6.23.2009

the toxic 'dirty dozen' by Green Planet


The subtext is the best part... "Stay healthy by steering clear of the worst chemicals that might already be in your house". This type of article is often written too "textbook" and not in normal language, but I felt that this article by Christine Lepisto was really helpful and easy to understand. I also like that her chosen 'Dirty Dozen' really make sense to me.

I am quoting the article in full but please visit the website 'Green Planet' here for more information.


one of my own additions: re: #3 BPA - since this article was written many of the US baby bottle manufacturers have stopped using BPA in bottle production (see blog here), you can also usually ask your water fountain company to provide BPA-free bottles at no extra cost or better yet ask them if they have glass containers!

[by Christine Lepisto]

It seems like you can't open a newspaper or magazine without reading warnings about hazards "you must avoid." Though many are carcinogenic and can pose serious health risks, which ones are the worst? Which ones do you really have to watch out for?

Benefits vs. risks
We each weigh the benefits of certain products (and the chemicals that are in them) against the risks associated with their use. For example, the tar and other nasties in cigarettes would top any such list -- we know that they cause cancer and are really bad for you and anyone who's around you a lot. But, people around the world still smoke them, despite piles of studies and mountains of information that say they're not good for us. The same applies, in degrees, to the benefits of make-up, shampoo, toilet cleaner, auto lubricants, and a host of other products that the average person uses and relies upon each day.

What We Really Want to Know
So let's skip alcohol and saturated fats and go straight to what we really want to know about what to avoid: which chemicals lurk in everyday consumer products which can be avoided without really harming our quality of life or threatening our freedom of choice?

  1. Triclosan
    Once restricted to uses with high benefit and limited proliferation, such as in hospitals and food-processing, successful marketing of anti-bacterial agents in consumer products led to a boom in the amounts of these germicides in our environment. The CDC estimates that in the early 1990s, only a few dozen products containing antibacterial agents were being marketed for the home. Now hundreds flood the market. Triclosan is in human breast milk and in fish downstream of water treatment plants. It has been shown to act as an endocrine disruptor in frogs. Ironically, this futile quest for sterility may be breeding super-bugs resistant to antibiotics or harming the good bacteria which help us stay healthy. If you quit only one chemical habit after reading this, give up anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners. If you don't buy these products today, talk to your friends and neighbors. This one is a no-brainer.

  2. Bisphenol A, or BPA
    This chemical, used to make certain plastics soft and pliable, continues to be named in studies implicating it in health risks. Recently, the first large-scale human study correlates bisphenol-A with common diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities. (JAMA, Lang and colleagues).

    But the controversy continues: while Canada banned BPA in 2008, the US FDA continues to defend BPA as safe—even for babies. To minimize your exposure: buy preserved foods in glass instead of cans, especially those with an acidic nature such as tomatoes or citrus fruits; avoid drinks in single-use plastic bottles; and never microwave food or put hot foods in plastic containers.

  3. Perfluoroalkyl acids and salts
    Perflurooctane sulfonates, PFOS, lead this pack. The media has dubbed these chemicals "C8" with much the same na‹ve oversimplification by which the dreaded global warming gas carbon dioxide has been reduced to "carbon", formerly known as the building block of all life. But chemist's rants aside, perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonate and similar fully fluorinated chemicals may be the closest thing to a contaminant of "silent spring" magnitude in our generation.

    Perfluoronates were heralded as chemical wonders for their non-stick and water-repellant properties. An OECD study shows 2005 production levels in the hundreds of tons around the world. While scientific knowledge about the toxicity and chronic effects of this chemical are incomplete, one thing is clear: these persistent and bio-accumulating chemicals are building up in mammals across the planet. Enough evidence exists to use the precautionary principle to stop all applications which do not provide substantial benefits offsetting the risks. Non-stick cookware and stain-repellant trousers simply do not merit gambling with these bad actors. [Note: do not throw away non-stick cookware you own. The risk is in the manufacture, not in the end product.

  4. Phthalates & 5. Nonylphenol and its ethoxylates
    These are the poster children for endocrine disrupting chemicals. That big medical term means that the chemicals mimic natural hormones, like estrogen or androgen, which causes confusion in the systems regulating sexual function. Disappearing male populations, small penises and hermaphrodite fish are just a couple of observed phenomena that may be explained by a build-up of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment.

    Phthalates are used to make plastic flexible, as solvents, and in cosmetics and perfumes. Again, this is a family of chemicals. The misbehaving siblings include dibutylphthalate (DBP), butylbenzylphthalate (BBP) and diethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), while Diethylphthalate (DEP) appears to be safer.

    Nonylphenol compounds are effective, cheap surfactants (surfactants are the chemicals which help dissolve oily grime into water in cleaning products). There are many safer substitutes, so simply don't accept any "nonylphenol" on the ingredient list of products in your house.


  5. Polybrominated Flame Retardants
    Exemplified by Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and Polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), polybrominated flame retardants are used in mattresses, upholstery, plastics and other materials to prevent them from catching fire and burning. In the battle of risks versus benefits, some jurisdictions, such as California, require PBDE and others, such as Europe and China, have banned PBDE. Although flame retardants prevent risks from synthetic materials burning, they are persistant and bio-accumulating. Adverse health effects attributed to PBDE and PBB include problems in brain development and genital malformations. Avoid polybrominates by buying clothing, bedding and furniture made from natural materials.
  1. Glycol ethers
    It is important to understand that there is a whole range of glycol ethers, many of which are relatively safe. However, the bad guys are suspected of causing birth defects and low sperm motility. Look out for the known reproductive toxins methyl cellosolve (aka methoxyethanol or EGME), Ethylene Glycol Ethyl Ether (EGEE), Ethylene Glycol Methyl Ether Acetate (EGMEA) and Ethylene Glycol Ethyl Ether Acetate (EGEEA). The jury remains out on 2-butoxyethanol, (EGBE) commonly used in paints, inks and household cleaners. European authorities reviewed claims of carcinogenicity as recently as 2005, dismissing the classification because tumors observed in animals can be explained by mechanisms that do not occur in humans. The so-called "P series" glycol ethers are considered to be safer substitutes: these include Propylene glycol monomethyl ether (PM), Dipropylene glycol monomethyl ether (DPM), and Propylene Glycol n-butyl ether (PnB).

  2. Urea-Formaldehyde resins
    Made famous by the FEMA trailers used to house victims of hurricane Katrina, this ubiquitous binder in plywood and particleboard releases significant amounts of formaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen. UF-free alternatives in composite wood products include phenol-formaldehyde (PF) and melamine-formaldehyde (MF) resins. Although these contain formaldehyde, their higher stability reduces post-production vapor release. Isocyanates (e.g MDI) and polyvinyl acetate (PVA) are formaldehyde-free options, although isocyanates have high production concerns and the moisture resistance of the most low-risk option, PVA, is poor. All are more expensive than UF (of course). Soy based adhesives are a promising development to watch.

  3. Heavy Metals Like Mercury and Lead
    It is hard to believe that centuries after people realized that "mad as a hatter" is an occupational disease, these neurotoxins are still hiding in mascara or hair dyes. Watch out for the preservative "thimerosal", which contains mercury. And avoid anything with lead in its name. Both lead and mercury build up in the body so even little bits over time can be dangerous. And be especially careful if you have children about the house.

  4. Sensitizers
    Too many chemicals fit into this category to list by name, but the hazard is significant enough that it simply deserves a mention. Most people will use products containing these chemicals all their lives and never suffer a single symptom. But other people will note a worsening tendency to rashes, sneezing or difficulty breathing. The culprit? A sensitizer.

    Protect yourself by avoiding products with commonly known sensitizers such as the fragrances cinnamic alcohol, hydroxycitronella or isoeugenol, or the preservatives quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea or parabens. Use baking soda and lemon slices instead of air freshener or perfumed cleaners to freshen up.

  5. Perchlorates
    Boy it sucks to rain on the fireworks parade. But it does appear that perchlorate, a propellant in fireworks and rocket fuels, is contaminating groundwater systems. One report on perchlorate sources notes that over 20 million Americans are affected by perchlorates in their drinking water. The same report notes that 221 million pounds of fireworks were detonated in the USA in 2003. Other studies demonstrate contamination of lakes and groundwater at sites where public fireworks displays are held routinely. Perchlorate intake on a regular basis interferes with iodine uptake, and may therefore be related to hypothyroidism.

  6. Acrylamide
    The US FDA estimates that 100 percent of the population consumes the carcinogen acrylamide in their food, 0.4 micrograms per kg of bodyweight per day on average. Acrylamide is manufactured synthetically, then reacted to make the harmless textile fiber polyacrylamide (PA). But the acrylamide in foods is not an industrial contaminant. It forms from a reaction between sugars and proteins that occurs mainly when foods are cooked at high temperatures. Fortunately, the foods with the most acrylamide are some of the ones that you shouldn't eat anyhow due to much riskier "natural" health impacts such as obesity and heart disease. So keep your intake of chips and fries under control, drink coffee in moderation, and cook your foods at lower temperatures. Then stop worrying about acrylamide; after all, stress is risky too.

  • Make it a Baker's Dozen: Handle with care
    Many chemicals are useful and not really dangerous if handled correctly. Others are necessary but should be used with discretion. For example, sodium hydroxide (lye, oven cleaner) or hydrochloric acid (toilet bowl cleaner) will cause skin burns and should only be used with gloves and safety goggles. Pesticides are formulated to kill living organisms - so they will not be good for humans or pets. Read labels, follow manufacturer instructions, and turn to useful resources like the US Health and Human Services Household Products Database and the EWG cosmetics database to understand the products you use every day.

for more information see complete article on the blog "green planet" here.

1 comment:

Alexis said...

Scary! Thanks for sharing that.