Mak­ing A Health­ier Home

Cast Tox­ins From Your Liv­ing Space

Wellness Update - - Content - —Source: NIH News In Health, De­cem­ber 2016, pub­lished by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health and the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.news­in­health.nih.gov

Take a look around your home. Do you know what’s in your house­hold goods and prod­ucts? Some chem­i­cals can harm your health if too much gets into your body. Be­com­ing aware of po­ten­tially harm­ful sub­stances and clear­ing them out can help keep you and your fam­ily healthy.

“There’s a range of chem­i­cals that you can be ex­posed to in your home, gen­er­ally at very low lev­els,” says Dr. An­drew Rooney, a tox­i­col­ogy and risk ex­pert at NIH. Pos­si­ble toxic sub­stances can be found in build­ing ma­te­ri­als, cook­ware, clean­ing prod­ucts, shower cur­tains, fur­ni­ture, car­pet, and other com­mon items.

Not all chem­i­cals are harm­ful. In fact, most sub­stances in our en­vi­ron­ment are likely safe, ex­plains Dr. Heather Pati­saul, a neu­ro­science and tox­i­col­ogy ex­pert at North Carolina State Univer­sity. “Only a small sub­set is prob­a­bly toxic,” she says. “Al­though that’s wor­ri­some, there are many sim­ple things you can do to help min­i­mize your ex­po­sure.”

Of­ten, it’s how much you’re ex­posed to that can make a chem­i­cal harm­ful. The amount that’s “safe” varies for each sub­stance. NIH-funded re­searchers are work­ing to learn more about how chem­i­cals in the en­vi­ron­ment can a ect our health, so we can bet­ter ad­dress any is­sues.

Some­times it’s ob­vi­ous when a chem­i­cal is haz­ardous. You may get a rash from spilling a house­hold cleaner on your skin. Or you may start cough­ing when you breathe in ir­ri­tat­ing fumes. To avoid known health risks, be sure to read the in­struc­tions care­fully on your house­hold prod­ucts, and fol­low any safety pre­cau­tions.

Some toxic chem­i­cals cause no im­me­di­ate or clear symp­toms. Lead, for ex­am­ple, is well known for its poi­sonous e ects. Gen­er­ally, the more lead you have in your body, the more likely you’ll have health prob­lems. Lead can cause high blood pres­sure, fer­til­ity prob­lems, mus­cle and joint pain, and mem­ory and con­cen­tra­tion prob­lems. As a re­sult, lead is no longer al­lowed in paints, gaso­line, and cans used for food. But lead can still be found in lead-based paint used in older homes, house­hold dust, and drink­ing water pumped through leaded pipes.

“The best way to pro­tect your­self from the health e ects of lead is not by treat­ment but rather by prevent­ing ex­po­sure,” Rooney ex­plains. If you live in an older home, check with your lo­cal health depart­ment about any lead that may be in the paint, dust, or drink­ing water. Lo­cal ex­perts can guide you in steps you can take to pre­vent lead ex­po­sure.

Young chil­dren are more vul­ner­a­ble to lead and many other chem­i­cals. That’s be­cause their bodies and brains are still de­vel­op­ing. Kids can also be ex­posed to tox­ins from nor­mal child­hood be­hav­iors, like play­ing on the oor and putting their toys or hands in their mouths.

“Chem­i­cals can come out of our prod­ucts and end up in the air and dust in the home, where they can en­ter your body,” says Dr. Ami Zota, an en­vi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health ex­pert at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. Her team re­cently dis­cov­ered 45 di er­ent chem­i­cals that are com­monly found in in­door dust. Many of the identi ed chem­i­cals be­long to a group called “en­docrine dis­rup­tors.”

When en­docrine dis­rup­tors get into your body, they can mimic or block the nat­u­ral hor­mones your body makes. Ev­i­dence sug­gests that en­docrine dis­rup­tors might re­duce fer­til­ity, raise the risk for some cancers, or cause other harms. Th­ese chem­i­cals may pose their great­est health risks when peo­ple are ex­posed in the womb or dur­ing their rst few years of life, when hor­mones are guid­ing devel­op­ment of the body’s or­gans and brain.

Sub­stances thought to cause en­docrine disruption in­clude cer­tain fra­grances, pes­ti­cides, and stain-re­sis­tant coat­ings. NIH-funded re­searchers study the health e ects of sev­eral types of chem­i­cal classes tied to hormone disruption, in­clud­ing ph­tha­lates (pro­nounced THAL-ates), PFCs (or per uori­nated chem­i­cals), and ame re­tar­dants.

Ph­tha­lates are a fam­ily of man-made chem­i­cals used to make plas­tics, clean­ers, and fra­grances. The hu­man health e ects of ph­tha­lates are not yet fully known but are be­ing stud­ied by sev­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing NIH. In an­i­mals, ph­tha­late ex­po­sure has been linked to many re­pro­duc­tive health and de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems. To re­duce your ex­po­sure, read prod­uct la­bels and avoid us­ing prod­ucts that con­tain ph­tha­lates. Some—but not all—ph­tha­late-con­tain­ing prod­ucts might be clearly la­beled: “con­tains ph­tha­lates.” But some­times ph­tha­lates might be listed as a 3- or 4-letter ab­bre­vi­a­tion, such as BBP, DBP, or DEP. Th­ese ph­tha­lates must be listed among the in­gre­di­ents on prod­uct la­bels, un­less they are added as a part of the “fra­grance.”

“Many hun­dreds of chem­i­cals can be classi ed as fra­grance,” Pati­saul ex­plains. “So when you use a cleaner with a scent, it prob­a­bly has some ph­tha­lates in it—even though the la­bel doesn’t speci cally say ph­tha­lates.” You can look for “fra­grance-free” prod­ucts. The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) also pro­vides the “Safer Choice” la­bel, which is used on prod­ucts made with in­gre­di­ents that are safer for hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

PFCs are widely used to make ev­ery­day prod­ucts more re­sis­tant to stains, grease, and water. They can be found in non­stick cook­ware, stain-re­sis­tant so­fas and car­pets, and water-

proofed cloth­ing and mat­tresses. In an­i­mal stud­ies, some PFCs dis­rupt nor­mal hormone ac­tiv­ity, re­duce im­mune sys­tem func­tion, or cause de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems. Some ev­i­dence sug­gests that cer­tain PFCs may also a ect hu­man health, with pos­si­ble ties to low birth weight, obe­sity, and tes­tic­u­lar and kid­ney cancers.

Cer­tain PFCs, like those used to make Te on, are be­ing phased out of use in the U.S. But some older house­hold items, like non­stick pans, may still con­tain them. If you have an older non­stick pan that is dinged and worn out, try to re­place it.

Flame re­tar­dants are added or ap­plied to ma­te­ri­als to slow or pre­vent a re. But a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence links many of th­ese chem­i­cals to neg­a­tive health e ects in an­i­mals and hu­mans. Flame re­tar­dants can be found in foam, up­hol­stery, mat­tresses, car­pets, cur­tains, and fabric blinds. Flame re­tar­dant use has been de­clin­ing in re­cent years. But th­ese chem­i­cals are still found in some prod­ucts. When buy­ing new items, es­pe­cially for chil­dren, try to pur­chase fur­nish­ings lled with cot­ton, polyester, or wool, in­stead of polyurethane foam.

“The best thing is to be­come aware that there are chem­i­cals in your en­vi­ron­ment, and there are very sim­ple things that you can do to lower your ex­po­sure,” Pati­saul says.

Chem­i­cals are ev­ery­where, and most are harm­less. Lim­it­ing the po­ten­tially toxic ones in your day-to-day life can help you cre­ate a safer, health­ier home.

Learn what’s in the prod­ucts you pur­chase, and make in­formed de­ci­sions. You can also take steps to get rid of risky chem­i­cals by keep­ing the dust down in your house. See the Wise Choices box for some use­ful tips.

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