3 Most Toxic Chemicals in Your Home

With thousands of chemicals in home products, eliminating them all can be difficult. Start by reducing these three most-toxic chemicals for a healthier home.

| November/December 2012

  • Upholstered furniture is often treated with toxic brominated flame retardants, which can interrupt hormone processes in the body and lead to liver and thyroid toxicity.
    Photo Courtesy Corbis

Manufacturers use an estimated 80,000 chemicals in products used around the home today, in everything from softeners in plastics to preservatives in cosmetics to treatments for stain-resistant upholstery. Unfortunately, few of these chemicals have been thoroughly tested, and the long-term health effects of their use are largely unknown. What’s more, a growing body of evidence links chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, autism and reproductive problems to the chemicals in our homes, food, water and air. Although the situation can seem daunting, several simple precautions can help safeguard your family. Start by reducing your exposure to these three common chemicals.

Toxic Chemicals: Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are synthetic chemicals widely applied to flammable petroleum-based products. Over the last 40 years, these chemicals have grown in popularity and are now commonly found in textiles, furniture, carpets, insulation and electronics.

Among the most toxic are brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Studies have found PBDEs to be endocrine disruptors, which interrupt the hormone processes in the body. They may also cause liver and thyroid toxicity. Even minimal exposure at critical points in development can cause difficulties in learning, motor skills, memory and hearing, as well as damage to reproductive systems. Because flame retardants are not chemically bound to products, they are likely to leach out. PBDEs have been found to bioaccumulate in the food chain and do not readily break down in the environment. As a result, these chemicals have become widespread pollutants and are now commonly found in dairy products, fish and meat.

To minimize your exposure: Avoid products made of synthetic fibers, and select naturally less-flammable alternatives such as wool and leather. Read product labels: They will sometimes state whether products contain flame retardants. Ask manufacturers what type of fire retardants they use. Children’s pajamas made from synthetic fabrics are commonly treated (as stated on the label), but snug-fitting cotton pajamas are frequently untreated.

It can be hard to find untreated alternatives for some products such as automobile upholstery, car seats and strollers. In these cases, it is helpful to clean items and surroundings using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. Inspect products with covered foam (which are very likely to contain flame retardants) such as mattresses, sofas and car seats, and ensure that protective covers are not ripped. Old carpet pads are likely sources of PBDEs; use special caution when removing old carpet by isolating the work area and using a breathing mask.

Identify electronic items in your home that are likely to contain PBDEs such as mobile phones, remote controls, hair dryers and kitchen appliances, and exercise special care by washing your hands after using them and not allowing young children to put them in their mouths. To avoid PBDEs in food, eat animal products with a lower fat content, as PBDEs tend to accumulate in fatty tissue.

Eli Vales
12/26/2012 2:25:05 AM

Formaldehyde is common in fragrance too so go fragrance free in products.

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