What does the word “home” mean to you?
For most people, it means safety, security, the place where you belong and can’t wait to get to at the end of the day. The place that holds the people (and animal friends) that you love the most. It’s a shelter and a refuge from the outside world.
But what if I told you that your house isn’t the safe space that you think it is?
What’s WRONG With Your House
You might be tempted to think that, since we live in a modern era of scientific fact and government regulation, the things that we use to build and fill our homes must be safe. Right?
The trouble is, the regulatory bodies in the US have little say in what chemicals are used in household products. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was put in place to prevent the widespread use of harmful substances, but there’s a catch - there are an enormous amount of steps that have to be taken to prove a substance is harmful, and the process is almost impossible to complete.
Right now, any potentially harmful material is allowed to be used in products until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declares it to pose an “unreasonable risk”.
When the TSCA was enacted, there were 62,000 potentially hazardous chemicals used in the US goods market. The number has increased substantially since then. Since 1976, the EPA has investigated less than 300 of them.
And, more importantly, it has banned less than 10.
This approach is in stark contrast to that used in the European Union, where chemicals can’t be sold or used in products until AFTER they are proven to be safe. This year, the EU is planning to ban a further 12,000 hazardous chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer, infertility, and other health disorders in humans - chemicals that have no restrictions for use in the US.
Where’s the Danger?
With the lack of regulatory limits in the US, manufacturers have a free hand to include hazardous chemicals in nearly every kind of product on the market. These chemicals are useful, certainly - they make products last longer, look more attractive, work better - but they are used without much thought as to the long-term damage they can cause the people who use these products.
So, where are these dangerous chemicals? In a word, everywhere.
They’re in your food. Your containers. Your furniture. Your clothes. Your makeup and toiletries. Your floors, walls, ceilings, and roofs. Your yard. Your HVAC system.
And until the EPA and others decide to put the health of the American people before the convenience of manufacturers, your level of exposure to these toxins is almost completely up to you.
Toxins in the Home
Here are some of the most common toxins that are regularly found in your home.
Despite its well-known reputation for being harmful, it still isn’t completely banned. (The EPA tried to ban it in 1991, but because the TSCA requires the EPA to come up with a way to justify the costs of banning any harmful substance, a judge blocked the attempted ban.) Since a small amount is still allowed to be used in building materials, asbestos still lurks in modern insulation, roofing materials, and floor tiles, among others.
● Hazards: Inhaling asbestos particles can lead to lung inflammation and scarring, respiratory disease, and mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer).
This chemical can be used as a solvent, a preservative, and a fixative. It’s a popular ingredient in insecticides (particularly for lice and scabies), food additives, fragrances, and plastics.
● Hazards: In lab tests, it has acted as a neurotoxin. Some studies suggest that it can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS)
You’ve probably heard of BPA in the news, or on canned food labels. BPA and BPS are both used to make transparent hard plastic, and used in the lining of food cans to preserve freshness. Many canned food distributors announced that they stopped using BPA, but they managed this simply by switching to BPS, which has the same dangerous properties.
● Hazards: BPA and BPS both work as endocrine disruptors that can cause obesity, reproductive cancers, and infertility.
Di(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate is a chemical used to make plastics more flexible. It is found in household plastics (shower curtains, floor tiles, etc.), and also in the PVC piping used to carry water into and through your house. DEHP can leach from these plastics into your food and water.
● Hazards: DEHP can cause damage to your reproductive organs, kidneys, liver, and lungs. It can also pass into a fetus if the mother is exposed.
A commonly used preservative, formaldehyde is used in pesticides, cosmetics and toiletries, fabrics, mattresses, building materials, and much more.
● Hazards: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and can have a toxic effect on nearly every system in the body.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)
PBDEs are used as fire retardants in a wide range of products, including furniture cushions, carpet padding, upholstery and clothing fabrics, and building materials.
● Hazards: PBDEs are associated with thyroid disorders, tumor formation, and delays in brain development.
A popular chemical preservative, parabens are used in pharmaceuticals and many toiletries, including shampoo, lotion, shaving creams and gels, toothpaste, and makeup. They are easily absorbed through the skin.
● Hazards: Parabens are known endocrine disruptors and have been linked to cancer.
Like DEHP, phthalates are used to make plastics softer, and are also used in a wide range of makeup and skincare products.
● Hazards: Associated with hormone disorders, lesions on the liver and kidneys, and a higher risk of cancers.
Perfluoroalkyl, Polyfluoroalkyl, and Perifluorinated Substances (PFAs and PFCs)
These chemicals are great at repelling water and grease and standing up to high heat, so they are used in a wide range of products, including non-stick cookware, fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags, clothing, carpet, paint, and upholstery.
● Hazards: Linked to cancer, heart disease, thyroid issues, reproductive issues, high cholesterol, hypertension, immune system damage, and birth defects.
What You Can Do Today
Now, I don’t want to scare you with this list of harmful materials. Yes, all of these harmful chemicals (and many more) are present in your home, and yes, you are getting exposed to them.
But there are things that you can do to help reduce you and your family’s exposure to these toxins. We’ll start with the quicker and easier things that you can do.
● Wash Your Hands. Many toxic materials enter your system through your mouth, and can be carried in by dirty hands that have touched dust, carpet, etc. immediately before. Before you eat or touch your face, use plain soap and water, and give your hands a good scrub. (Antibiotic soap actually contains a number of harmful chemicals that you don’t want on your food.)
● Take Off Your Shoes. Think about where your shoes have been when you’re out and about - roads, sidewalks, bathrooms, and other not so nice places. You don’t want to bring all of the toxic materials from those spots into your home. When you get home, wipe your shoes on a natural fiber mat, take them off and leave them in a designated space, and put on some slippers that you only use indoors.
● Open Your Windows. Thanks to the slow breakdown of all of these toxic materials in your home, dust builds up rapidly and can make your home’s air far more polluted and unsafe than outdoor air. Open a few windows in your home for 15 minutes every day to let in some cleaner air. (If your house has poor ventilation, consider using an air purifier with a HEPA filter.)
● Dust, Vacuum, and Mop. The Silent Spring Institute reports that household dust contains a large number of toxic chemicals, and much of that dust hides in your carpets. The EWG recommends that you get a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and vacuum 3 times per week to reduce dust contamination. When it comes to hard floors and surfaces, mop and dust with damp cloths to make sure you’re not just pushing the dust around.
● Change Your Furnace Filter. Yes, it can be easy to forget this one, but using a filter with a high MERV rating and replacing it every 6-8 weeks will make a significant improvement in your home’s air quality.
● Switch to Cold Water. When using any water for cooking or drinking, use cold water from the sink, not hot. The hot water leaches many more toxins from the pipes in your home.
With these first steps, you’re on your way to a cleaner and safer home.
What You Can Do This Year
While the following suggestions are more involved and will take longer, they will be more permanent and lead to greater changes for your family’s health.
● Get Your Tap Water Tested. You can order tests online, or sometimes plumbing companies and city or county services can come to your home and test the water throughout your home. If contaminants are found, you can install high-quality filters on all of your faucets (and even bathroom sinks and showers).
● Replace Home and Yard Products with Safer Alternatives. This will take time, and it will cost some up front, so it might make sense to just replace items as they break or run out or expire.
○ Lawn care and chemical pest control products: there are many natural alternatives for both of these. Check out Sunday lawn care products for inspiration, and search on from there.
○ Plastic containers and kitchen supplies: Replace cups, containers, utensils, plates, and other plastic items with glass, steel, and wood alternatives.
○ Cosmetics, beauty products, and toiletries: Thankfully, people are wising up about what they’re putting on their bodies. There is a wide range of companies making safer makeup, deodorant, lotion, oral health, and other products out there. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to find safer replacements for your home.
○ Canned Foods: Avoid food contaminated with BPA and BPS by focusing on buying food that’s either fresh, frozen, or stored in glass jars.
● Contact Your State Representatives. Ask them what they are doing to protect the people they represent from toxins. Many bipartisan bills supporting stronger protections have been proposed over the years, but they need strong support to get through. Your voice could make a difference for future generations.
When You’re Worried About Exposure
If you’re concerned that you have already been exposed to high levels of toxins, Illuminate Wellness can help. We can test you for toxin levels, help you assess your home and lifestyle, and give you the tools you need to work towards a cleaner home environment and a healthier life. If you would like to learn more, click here to set up your free initial consultation!