Published on June 12th, 2019 | by Lilian Koiuchi0
Sparking Joy: Common Pollutants In Your Home and How to Tidy Them Up (Eliminate Them)
2019 finds us more socially and environmentally aware than ever – with good reason. We should continually look to improve our spaces and our health. Unfortunately, our homes can often shelter harmful chemicals. As we become more aware, we can do our best to create a safer space in our homes by making an effort to remove these common pollutants wherever possible.
Inspired by an article in Green American, “13 Pollutants Lurking in Your Home”, we’ve highlighted and summarized some chemicals and hiding places to consider. Keep these in mind in your next home sweep or renovation. We’ve included some links on each toxin for further reading.
Common Pollutants – What to look for
Asbestos has been linked to many diseases – mesothelioma and cancer most notably. People are exposed by inhaling tiny fibers released from asbestos-containing materials. The fibers are normally released when materials, like ceiling tiles, are moved or disturbed.
Asbestos is most commonly found in household and construction products such as insulation, floor tiles, plaster, cement, adhesives, wiring products, and more.
Benzyl Benzoate has been linked to causing rashes and in other serious cases, anaphylaxis. The chemical is most typically used to treat lice. However, it has also used in food containers, carpets, and rugs, as well as dyes and plastics common to perfumes. Since it’s used in some food containers and sprays, it is typically ingested or inhaled.
Consider switching to glass containers instead of plastic. You can also switch to carpets and rugs made of natural fibers and secure using nails instead of harmful glues and adhesives.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS) are most commonly found in polycarbonate plastics such as plastic water bottles, baby bottles, CDs, epoxy resins, lacquers, carpets, rugs, etc. Studies have shown that BPA exposure can occur when the chemical seeps into food or drinks from containers made with BPA.
Again, consider switching to glass containers instead of plastic, even if it’s advertised as BPA-free. Use natural storage wraps to cover and store food.
DEHP is found in items such as PVC pipes, household food storage containers and certain types of flooring. It can break down and leak into food or water and is typically inhaled or ingested. Studies have shown that it is a contributor to asthma and dust/mite-related dermatitis.
Glass containers and natural-fiber flooring are good ways to reduce DEHP in your home, too.
Endocrine Disruptors are a large category of chemicals typically found in plastics like BPA. They inhibit the body’s endocrine (hormone regulating) system. They are frequently linked to slowed or adverse development of reproductive or neurological systems. Much like BPA and DEHP, they can be found in items such as food containers, plastic bottles, pesticides and common cosmetics.
Formaldehyde is most typically associated with its use in funeral homes, labs and resin factories. However, it can also be found in household items like adhesives and building products: plywood, particle board, and insulation. It is even used in furniture, bedding, and household cleaning products. Formaldehyde can be released into the air from furniture or carpets and inhaled or ingested. Epidemiology studies have shown links tying formaldehyde exposure to cancer.
Switch to bedding and furniture made of natural and organic materials. This doesn’t guarantee products that are chemical free so it’s best to consult the manufacturer before buying. For cleaners, considering changing to natural products. These can be easily found in nearby grocery stores.
Lead is found in water fixtures of homes built before 1978. It can leak into tap and drinking water. It can also be found in older, lead-based paints, although a number of newer paints still contain lead ingredients. Lead is a known neurotoxin and mainly affects children (learning problems, growth defects, anemia, etc.), pregnant women (premature births, increased risk of miscarriage, and other prenatal problems), and adults (cardiovascular problems, kidney disfunction, increased blood pressure, etc.)
Consult a plumbing professional if you suspect that your house may have lead pipes. This is not often an easy DIY project so it’s best to bring in an expert. You can consult a contracting professional to see if your house was built with lead paint. If so, you can have it removed or sealed in. When looking for new coats, find paints that are lead free.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are most used in flame retarders for household furniture, upholstery, and electrical fixtures. PBDEs are not chemically bound to any products and can be released through any means. It can easily infiltrate the air or water around you and be ingested or inhaled. They are a suspected carcinogen and lab tests have shown links to thyroid and neural-development issues.
Aim to switch to carpets, rugs and furniture made of natural fibers and secure using nails instead of harmful glues and adhesives.
Parabens are in common items like cosmetics, shaving cream, moisturizers, and hair products. They can be absorbed through the skin or ingested. Parabens are a suspected carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, but the FDA is unclear about the effects caused by low levels of exposure.
Considering its common use in body care, read the ingredients to find paraben free and organic products.
Phthalates are linked to developmental problems such as reproductive defects, low testosterone/sperm levels, early puberty, etc. They are most typically found as a softening additive in plastic food containers, toothbrushes, baby toys, and even furniture.
Read labels for phthalates and try to switch to natural alternatives.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) are found in stain/water repelling fabrics and coatings, nonstick cooking products (i.e. teflon), waxes/polishes, and cleaning products. PFAs, like PBDEs, have been suspected to cause cancer and thyroid disruption.
Perifluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) are closely related to PFAs as they are also used in many stain/water repellent materials and coatings, food wrapping, and nonstick cooking materials like teflon. They include many of the same health concerns including cancer, thyroid disruption, immune and reproductive issues, and birth defects.
Instead of teflon cookware, try using ceramic, glass, steel, and cast iron pans. These will be safer and last longer down the road.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are best defined as chemicals that break down and release when exposed to sunlight. These can be commonly found in paint stripping solvents, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, pesticides, dry-cleaning solvents, and disinfectants. Prolonged exposure has been linked to eye/nose/throat irritation and damage to liver, kidneys and central nervous systems. Since most of the chemicals described here are also VOCs, review each tip and trick above to detoxify your home.
For more information about reducing toxins in your home, check out The Invisible Waste: Chemical Toxicity.