Many of our modern conveniences are made possible by an estimated 70,000 different chemicals. While there are plenty of chemicals that you obviously shouldn’t touch, eat, or drink, others are more inconspicuous. The health consequences of long-term exposure to these chemicals may not surface for several years. Something as simple as cleaning your carpet can pose a possible health risk.
It’s a given that you shouldn’t drink bleach. But what about the other household chemicals you come in contact with every day? We’ve found where they lurk, why they’re harmful, and what you can do to minimize your exposure.
Found in: Plastic packaging, baby products, and water bottles
Potential Effects: This chemical — which was once present in 93 percent of Americans, according to the CDC — was found to potentially disrupt thyroid hormones. Brain damage, ADHD, and autism were other possible side effects. Now BPA is sometimes replaced with bisphenol-S (BPS), another chemical that may interfere with hormone functions.
Minimize Your Risk: Use glass or stainless steel containers for food and beverages.
Found in: Air fresheners, “easy care” clothing, and pressed wood
Potential Effects: Associated with frog dissection and cigarettes, this chemical can irritate your eyes, throat, skin, and lungs, and it has been linked to cancer.
Minimize Your Risk: Freshen your indoor air naturally with house plants, fresh herbs, coffee beans, or baking soda. Avoid purchasing “easy care” clothing or better yet, choose organic cotton clothes. Select furniture made with real wood or other natural materials, and allow treated furniture time to “off-gas” outdoors before bringing it into your home.
Organophosphates and Carbamates
Found in: Flea collars, insecticides, bug traps, fungicides, pesticides, and fire retardants
Potential Effects: These chemicals are used to kill insects by interfering with their nerve signals. Acute poisonings of both pets and children (who often touch pets, then their mouths) have been reported. Some studies also suggest that long-term contact with these chemicals may be related to later-in-life cancer and even Parkinson’s disease.
Minimize Your Risk: Choose organic foods whenever possible and avoid using chemicals in your yard care. Treat pest problems with natural solutions.
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
Found in: Teflon coating, flame-retardant foams, grease-resistant food packaging, stain-repellant clothes and furniture, cosmetics
Potential Effects: PFOA is a likely human carcinogen. Breathing in fumes from overheated Teflon pans can also cause flu-like symptoms and even kill household birds. Recently, PFOA has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Minimize Your Risk: Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware. Choose natural foods free from packaging whenever possible and choose all-natural cosmetics.
Perchloroethylene and Naphthalene
Found in: Rug, carpet, and upholstery cleaners
Potential Effects: In the short-term, perchloroethylene may cause dizziness, loss of appetite, and disorientation. Long-term, it has been associated with cancer. Naphthalene (also an ingredient in mothballs) can result in liver damage, and prolonged exposure to its vapors has been linked to cataract formation.
Minimize Your Risk: Clean your carpets and rugs with natural solutions. Check out our Green Cleaning Guide for several options to create your own cleaning products.
Found in: Toilet bowl cleaners, mouthwash
Potential Effects: This cleaner can cause nervous system depression and circulatory system problems if high amounts come in contact with a person’s skin. It is also suspected of causing cancer.
Minimize Your Risk: Use natural cleaning products, and check ingredient lists on your personal care products.
Found in: Cosmetics, raincoats, hoses, detergents, plastics, vinyl flooring, children’s toys, and lubricants
Potential Effects: Phthalates may disrupt hormone production, resulting in reduced testosterone, genital defects, and developmental changes in male brains.
Minimize Your Risk: Avoid using PVC food storage and plastics with the recycling code #3. Read cosmetics labels and avoid those containing fragrances, which is often comprised of numerous different phthalates. Research toy companies that don’t use phthalates in their products or avoid plastic toys altogether.