How Safe Are the Products You Use?

  • By:  Cindy Klement

Find out where dangerous chemicals lurk in your home.

We hear a lot today about the chemicals in our environment and how they affect our health, but we may find ourselves wondering how and where we’re exposed. There are several ways toxic compounds can enter our homes. Chemicals commonly used on lawns get tracked into the home on shoes, bare feet, and pets and are detected in the bodies of both adults and children. Chemicals also get into our homes because we purchase them in the form of personal care products, laundry products, and cleaning products.

For example, toxicants in the form of artificial fragrances added to household products can contain upwards of several hundred chemicals, some of which are classified as hazardous or toxic under Federal ruling. The results of one study on common fragranced laundry detergent and dryer sheets showed that more than 25 volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs) were emitted from dryer vents, two of which are classified by the EPA as having the potential to cause cancer and seven were classified as hazardous. Interestingly, none of these compounds were listed on the product label, as labeling ingredients in household products is not required.

Thus, the consumer knows little about the potential for toxicant exposure while using laundry and cleaning products, whose chemical emissions are mixed into the air and inhaled by occupants. The burning of incense, building and renovation materials, furniture, air fresheners, and more also contribute to chemical concentrations found inside the home.

More than any other hazardous outdoor pollutant, the chemical toluene is emitted into the air in large quantities from industrial sources. In fact, toluene is ranked 25th on the list of top chemicals produced in the U.S. and is just one of the tens of thousands of industrial chemicals that can pollute outdoor air, resulting in pollutants seeping into the home through open windows.

IS the FDA Protecting Us From Chemical Exposure?

More Restrictions on Chemicals in the EU

0919 TWChemicals2web

While the European Union has either restricted or completely banned more than 1,300 chemicals used in personal care products, in the US that number is only eleven. One group of chemicals, known as phthalates, help lotion penetrate the skin and keep fragrances from fading. But they can also disrupt our delicate hormonal balance, something not advisable during adolescence, pregnancy, or nursing. Approval of personal care products is not required by the FDA before being sold, and yet the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act has not been updated since its enactment in 1938 when few of these chemicals even existed.

What can we do to avoid or reduce our chemical exposure? Luckily, there are a number of credible resources that we can use to make a more informed choice, such as avoiding the use of pesticides when gardening. TreeHugger.com suggests planting common herbs that can both help to repel insects and then later be harvested to use in cooking—plants such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, chives, dill, mint, and oregano. To avoid using pesticides inside the home, GardensAlive.com offers inexpensive and environmentally-responsible alternatives.

Outdoor air quality can be monitored by zip code on the website AirNow.gov, which is also available as an app for smartphones. The official Weather Channel app monitors air quality by location. You simply scroll down to the Air Quality page and click “See Details,” where you can determine the condition of outdoor air and decide whether or not to open the windows.

When it comes to cleaning products and personal care products, there are several resources available. What’s encouraging is switching to low-chemical personal care products has been shown to cut blood levels of certain substances in just three days! The Environmental Working Group database at ewg.org/skindeep contains the safety rating of more than 60,000 products. EWG also has an additional database on healthy cleaning products. But for those who want the convenience of having safety information at their fingertips while shopping, the EWG Healthy Living app allows one to scan the bar code of personal care, cleaning, and laundry products for instant results.

It’s easier to make a change when you have easy access to simple solutions. Monitoring the safety of your products and the air you breathe is the best and easiest way to reduce chemical exposure for you and your family.

Since the late 1970s, Cindy Klement, MS, CNS, MCHES, has shared her expertise with thousands of people in 95 cities across North America. An adjunct professor, she is also a sought-after speaker and author of “Your Body’s Environmental Chemical Burden.” For more information, please visit www.cindyklement.com.

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