Household Toxins and Your Health

Household Toxins and Your HealthWhat do apples, batteries, cosmetics, pizza boxes, and spinach have in common? Toxic chemicals, your health, and the environment.

Toxic chemicals surround us in our homes, at work, in our schools, and our cities in the form of household chemicals, pesticides, and artificial hormones.

More than 1.2 billion pounds of chemicals are used every year in the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency). Some of the most common are pesticides, used in 78 million households (EPA) for rodent/pest problems and lawn and garden care. But recent research points to another type of exposure: food residue.

The Environmental Working Group (EWP) found that pesticide residue is present on 68 percent of produce available to American consumers. The EWP, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., advocates for public health and the environment.  

Pesticides on food are linked to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, and skin, eye, and lung irritation (EWP).

To help the public make informed decisions about the foods they ingest, the EWP created an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the most highly contaminated fruits and vegetables, and apples, celery, and sweet red peppers topped the list.

The EWP suggests washing, peeling, and/or buying organic produce, (food produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage sludge). In this way, consumers can reduce the amount of pesticides they ingest.

Unfortunately, Americans also are exposed to pesticides via contaminated tap water (though not in the Baltimore region), occupational exposure, and household products used to get rid of pests and rodents (EPA and National Pesticide Information Center).

Moreover, pesticides are not the only toxic substances lurking in homes. American companies are not required to list the chemicals included in their household products, though the Environmental Defense Action Fund (EDF) recently compiled a list of some of the most highly toxic substances found in homes.

For example, pthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are found in plastics, flooring, windows, food container linings, and fragrances, contribute to infertility, breast and prostate cancer, metabolic disorders, altered thyroid function, and developmental disorders.

Unfortunately for American consumers, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was passed in 1976 to ensure chemicals used in the U.S. are safe, has never been updated.

Currently, according to a Safer Chemicals Healthy Families report, 5 percent of cancers and 30 percent of childhood asthma cases are a direct result of chemical exposure.

And household chemicals aren’t the only dangers. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the 32 million cattle killed in the United States for beef each year (U.S. Department of Agriculture) are injected with growth hormones to increase milk production. 

How does this affect you? Growth hormones increase another hormone, IGF-1 (insulin growth factor), which subsequently raises rates of colon, breast, and prostate cancer (Health Care Without Harm). Because they make the cows sicker, cows are treated with antibiotics, which make people more resistant to those antibiotics (Health Care Without Harm).

Now, what should you do with all of this information? Throw up your hands or take a few simple actions? Purchasing antibiotic- and hormone-free meat from your local farmers market is a good option. Choose hormone-free beef, rBGH-free dairy products, or USDA-certified organic products at your local supermarket.

For more information on avoiding and preventing exposure to toxic chemicals, visit one of the following resources:

— Tracy Gnadinger

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