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6 Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Avoid

Minimize these hormone-disrupting chemicals in your home and food to decrease the risk of breathing problems, chronic disease, excess weight and more.

| January/February 2015

  • Arsenic can find its way into local waterways via natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.
    Photo by Veer
  • Many hormone-disrupting chemicals enter groundwater and food supplies via runoff of herbicides sprayed on farmland.
    Photo by Veer
  • Because of farmland runoff, atrazine contamination in waterways is particularly common in the Midwest.
    Photo by Dreamstime
  • Reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals to prevent illness.
    Photo by Corbis
  • PFCs are often used in stain treatments for furniture; forgo these optional treatments to avoid bringing this chemical into your home.
    Photo by Veer

How much time do you spend thinking about your hormones? For most of us, conversations about hormones are limited to a few topics: teenagers, monthly cycles or menopause. But hormones are crucial for our bodies to operate optimally—for both genders and throughout our lives. Unfortunately, many common chemicals are scientifically proven to alter the way our brains produce and work with hormones. Hormone-disrupting chemicals can alter the actions of hormones by mimicking or blocking natural hormones, or by boosting hormone production. Disruptions to our bodies’ natural hormone balance affects us in multiple ways: Hormones affect our ability to reproduce, to regulate sugars, to concentrate and to maintain a healthy immune system.

Hormone-altering chemicals are common in our world. Some are naturally occurring, but most are man-made. Our scientific understanding of these substances varies: Some have not been widely studied, while others have been studied but are still not well understood. Understanding how your family comes in contact with these chemicals allows you to safeguard your home, reduce your exposure and improve your health.

Glycol Ethers

This term refers to a large group of clear liquid chemicals that have a variety of uses, including as a solvent for lacquers, paints, perfumes and varnishes, and as an ingredient in cleaning products, foods, antifreeze and cosmetics. Some evaporate quickly and can rapidly reach hazardous levels in the air.

Most people become exposed to glycol ethers when using one of these products, either when they inhale the fumes or when these chemicals come in contact with the skin. Glycol ethers can enter the body through the skin without causing a rash. Overexposure can cause anemia; intoxication; kidney and liver damage; or irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat. Such levels of exposure are above safe limits, and they have also caused reproductive problems and anemia in test animals.

Even low levels of exposure can have a health impact, especially on unborn fetuses and young children. A recent study by Harvard University and Sweden’s Karlstad University indicated that preschool-age children with low-level exposure to glycol ethers from paint and solvents were two to four times more likely to have allergies and asthma. This finding may help explain why these health issues have been on the rise among children in developing countries since the 1970s.

The health effects of glycol ethers vary by the specific ether. Ethylene glycol ethers, for example, have been shown to damage red blood cells or bone marrow (where red blood cells form), causing anemia. This can result in tiredness, shortness of breath and weakness. Studies have also shown that some types of glycol ethers lower sperm counts in men and cause embryonic death and abnormalities in a variety of animal species.

12/18/2014 9:44:08 AM

I don't see Berkey water filters on the EWG's website...??

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