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Monday, August 08, 2011

Toxic or not? A guide to everyday products

From germ-fighting soap to nonstick pans, learn what to toss and what to tolerate

updated 8/7/2011 9:45:25 AM ET

frying pan with raw meat at the white gas stove
Eliminate it: Antimicrobial chemicals
Triclosan, the chemical used in hundreds of germ-fighting products, may damage the liver and disrupt thyroid hormones. These products contribute to drug resistance, and people using antimicrobial soapget sick as often as regular suds users, a review in the American Journal of Public Health finds. Toss triclosan. Gotta sanitize? Opt for alcohol-based gels.
Eliminate it: Cigarettes
Tobacco smoke contains ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and 50 chemicals known to cause cancer. "Plus, smoking damages your lungs, kidneys and liver, the body's detoxifiers, which protect you from other chemical exposures," notes consumer advocate Debra Lynn Dadd, author of "Toxic Free." Click here for quit tips.
Eliminate it: Oil-based paints
"Fresh" paint smell signals volatile organic compounds, solvents that can trigger breathing issues,headachesand dizziness, and that research links to reproductive problems and birth defects, says Gina Solomon, M.D., senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco. Low- or no-VOC paints from brands such as Benjamin Moore have a similar texture but less toxicity.
                     Eliminate it: Room fresheners

"Essentially, they're air pollution," Dadd argues. Up to 20 percent of all people (and 34 percent of asthmatics) say they've had headaches, trouble breathing or other problems after inhaling room sprays, says researcher Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. To get smells out of soft materials like sofas, Dadd advises, spritz on straight vodka from an atomizer.
Regulate it: Canned food
BPA, the synthetic estrogen linked to cancer and abnormal brain development, is in the lining of most food and beverage cans, and it can leach out. Whether the food is organicdoesn't matter, USDA tests show. When possible, buy fresh or frozen items; there's no BPA in plastic freezer bags, says Sarah Janssen, M.D., senior scientist at the NRDC.
Regulate it: Household cleaners
Using chlorine bleach, cleaning sprays and disinfectants more than once a week is linked to asthma, says the author of a 2010 Spanish review of studies. Dr. Solomon adds, "There is a role for strong cleaning agents if used with care." Save them for serious mold and mildew, and never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia, because the combo produces toxic fumes. Wear gloves, open the windows, and dilute every cup of bleach you use in 10 cups of water.
Regulate it: Plasticware
Memorize the numbers 3, 6 and 7. These recycling codes mean plastic may have BPA, Dr. Landrigan says. Instead, store food in glass or plastic with codes 4, 5 and 12. But no plastic is "microwave safe." The claim means a container won't melt, not that chemicals won't seep into your dinner.
Regulate it: Scented stuff
"The word 'fragrance' on a label may stand in for hundreds of chemicals," Dr. Solomon says, including phthalates and musks, endocrine disrupters that have been linked to reproductive dysfunction. The laundry room is a good place to cut back. Seek out unscented detergents and dryer sheets, as coating clothes with chemicals means you're exposed all day, all over your skin.
Tolerate it: Aspartame
Despite Internet rumors, a National Cancer Institute study of nearly 500,000 people discerned no link between consuming this sweetener and developing leukemia, lymphoma or brain cancers. Nor is it tied to multiple sclerosis or lupus. (But remember, most soda cans do contain BPA.)
Tolerate it: Cotton
Even though conventional cotton farmers use high levels of potentially planet-harming pesticides, there's no evidence that simply wearing the fabric harms consumers, testing by the Bremen Cotton Exchange in Germany reveals. As for tampons, they expose us to 13,000 to 240,000 times fewer dioxins than our everyday diet does, according to a report in Environmental HealthPerspectives. Be confident choosing any brand that works for you, organic or not.
Tolerate it: Fluoride toothpaste
The debate over water fluoridation shouldn't have you questioning your Crest. The feds have advised utilities to lower the amount of fluoride allowed in tap water, due to studies linking fluoridation with bone fractures and stiffness; however, both environmentalists and dentists agree that fluoride toothpaste is safe and necessary for everyone older than 2. Check the label for a paste without triclosan—some brands add it, supposedly to prevent germs, plaque or gingivitis.
Tolerate It: Nonstick pans
The EPA is working to phase out perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in making Teflon coating. Nonstick cookware, however, doesn't expose you to PFOA, even when you subject it to extreme heat, confirms a study in Food Additives & Contaminants. Scratched parts are fine, too, so flip your flapjacks fearlessly.


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