How Toxic Chemicals at Home Can Affect Your Health

This week our guest blogger is Emma from Health Grinder, she has shared her very well researched and informative article on the dangers of toxic chemicals in your home and what to look out for.

Did you know that there are many toxic chemicals lurking in your home?

Many common household products like detergent, paint, cleaners and even air fresheners harbour harmful contaminants that can put your family’s health at risk.

In this article, we go through the different products that contain these toxins. More importantly, tell you how to avoid them.

The Irony of Using Household Cleaning Products

Keeping our homes clean and disinfected is something most of us take very seriously. To do so, we use all sorts of products to make sure that dirt and germs are eliminated from our surroundings.

In fact, you’ve probably gone out of your way a few times to find items that contain words like “sanitize”, “kill bacteria”, “anti-microbial”, or other similar terms.

Interestingly, while the products are designed to eliminated germs and viruses, they introduce another type of contaminant into your home. These come in the form of chemicals.

Many potent or even industrial strength cleaners often use harsh and toxic chemicals to get rid of pathogens. That’s because, in order to achieve their purpose, they need to be strong enough to wipe out all sorts of microorganisms and diseases. And, that often means resorting to powerful ingredients that can be harmful to your health as well.

Dangers of Toxic Exposure

As such, it’s important to be aware of what products you use and how much exposure you have from them. This is according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In the study, researchers found that women who worked as cleaners were likely to experience accelerated declines in their lung functions similar to people who smoked 20 cigarettes daily. Interestingly, it didn’t see the same results in men.

So what gives?

While the scientists aren’t completely sure, they believe that the likely cause is double exposure. That is, women who cleaned as part of their jobs were also the ones doing the cleaning at home. On the other hand, male cleaners were less likely to be the ones responsible for cleaning their homes.

As such, the female participants in the study had higher exposure to the chemicals from cleaning products compared to men.

That said, the research shows the effects of these chemicals on your health in the long run. So, using the right kind of cleaning products that don’t contain harmful toxins and limiting exposure to those that do is crucial in order to protect your lungs from harm.

Toxic Exposure Isn’t Limited to Cleaning Products

So far, our discussion has focused on cleaning products. However, your exposure to these chemicals at home isn’t limited to them. In fact, many consumer products you use at home contain all sorts of potential contaminants.

These include carpets, rugs, furniture, clothing, and food packaging. Even your pots and pans which you use to cook food in have them. In some cases, these toxins are inside containers. So, once you open them, you release the pathogens into your home through the air, your food or water.

More importantly, these industrial chemicals also find their way into your body. And, it keeps accumulating so long as you keep using products that contain them. So much so that a total load of these chemicals on your person has a word for it. It’s called body burden.

Basically, body burden is the total amount of a certain chemical, usually a toxic substance, in one’s body. As such, it not only affects you and your kids but also your pets.

How Toxic Chemicals at Home Can Affect Your Health and Ways to Reduce Them

One of the reasons why these toxic substances are so harmful to health is that they mess with your hormones. It is for this reason that they’re called endocrine disruptors.

To explain, hormones are chemical messengers. Your endocrine system releases different hormones via the glands in your body. These hormones are used to send out messages to different parts of your body to help control, regulate and coordinate their functions.

In general, your brain controls a lot of your functions via your spinal cord. But, the connections from your spinal cord to different parts of your body are limited. So, for those parts it isn’t able to directly control, it uses hormones as signal messengers to do so.

Hormonal Disruption

As such, hormones control a lot of your body’s functions, including sleep, metabolism, growth, aging and even tissue repair.

For example, melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. That is, it makes you sleepy come nighttime and lets you feel awake during the day. When your melatonin levels go haywire, you won’t feel sleepy during the evenings and then be drowsy during the day. As a result, you become sleep deprived and lose out on the many health benefits of sleep.

Similarly, cortisol is a stress hormone that allows you to act swiftly during times of danger or emergency. But, if your cortisol levels go unregulated, you end up in a constant state of stress. Chronic stress causes a host of long-term health issues including increasing your risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

So, when toxic chemicals from household products get in the way, your hormones can go out of whack. This results in serious side effects like difficulty sleeping, accelerated aging and issues with metabolism.

It is also the reason why endocrine disruptors have been linked to immune disorders, thyroid problems, obesity, and growth issues. They are also associated with infertility, birth defects and the development of cancers.

Common Toxins Found in Homes

So, what are the most common toxic chemicals present at home?

Here’s a list of 7 different toxins that may be present in your home and affecting your family. Below we explain what they are, where they’re often found and how to get rid of them.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are a type of chemical that is present in vapor form. As such, you won’t be able to see them. Instead, you can smell them. In some cases, they’re the reason why some products need off-gassing in order to get rid of their initial strong odor.

All in all, there are over 400 of these compounds around. But, about 200 of them are present in carpets and rugs. Besides carpeting, other sources of VOCs inside your home include plywood, particle boards, new plastic products, varnishes, and air fresheners.

Smoke from cigarettes and tobacco as well as wood stoves also produce these compounds.

Because you breathe them in, they cause a lot of breathing issues like asthma. They can also irritate your eyes and throat as well as cause dizziness and headaches.

As always, prevention is better than cure. As such, avoiding products that contain VOCs is the best way to keep your family safe from them. To do so, look for products that specifically say, “Zero VOC” or “low VOC”. Additionally, don’t let anyone smoke inside the home.

If you happen to own some products that contain VOCs, the best way to is deal with them is to make sure that indoor air isn’t stagnant. Thus, keeping windows open and letting a fan blow the air out helps.

Finally, whenever you purchase new mattresses, sofas or other items that need off-gassing, unwrap them somewhere air can circulate. You can keep them an isolated room and open the windows to let them air out. Or, you can likewise let them of-gas in the garage, where they’re kept away from your family.

Phthalates

Phthalates are closely linked to BPAs. But, they’re not limited to plastic products. Phthalates are often used in industrial production because they help soften plastic products and allow the scent of fragrances to linger longer in the air.

As such, these toxins are present in many home items like your shower curtains, plastic bottles, plastic food containers, floors, and synthetic leather. Similarly, they’re present in baby toys, cosmetics, and air mattresses.

Unfortunately, the only way to avoid them is to make sure that the products you buy are phthalate-free and don’t contain PVC or PVC plastic.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are helpful in that they help prevent fires from worsening should they occur. However, some of the chemicals used as flame retardants can be toxic.

To be clear, not all flame retardants are toxic. But, one class in particular is. These are PBDEs or Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers.

While many manufacturers in North America are phasing out PBDEs for better options, some companies still use them. Additionally, many of the furniture you have at home may contain them.

The main problem with PBDEs is that they’re broadly used. You’ll find them in bedding products like mattresses and pillows. Similarly, they’re also present in car seats and couch cushions. Plus, some carpets, as well as appliances, use them as well.

Because they’re hard to avoid altogether, one of the best ways to minimize exposure to PBDEs is to keep your home clean. Vacuuming and dusting regularly help reduce them. That’s because these compounds bind themselves to dust.

white shirt with stain under the arm

Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

PFCs are found in non-stick cooking utensils and also stain-repellent products. The reason you’ll find them in these products is that PFCs are very good at repelling grease. This makes it easy to clean things off of surfaces.

It is also why non-stick pans that use Teflon are very popular. Unfortunately, these non-stick surfaces can peel or get damaged with very high temperatures resulting in the release of toxic chemicals into your food.

Similarly, products that repel stains like those used in some clothing, food containers and upholstery contain PFCs. Take out boxes like those for pizza or the bags used for microwave popcorn also use them.

The good news is, unlike the other toxic chemicals, it’s easier to avoid these products. Items that use the trademarks Teflon, Gore-Tex and Stainmaster all contain some PFCs in them. So, you can easily avoid purchasing these products.

Lead

Lead is one of the sneakier chemicals because you don’t expect it to be there. One of the main possible sources of lead is the water in your faucet. Because old pipes and some brass fittings contain lead, this chemical can find its way into your drinking water.

That said, a simple water filter that removes lead is all you need to make sure that the water your family drinks is clear of impurities.

Mercury

Mercury is another possible hidden danger. But, unlike the others, this one is present in something you eat, specifically seafood.

It’s worth noting that most fish don’t contain mercury. Or, if they do, they only have trace levels which aren’t harmful to your health.

However, some fish have very high mercury content. And, if you consume a lot of them frequently, it can make you sick. This is the case for tuna which is often found in sushi. Similarly, other fish that have high levels of mercury include swordfish, marlin and king mackerel.

As such, it’s a good idea to avoid them or limit the amount of these fish you consume.

Pesticides

Frighteningly, some of the food you buy from the supermarket can contain pesticides. That’s because farmers sometimes use these chemicals to make sure that pests don’t destroy their harvest.

Unfortunately, when applied to crops, plants absorb these chemicals. As a result, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that 50 to 95% of foods in the U.S. contain residue of pesticides. In addition, they also may contain insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

Because they’re used for farming, these chemicals are often found in produce, including the vegetables and fruits you buy from the grocery. In some cases, meats also contain them because the animals consumed grass that was sprayed with pesticides.

As far as pesticides go, the best way to avoid them is to buy organic and fresh. However, they’re also more expensive. If that’s not an option, it’s always a good idea to know where your local supermarket sources their produce. This gives you an idea of how well the fruits and vegetable were cared for.

Conclusion

When it comes to these toxic chemicals, the best way to stay safe is to completely avoid them. It’s always a good idea to go with healthier non-toxic alternatives to these products. As such, knowing what these harmful contaminants are and where they’re found is the first step. From there, your job is to make sure that you avoid household products that are made from or contain these toxins.

Photos by Oliver Hale Jason Briscoe and Scott Umstattd

 

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