix with the dust in your home, they are then inhaled by you and your family members. PBDEs have become so common in our environment, that they now also contaminate fish, meat and dairy products, accumulating in the fat of these foods. Additionally, your family could be exposed through the water you drink.
Studies have shown that as PBDEs accumulate in the body, they may cause damage to the kidneys and liver while also affecting the brain. The EPA has name PBDEs a “chemical of concern” due to the potential health risks they pose to you and your family. Those at the highest risk of suffering negative health affects from PBDEs are fetuses, children and infants. Unfortunately, PBDEs have shown to be present in breastmilk which may put these most vulnerable age groups at higher risk for neurological impairment.
You can help to protect your family from PBDEs by purchasing furniture and electronics that do not contain this chemical, routinely sweeping up dust in your home, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, washing your hands several times throughout the day and choosing leaner cuts of meat or poultry. These leaner meats will help to reduce the ingestion of high concentrations of PBDEs stored in the food’s fat.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now take steps to ensure the safety of your family through a cleaner and less chemical ridden home environment.