Feb 062017
 

Speaker: Emma Rohmann
Written by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

Toxic chemicals exist all around us, whether it is in the cleaning products we store in our bathroom cabinets, our everyday cosmetics/personal care products, the furniture we sit and relax on each evening or even in the food we enjoy consuming. Although these toxic substances are not always visible to the naked eye, they are present everywhere and can have damaging effects to our health. Many of us do not realize the mechanism in which these harmful agents enter and accumulate inside of us or the extent to which they burden our bodies. These chemicals can build up due to a variety of different methods which include some being stored within our fatty tissue, while other agents maybe slow to leave our bodies. Additionally, bioaccumulation is also a contributing factor, in which our position at the top of the food chain allows us to consume the animals, water and plants that exist within our environment, while simultaneously ingesting the harmful agents present within these sources of food in the process. Furthermore the impact that these agents have on children is far more detrimental due to their small stature and body surface area allowing smaller concentrations of chemicals to have an effect as well as their immature immune systems combating and abolishing toxins at far slower rates than that of fully developed adults.

“Toxic chemicals” is such a broad term that encompasses numerous amounts of harmful agents which include: carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, respiratory toxins, reproductive toxins and developmental toxins to name a few. Each of these agents exists in different products within our household and has their own unique effects. We have isolated the toxins commonly found in different household products within our homes and safer alternatives that can be used in the table below:

Room Toxic Chemicals Alternatives
Kitchen 1) Teflon Cookware

    → Formerly made with PFOA

         (carcinogen, hormone disruptor, highly

          persistent environmental toxin phased out in

          2015)

     → Teflon is especially detrimental when warmed

          because of off-gassing

     → Scratched Teflon based cookware should not be

          used because the layer in between is unsafe and

          not meant to contaminate food   

     → If unable to avoid using Teflon based cookware:

          as long as it is in good condition, unscratched

          and is used at lower temperatures it is not as

          harmful to use

2) Plastics

     →Plastics #3 & #7 may contain BPA or BPS

         (hormone disruptors) & other harmful

       chemicals

– Ceramic

    →Closest to Teflon in terms of

        Its non-stick properties

    →Free of PFOA

– Stainless Steel

– Cast Iron

     →Will have non-stick abilities

         as long as the cast iron

         based material is constantly

         being oiled and seasoned

     →Not good for use of cooking

         acidic foods (i.e. tomato

         sauce)

– Glass

– Stainless Steel

– Silicone

Bedroom 1) Mattress & Pillows

     → May contain Flame Retardants

          (many are hormone disruptors)

     → Most foam based products contain flame

          retardants

     → Not all product labels are mandated to include

          flame retardants

– Organic Cotton

    → Non-organic Cotton has high

         concentrations of pesticides   

– Wool

– Natural Rubber

    → NOT Latex or Natural Latex

         because latex is synthetic

         which can cause off-gassing

         and the fibers are naturally

         flame retardants    

Living Room 1) Furniture

      → Adhesives & Finishes can off-gas Volatile

            Organic Compounds (VOCs)

      → VOCs can have asthmatic, allergenic &

           carcinogenic effects

           (therefore these VOCs can have greater adverse

           effects on individuals with pre-existing asthma

           or allergies)

2) Flooring

     → Adhesives & Finishes can off-gas Volatile Organic

          Compounds (VOCs)

          VOCs can have asthmatic, allergenic &

         carcinogenic effects

     → Carpets may contain stain repellents

          Stain Repellents are persistent environmental

          toxins and hormone disruptors as well as have

          carcinogenic effects

    → Any soft surfaces will collect dust and aggravate

         asthma & allergies

– Solid Wood/Metal

– Greenguard Gold

   → 3rd party standard

        (Greenguard Certified)

   → Gold is even better

– Hardwood

– Natural Fibres

– Linoleum

– Cork

   → Not as resilient but not bad

        in certain areas at home

   → Warm under feet

In addition to using safer alternative products there are a variety of different ways to detox without going completely insane. Some of these techniques include focusing on a category of harm and prioritizing highest chances of exposure. Maintaining our overall health has also been proven to be beneficial as environmental toxins are one of many factors contributing to our health. Therefore maintaining health as a whole can positively affect the way in which our body manages toxin exposure. Taking the time to research and educate ourselves regarding ingredients in different products, the negative effects of toxic chemicals and safer/natural alternatives can also be helpful. These include referring to third party certifications, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, Environmental Working Group and Environmental Defense. Some informative pieces of literature that can also be read to further expand our knowledge include: Adria Vasil (Ecoholic Series), Slow Death by Rubber Duck and The Soft Landing.     

            Now that we have established various ways to prevent and decrease the amount of toxins that we allow into our home, an additional concern arises. How do we detox our homes and reduce the amount of toxins that already exist within our homes? Well, for one thing we can refer to a list of NASA air purifying plants. This will indicate which plants can combat which toxic chemical, so that we can bring these houseplants into our homes to purify our contaminated air and therefore lower our toxin exposure. Furthermore, regularly dusting can also assist in removing many toxins that are residing within our homes. Many times chemicals such as flame retardants seep out of products, deposit in dust particles and accumulate within our homes. Therefore, dusting can prevent these toxins from building up and exposing us.

            The topic of toxic chemicals and reducing our exposure can be overwhelming, as they exist in materials all around us and in our everyday products. Making a conscious effort to constantly educate ourselves and start by taking small strides to replace harmful agents to safer alternatives can have outstanding effects in the long run and ultimately benefit our health.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1) What toxic chemicals have commonly been found within the dust particles inside the home?

 

Chemical Class Chemical Health Hazard Common Products Containing this Chemical
Phthalates: DEHP – Reproductive System & Developmental Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Vinyl Flooring

– Food Contact Materials

DEHA – Reproductive System & Developmental Toxicity – Vinyl Flooring

– Food Packaging

BBzP – Reproductive System & Developmental Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Vinyl Flooring
DnBP – Reproductive System & Developmental Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Nail Polish

– Paints

DiBP – Reproductive System & Developmental Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Vinyl Products

– Personal Care & Beauty   

 Products

Fragrance: HHCB – UNKNOWN – Scented Products
Flame Retardant: TPHP – Reproductive & Nervous System Toxicity – Treated Furniture

– Baby Products

– Carpet Padding

– Electronics

TDCIPP – Cancer – Treated Furniture

– Baby Products

– Carpet Padding

HBCDD – Reproductive & Nervous System Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Polystyrene Building   

 Insulation

Phenol: MeP – Reproductive System Toxicity

– Hormone Disruption

– Cosmetics

– Lotions

– Deodorants


2)   What is the mechanism in which household plants are able to remove toxic chemicals from the air?

Household plants are able to remove toxic chemicals from the air using a process similar to photosynthesis in which plants absorb carbon dioxide and light energy through pores on the surface of plant leaves and convert it into chemical energy to fuel growth. In addition to carbon dioxide, household plants are also able to absorb other gases through their roots and leaves including: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Benzene and Formaldehyde. After absorbing toxic chemicals, household plants themselves can manage toxicants in two ways:

  • They can incorporate these toxic agents into plant tissue and therefore remove them from the air and sequester them.
  • They can metabolize toxic chemicals and release harmless by-products.

       Additionally, the microorganisms that reside within the soil of these household plants can neutralize these  toxic agents, so that they no longer pose a threat to our health.

3)  Why is Teflon cookware so detrimental to our health when it is heated?

Although Teflon [polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)], itself is a relatively inert chemical, and can travel right through our gastrointestinal system without being absorbed, it is often considered to be harmful to our health. Studies have demonstrated that issues arise once Teflon based cookware is heated to significantly higher temperatures. When this material is heated above 3000C (5720F), PTFE is able to breakdown and release perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

These PFOA fumes can be responsible for causing “Polymer Fume Fever” a rare illness with flu-like symptoms including chest tightening, mild coughing, nausea and sweating. Additionally PFOA is under investigation by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether this chemical is carcinogenic. Further health and environmental concerns have arisen regarding the manufacturing process of PTFE and PFOA.

Although Teflon has been found to be more of a threat when heated to significantly higher temperatures, other studies have found that PTFE can release sufficient amounts of fumes at both high and normal cooking temperatures to be life-threatening to birds.

 

SOURCES:

1)    Claudio, Luz. “Planting Healthier Indoor Air.” Environmental Health Perspectives. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Oct. 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2017. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230460/>.

2)    “Do Indoor Plants Really Clean the Air?” LiveScience. Purch, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017. <http://www.livescience.com/38445-indoor-plants-clean-air.html>.

3)    “Fear of Teflon Flakes Found in Frying Pan.” Fear of Teflon Flakes Found in Frying Pan | Go Ask Alice! N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017. <http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/fear-teflon-flakes-found-frying-pan>.

4)     “Your Household Dust Probably Contains These Chemicals.” The Washington Post. WP Company, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/09/14/your-household-dust-probably-contains-these-chemicals/?utm_term>.

 Posted by on February 6, 2017