A typical American comes in regular contact with 6,000 chemicals and an untold number of potentially toxic substances on a less frequent basis. There are about 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries, so you could potentially be exposed to any number of them.
Given the vast amounts of chemicals in the environment, it's not too surprising that the CDC's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals found an average of 212 chemicals in Americans' blood or urine.
Likewise, an Environmental Working Group study found that blood samples from newborns contained an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, and Teflon chemicals, and this is from exposures they received before birth.
When it comes to the potentially hazardous chemicals you and your family are exposed to as you go about your daily lives, it can easily feel overwhelming. There are chemicals literally everywhere, but rather than feeling burdened by the thought I encourage you instead to focus on simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
A good starting point, as CNN as suggested above, is to focus on avoiding some of the most pervasive, and most toxic, chemicals that are virtually guaranteed to be in your home right now.
Here are the top 5
- BPA — Bisphenol A BPA is used to make lightweight, clear, heat-resistant plastic. It's also used in epoxy resins.
A growing body of research suggests that BPA poses a potential cancer risk and may disrupt the extremely sensitive chemical signals in your body called the endocrine system.
To avoid it, buy stainless steel bottles and glass food storage containers. Switch to fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. If you buy plastic, check for the number on the bottom — if there is a number 7, assume the container contains BPA unless it explicitly says otherwise.
- Phthalates This family of chemicals softens plastics. Phthalates are considered endocrine disrupters. Research has also shown phthalates disrupt reproductive development. Avoid shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products that list "fragrance" as an ingredient.
- PFOA — Perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8) PFOA is used to make Teflon and other nonstick and stain- or water-repellent products. PFOA causes cancer and developmental problems. You can reduce your potential exposure by using stainless steel or cast iron cookware. If you use nonstick cookware, do not overheat it — this releases toxic gas.
- Formaldehyde Formaldehyde is an ingredient in resins that act as a glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products. It is a known human carcinogen, causing cancers of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. Buying furniture free from formaldehyde eliminates much of the exposure you face from the chemical. If you have wood products containing formaldehyde, increase ventilation, reduce humidity with air conditioning or dehumidifiers and keep your home cool.
Formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and may cause cancer in humans. Other common adverse health effects include fatigue, skin rashes, and allergic reactions. Choosing all natural materials for your clothing and furniture can help cut down on your exposure.
- PBDEs — Polybrominated diphenyl ethers PBDEs are a group of chemicals used as flame retardants. Toxicology tests show PBDEs may damage your liver and kidneys and affect your brain and behavior. Try to find products without PBDE flame retardants and be sure to sweep up dust. Another common source of PBDEs is your mattress, and since you can spend up to a third of your life in bed, this is a significant health concern. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. Look for 100 percent wool, toxin-free mattresses.