The Top 7 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid

Watch out for these toxins found in foods, beauty, and skin care products.

You’ve probably heard the Latin term caveat emptor, which means “Let the buyer beware.” This is good advice as you look for ways to reduce your exposure to harmful toxins and unhealthy ingredients.

Just because a substance is legal, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. So be sure to read the labels of whatever you’re buying.

Here’s a list of seven common chemicals you should watch out for.

Parabens: Used as preservatives in several cosmetic products. They can interfere with hormone signaling and have been linked to impaired fertility in women. In particular, avoid the “long-chained” varieties, such as propylparaben or butylparaben. One place to really watch for parabens are in your deodorant. A while back we posted a recipe for toxin-free deodorant made with simple items from your pantry.

Lead Compounds: Despite lead being commonly known as a dangerous neurotoxin, it still manages to find its way into many products. As many as 85% of drinks marketed towards children contain potentially harmful levels of lead; in addition, several name-brand hair dyes contain lead acetate. Both of these products, if used or consumed, have a high risk of increasing the body’s lead levels.

Bisphenol A (BPA): A synthetic hormone that is found in 92% of canned goods, both organic and non. This chemical is particularly dangerous to infants and young children. Treehugger.com outlines 7 companies that use BPA free cans.

Hidden trans fats: Yes, I know you’ve been beaten over the head with how bad trans fats are for you. And you are probably aware that even the smallest amounts of it can contribute to cardiovascular disease and a rise in cholesterol levels. Well, did you know that companies can legally claim their product is “trans-fat free” if there are .49 or fewer grams of trans fats per serving? Check your labels: make sure whatever you’re buying was made with safe oils like olive, canola, or coconut.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Causes DNA damage in humans and is toxic if inhaled. It’s a common ingredient in most acne products. Did you know that our skin absorbs about 60% of what we put on it? And that DNA damage is what leads to cancer?

Triclosan: An antibacterial agent found in toothpastes, liquid hand soaps, and body washes, among other things. It interferes with the body’s hormone signaling, especially thyroid activity and male/female hormone signals.

Palm Oil: Okay, this last one isn’t harmful to your body, per se (though it is quite high in cholesterol), but it’s still an ingredient to watch out for. Why? Palm oil has gotten much more popular over the last couple years, meaning that the environmentally devastating techniques used to harvest it have also increased. Much of the destruction of Southeast Asia’s rain forests and endangerment of local animals is because of the growing demand for this commodity. Limiting that demand is the first step to stopping the devastation.

So be smart and read the small print on those labels.

perfume-bottles-500w

Photo credit: Profumi by ubik2010

Loading

What is Off Gassing?

Even when materials with toxic components are confined to a landfill, they can still release poisons into the environment.

Recycling is a good way to reduce the amount of garbage going to our landfills. But it’s not the best–that’s reducing what we consume in the first place. Landfills are really our last resort.

I’ve visited countries where people just dump their trash anywhere. You can see it blowing across fields, filling ravines, and choking streams. As this garbage breaks down, the toxins it exudes go directly into the soil and water and lead to a wide variety of environmental and health issues.

More developed countries have solved this problem by using landfills–specially engineered sites where garbage is dumped, managed, and hopefully contained. To keep the toxins from leaching into the soil, waste management engineers have developed impenetrable liners, which are laid down before the landfill opens.

But even if toxic liquids are contained, it’s impossible to keep them completely out of the surrounding environment because they escape through a process called “off gassing.”

According to the EPA, as the trash in landfills breaks down, it can release toxic gases, collectively termed “landfill gas”. Made up of mostly carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen sulfide, these gases can spread in the air miles away from the landfill, bringing health risks such as asphyxiation or even explosion.

But it’s the gases that are released in relatively small amounts that can cause the greatest concern. These can include Volatile Organic Compounds like benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE) and vinyl chloride. These diffuse into the surrounding environment, contributing to a long-term toxin problem.

Not only that, landfill gas can also damage the ozone layer.

The Clean Air Act was designed to remedy this problem by limiting gas emissions from municipal landfills. Hopefully, this will continue to improve.

But in the mean time, we need to do our part in making sure items with toxic components don’t make it to the landfill in the first place.

recycle-forest-500w

Additional Resources

Photo credit: bdayoui

 

Loading

What Are Phthalates?

This group of chemicals is useful for making plastics more flexible, harder, or more durable. But their effects on people may not be so good.

There’s a lot of confusion about esters of phthalic acid AKA phthalates. First of all, just figuring out how to pronounce the word “phthalate” isn’t all that easy. It’s THAL-ate. The initial “ph” is silent. (It’s also easy to misspell–thalate, phalate, even fthalate.)

Second, there’s not just one phthalate, but a group of chemicals that go by this name. They are found in hundreds of products, from vinyl flooring to lubricating oils to plastic raincoats. One area where they’re used widely is polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVCs). These are in turn used to make products such as plastic packaging film, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children’s toys.

But despite their usefulness in manufacturing, phthalates have been shown to have harmful effects in humans. A 2012 study found that women working in the automotive and food-canning industries have nearly a fivefold increase in risk for premenopausal breast cancer, likely because of their exposure to phthalates, BPA and flame-retardants (more info here). Phthalates have also been linked to birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues, and obesity.

There’s one more area where phthalates are widely used and poses an even greater concern–personal care products. They’re included in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes. These products can present even more of a toxin risk because phthalates are readily absorbed through the skin.

As expected, research has found that adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men for those phthalates that are used in personal care products.

You might ask, “If phthalates are so dangerous, why are they still being used?” The answer is they’re being phased out. The use of phthalates has been banned in children’s products in California and manufacturers are replacing them in other products as well. But in the mean time, it’s a good idea to proactively limit your own exposure.

And to do that you need to educate yourself.

A good place to start is this collection of articles on How to Avoid Bisphenol A and Phthalates over at the Daily Green.

Additional Resources

Loading

Know The Dangers Of Solvent Adhesives

What are the dangers of solvent based adhesives like volatile organic compounds DMF, MEK and Toluene?

Most people know that solvents are bad for you. Even more people know that VOC’s are dangerous chemicals. But far fewer people actually know what they are. We’re going to break it down for you.

Solvent adhesives are necessary to create the special glues developed to bond complex materials. (If you’ve ever tried to glue two pieces of plastic together, you know that regular Elmer’s doesn’t work.)

These adhesives are very effective at what they’re designed for, however, the downside is that the solvents in them are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are toxic to living things. As a result, their use is highly regulated in the manufacturing process. Workers wear protective gear and fumes are specially captured. At least in Western countries. (I have walked out of cut-and-sew factories in Asia, where these types of solvents are used, and felt completely light headed after 1/2 an hour. The long term effects on the workers is a very real concern).

But even afterward the manufacturing process these solvents can still “off-gas” harmful fumes. Just think about that “new product smell” you get when you rip open the packaging of most products that use glue in their construction.

Here are three of the most common solvent adhesives and their dangers.

Dimethylformamide (DMF)
DMF has been termed “the universal solvent.” It’s used for vinyl resins, adhesives and epoxy formulations such as laminated printed circuit boards. It’s an industrial paint stripper, and a carrier for inks and dyes.
DMF has been linked to cancer in humans, and it is thought to cause birth defects.

Butanone (Methyl Ethyl Ketone or MEK)
MEK is used as a solvent in processes that involve gums, resins, cellulose acetate, and cellulose nitrate. It is also used in the manufacturing of some synthetic rubbers.

MEK has been shown to affect the central nervous system.

Toluene
Toluene is used as a solvent to make aviation gasoline, spray and wall paints, paint thinner, medicine, dyes, explosives, detergents, fingernail polish, spot removers, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, and antifreeze.

Exposure to toluene can cause confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, and even hearing and color vision loss.

What can you do about these common toxins and how can you avoid these dangerous solvent based adhesives? Look for products that are made with non-toxic materials, including the glues holding it together. You’ll be supporting manufacturers who have found alternatives to these powerful toxins.

Meadow blue sky

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Loading

How To Eliminate Toxins In Your Food

There are 3 major ways these harmful substances get into what you eat.

This is the fourth post in our series on reducing and eliminating the toxins that threaten our well-being. So far we’ve covered:

 Why You Should Consider A Detox

How To Do A Sensible Weekend Detox

How To Eliminate Toxins In Your Home

This post will cover How To Eliminate Toxins In Your Food.

There are three major ways that toxins get into our food–ingredients, contaminants, and residues. We’ll look at them in the order of increasing difficulty in eliminating them from your diet.

Toxic Ingredients

When you look at the labels on packages of processed foods, you sometimes see dozens of ingredients. A lot of them have names you can barely pronounce, let alone identify. These are chemicals that are added as preservatives, flavor enhancers, and coloring agents. The FDA may have approved them, but your body is not designed to process them. So if you find an ingredient you can’t identify, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Buy foods with simple ingredient lists, or even better, make it yourself.

Toxic Contaminants

These are substances like mercury or BHP, that inadvertently get into your food through the food chain, the supply chain, or even in your own kitchen. For instance, fish can be a great source of of protein and omega-3 fats but certain species have high levels of environmental mercury. Or if you microwave food in plastic containers, the heat can cause chemicals can leach into it.

Toxic Residues

To increase crop yields (and to look for the grocery store), our conventionally-farmed food is sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. The long-term harmful effects of these chemicals has been well-documented. The best answer to this is to grow your own produce or only buy certified organic. However, this can be expensive. So the Environmental Working Group has created the Dirty Dozen Plus (14 foods you should always buy organic) and the Clean Fifteen (15 foods that don’t pass along pesticide residue).
For more information on this subject, see Chemicals In Your Food? put out by the Harvard Extension School.

If you work to eliminate toxins from your diet, you’ll not only feel better, but as you vote with your dollars, you’ll be changing the way our food is produced.

organic-market-500w

 

Photo Credit: Mixed Vegetables by sumi

 

Loading

How To Do A Healthy Detox

Forget the fads. Do it sensibly, using healthy food to support your body’s own detox systems.

In my previous post in this series, Why You Should Think About Doing A Detox,I talked about the evidence that we’re exposed to a staggering variety of toxins on a daily basis. In this post I’m going to outline what you can do to help your body purge toxins.

First of all, you have to remember that every day is a detox day for your body. It isolates and expels substances that are toxic to your system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It does this through three major organs. Your liver and your kidneys filter toxins out of your blood stream, and your colon eliminates toxins that become concentrated during digestion.

Periodically, it’s a good idea to lighten your body’s digestive workload, and give these cleansing systems an extra boost. And the best way to do that is through natural foods that help them function more effectively.

Some people recommend extreme fasting to detoxify, but this can rob your body of the very nutrients it needs to detoxify normally, not to mention slow your metabolism.

The method I’ve found that’s recommended by both medical doctors and naturopaths is to take 48 hours (a weekend) and eat the fruits and vegetables, and drink the juices known to help your liver, kidneys and colon.

An easy, sensible weekend cleanse plan was put together for the Dr. Oz Show (yes, from afternoon TV). It includes a shopping list and recipes that are effective for your detox, but are tasty enough to eat on a regular basis.

See Dr. Oz’s 48 Hour Detox here.

Do a weekend detox and then think about ways to reduce the amount of toxins your body has to deal with on a daily basis.

Next week I’ll cover: Ways To Detox Your Home.

wild-blueberries-500w
Photo taken by Cde010

Loading

Why You Should Think About Doing A Detox

No generation been exposed to so many man-made chemicals on a daily basis.

Right now our food is so relatively inexpensive, one of the biggest problems facing our poorest citizens is obesity. This has never happened before in human history. (Of course, what a lot people are eating isn’t the greatest, but we’ll leave that for now.)

We are also far less likely to die in a house or apartment fire than at any time in our history. Building just don’t go up in flames like they used to. In fact, most fire departments spend the bulk of their time on medical calls.

But both of these advancements have come at cost. In maximizing our food production we’ve had to resort to the heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. Our meat and poultry are kept “healthy” through artificial hormones. Even our wild caught fish have dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins.

In fire-proofing our homes, we’ve permeated our carpet, furniture foam, drapes, bedding, pajamas, etc., etc. with flame retardant chemicals. And then to be energy-efficient, we’ve sealed up our houses and workplaces against the outside air, concentrating all these airborne toxins inside.

These are just two of many toxin sources. In addition to consuming junk food and medications, we also cover ourselves in man-chemicals using personal care products loaded with synthetic additives. In fact, recent research shows that lack of sleep can inhibit the removal of toxins from your brain.

Our modern society is living under a toxic burden. No wonder people are developing symptoms like unexplained headaches, muscle and joint pain, eczema, allergic reactions, to name a few.

It’s one of the reasons we took all the time and resources to develop Ariaprene an alternative to synthetic rubber that doesn’t contribute toxins to our environment.

You might ask, “Well, don’t our bodies naturally work to detoxify themselves?” They do, but for many people, they’re being overwhelmedAnd there are some natural, sensible ways to help your body detoxify itself.

Next week we’ll post: How To Do A Healthy Detox

Strawberry Water SplashPhoto by Krappweis

Loading

When A Ban Becomes A Plus

Restrictions caused by Proposition 65 can be a good thing for industry.

Those of us old enough to remember the Y2K Crisis might recall spending New Year’s Eve 1999 with a jug of drinking water nearby. When the ball dropped in Times Square, we weren’t sure if civilization would come to a halt, or the new year would come in without a noticeable hitch.

At the time, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the cost of upgrading software. But instead of being a waste, Y2K actually improved productivity by forcing needed upgrades and encouraging engineers to take a second look at the tried and true software they’d be using.

California’s Proposition 65, which has banned or restricted the use of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in manufacturing, has not been easy for everybody. While the goal of the law is to protect the citizens of California, many companies have had to phase out tried-and-true formulations and find new ways to make their products.

Sometimes this has been difficult. But in the case of a chemical called styrene, it’s actually led to better processes and products. This cost-effective reactive diluent is an industry staple, making it possible to spray on fiberglass and other reinforcements. After Proposition 65 forced companies to cut the amount of styrene in their formulations, it not only led to better worker safety and reduction of VOCs, but actually made composite products more competitive against traditional materials.

According to a recent editorial in Composites World: “…boats, bridge decks, wind turbine blades and pollution-control systems incorporate structural multidirectional fabrics and use less resin, yielding thinner, lighter and stronger structures. A whole industry has developed to support large-part infusion, resulting in greater competitiveness and new jobs.” Basically the imposed restrictions led challenged manufacturers to come up with innovative ways of accomplishing the same thing. Ways to build the same or better product using cleaner chemicals and compounds.

There are many restrictions in place, limiting the levels of Toluene and other carcinogenic lamination glues but currently we still believe that the levels deemed “acceptable” are too high.

We’ve positioned Ariaprene to answer the needs of stricter guidelines, which will come in the future. After all, why not go above and beyond? It’s a win for the environment and a win for industry.
-Dacie

Gas Mask

Gas Mask photo by gabriel77

Loading

Toxin Law Pays Off For Kids

10 years after it was banned, the presence of a flame retardant linked to learning difficulties in children has declined in pregnant women.

I’ll never forget watching our neighbor’s home go up in flames. Even though the fire department was there in minutes, their house was so badly damaged, it had to be completely torn down. But fortunately for our neighbors, nobody was hurt.

House fires have historically been major cause of injury and death in the U.S. This year it’s estimated that about 370,000 homes will catch fire and more than 2,500 people will lose their lives.

It’s no wonder that years ago regulators enacted laws requiring furniture, bedding, window covering, and sleepwear manufacturers to meet strict flammability requirements. California, for example, currently requires that furniture foam be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without igniting. That’s pretty intense. So to achieve this, manufacturers have had to incorporate flame retardant chemicals into their materials.

One family of retardants that seemed to work well was polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). However, a few years after they were introduced, PBDEs were found to cause learning difficulties in children whose mothers had been exposed to them while pregnant. And further research showed that significant levels of this toxin were found in the dust of California homes and in the bloodstreams of pregnant women. So ten years ago California banned the use of PDBEs.

Now we’re seeing that ban pay off. A recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology has shown a dramatic decrease in the amount of PDBEs in the blood of pregnant women.

Encouraged by this result, the state is looking to ban other harmful chemicals still used in retardants. To achieve this they’re planning to modify the flammability laws to more realistic standards. For example, simply requiring that sofa fabric resist ignition by a cigarette, since this is by far the most common source of furniture ignition (most house fires start in the kitchen).

And while the numbers of house fires and fatalities I cited above are pretty serious, they’re down by nearly half from the 1970s and are expected to continue their decrease. If other fire prevention measures are working, then by all means, let’s not be poisoning ourselves and our children.

If toxins are in the products we use, pretty soon they’re going to be in us. And that’s something we can all live without.

-Dacie

Flame retardant fabric
Photo “Home Of Pigeons” taken by brom

Loading

The Law That Protects Kids

5 years of protection by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

Back in 2008 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into U. S. law with strong support from both houses of congress and the President. Its aim was primarily to protect children from products containing toxins or those that posed a choking hazard.

Specifically, the CPSIA requires that nearly all children’s products:
a) comply with all applicable children’s product safety rules
b) are tested for compliance by a CPSC-accepted laboratory
c) have a written Children’s Product Certificate (issued by the manufacturer or importer) that provides evidence of the product’s compliance; and
d) have permanent tracking information affixed to the product and its packaging.

The law gave the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) stronger authority of the safety of more than 15,000 of products–things whose safety we might take for granted.

Among other provisions, the law directed the CPSC to design a publicly accessible database where consumers could report harmful consumer products, as well as research the safety record of a wide variety of products. As it’s grown, the database has helped the CPSC identify trends in product hazards much more quickly and efficiently.

There are many examples where the database has potentially saved lives, for instance when a popular stroller was recalled because it posed a strangulation risk for infants.

Two of the toxins targeted by the law are lead and certain phthalates (chemicals added to plastics to make them flexible and also found in many beauty products). Both of these have been found to be especially harmful to children.

As you can imagine, compliance with the law was difficult for many manufacturers. They would receive components from their suppliers without knowing exactly what was in them. And those suppliers might themselves be 3 or 4 steps down the chain from the raw materials. But since then, compliance strategies have been developed to ensure a safe final product.

One of the reasons we’ve had such a positive reception for Ariaprene is that it’s certified CPSIA compliant. The raw components we use are toxin-free and so are our manufacturing processes.

Ariaprene is an alternative to traditional synthetic rubber that is not only sustainable and non-toxic, but it actually outperforms traditional synthetic rubber.

-Dacie
consumer-products-safety

Loading
Facebook IconYouTube IconTwitter Icon