You may assume that the household cleaners and products you use every day are safe and healthy for you and your family. However, these products may contain chemicals that could be harmful to your body or the environment.
Learning more about some of the toxic chemicals you may have been exposed to when using these products will help you understand some of the risks associated with them. When you review the ingredients that may be present in everyday products and learn about safer alternatives, you can make empower your decision-making process.
Phthalates (Plastic Additive)
Phthalates are chemicals used to bind other types of chemicals, or to soften plastics so they’re harder to break. Some phthalates are added to dissolve materials.
While exposure to low doses of phthalates isn’t found to be harmful to humans, exposure to a high amount of these chemicals may cause health effects. The specific health effects a person experiences after being exposed to phthalates may vary depending on the amount of exposure and the type of chemical.
According to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health effects may include:
- Decreased sperm production and skin irritation.
- Liver cancer or stomach irritation.
- Other unknown side effects, potentially including cancer.
Since phthalates are used in many plastic products, traces of these chemicals may be found in most peoples’ urine.
Where to Find Phthalates in Your Home
Phthalates are present in plastics and scented products. Common household items may include these chemicals, such as:
- Insect repellents.
- Nail polish.
Packaged foods and food containers made of plastic also contain phthalates, including:
- Candy bars.
- Plastic to-go containers.
- Frozen dinners.
You’re exposed to the chemical by eating or drinking these foods or touching the plastic, then putting your fingers in your mouth. When children began eating Tide Pods for a dangerous online viral challenge, they increased their exposure to phthalates because the product includes plastic, as well as other unhealthy chemicals.
To avoid phthalates, purchase products and foods that are stored in glass, steel, or other materials besides plastic. Opt for cleaners and beauty products that don’t use synthetic fragrances or chemicals.
Pesticides (Bug and Insect Killer)
Pesticides are also referred to as organophosphates and are used on foods to deter insects and pests from ruining crops. While our bodies can digest most chemicals from pesticides, repeated or sudden exposure may lead to health effects, including:
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Difficulty breathing.
Studies have also found that pesticides may be responsible for hormonal imbalances, such as reduced fertility or abnormal menstrual cycles.
Where to Find Pesticides in Your Home
When you use pesticides in your own yard or home, you may end up breathing in these chemicals, which can result in side effects, such as a sore throat or nausea. Pesticides are also generally used in foods and may be found in:
Other outdoor areas may also be treated with pesticides, including golf courses or commercial landscaping. Repeated exposure to these pesticides may cause health effects.
Avoid exposure to pesticides by using natural pest control, such as borax, vinegar, or essential oils. When purchasing produce, opt for organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs that haven’t been treated with pesticides. Stay away from genetically modified produce, which may have had more exposure to these chemicals while being harvested.
Bisphenol A (BPA – Plastic and Resin Additive)
You may have seen many foods or reusable water bottles labeled as “BPA free.” This means the chemical Bisphenol A is not present in the materials used to create the product. BPA is a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics. These types of plastics are inexpensive to manufacture, but the chemical may cause health effects.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women exposed to BPA may pass the chemical on to their unborn children or newborns through breast milk. The chemical may cause birth defects and may negatively affect growth and development in infants, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
After studies on this chemical, the FDA banned companies from using epoxy resins in packaging that were derived from BPA for baby bottles and infant formulas. States created their own legislation to address the dangers of BPA. For example, New York broadened the ban on BPA to include pacifiers. However, BPA is not completely banned from all products and manufacturers can still legally use it in packaging.
Where to Find BPA in Your Home
Although there is legislation that bans BPA from some infant-related products, you may still find this chemical in:
- Canned foods.
- Water bottles.
- Plastic food containers.
If you’re purchasing canned or packaged foods, opt for those labeled “BPA free.” Consider using food containers or water bottles that are made from glass, stainless steel, porcelain, or other BPA-free materials.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs – Flame Retardant)
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemicals added to household items to reduce their likelihood of catching on fire. Asbestos used to be installed in homes and products for this purpose but it was found that exposure to this material caused mesothelioma and other serious health issues.
While flame retardants are important for your home’s safety, these chemicals may cause health problems, including:
- Reproductive toxicity.
- Thyroid and other endocrine system issues.
- Neurological problems.
- Immune system weakness.
Children are the most vulnerable to chemical exposures because their brains and bodies are still developing. Exposure to PBDEs may cause developmental issues in children and fetuses.
Where to Find PBDEs in Your Home
Many of your household items may contain PBDEs, including:
- Foam cushions and pillows.
- Wires and cables.
When you purchase new home furnishings or items, look for products advertised as “free from flame retardants.” Keep in mind, the foam in your couches and chairs may contain high levels of PBDEs. If these items become damaged and foam is exposed, replace or repair them as soon as possible.
Triclosan (Antimicrobial Products)
Triclosan is a chemical that has antimicrobial properties and is used in many consumer beauty products. Exposure to triclosan was found to have potentially negative health effects, including:
- Endocrine and hormone disruption.
- Cancer development.
- Decreased cardiovascular function.
- Reproductive defects.
- Birth defects.
- Allergic skin reactions.
Where to Find Triclosan in Your Home
Health and beauty manufacturers may use triclosan in their products. Look for this chemical in:
- Hand soap.
- Face wash.
- Body creams.
- Dishwashing soap.
Consider only purchasing beauty products that don’t list triclosan as an ingredient, and avoiding products labeled as “antimicrobial” or “antibacterial.”
While it can be easy to assume your household products are safe, there can be many hidden dangers; even a broken light bulb may pose a threat. Learning about the materials and chemicals in these items and how they can affect you will help you keep your home environment safe.