endocrine disruption

Toxins in Our Consumer Products & What To Do About it

Speaker: Muhannad MalasWriters: Esha & Sheena Jain


        Toxins are present in a variety of consumer products such as cosmetics, food packaging, household furniture, cleaning products etc. Over 84 000 toxins are used in products throughout North America, however only a small fraction are assessed and reported. Studies have shown that at the time of birth, neonates have already been exposed to approximately 55-121 toxic compounds that are linked to cancer and other health conditions.  

Many of these toxins are classified as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, which are known to mimic the effects of hormones. Some examples include:

Bisphenol A (BPA) used in: food cans, plastic reusable bottles & cash register receipts

o   BPA mimics estrogen, which can be detrimental to breastfeeding mothers and their children and has been linked to breast cancer.

Flame Retardants – used in: Furniture (i.e. couches, office chairs, mattresses) & nail polish

o   Flame retardants can impact fetal brain development and has been linked to ADHD

Phthalates & Parabensused in: Nail polish perfume/fragrance, makeup, personal care products & vinyl floors

o   Parabens mimic estrogen making them toxic to the reproductive system.

There are specific stages throughout development, in which one is most susceptible to toxin exposure. This can have a cumulative effect and increase their chances of developing various health conditions in the future. These include:


o   Since fetuses are small with low weight, any amount of chemical exposure can have an effect on them. Although as a general rule effects are independent of a dose to weight ratio. The effect varies based on individual susceptibility and genetic makeup.

After Birth

o   Breastfed Infants are exposed to chemicals present in maternal fat tissue through breastmilk.

Children & Adolescence

o   This group is exposed to chemicals from the products that they use (i.e. Axe spray, cosmetics). Individuals in this age group lack the ability to understand label warnings and how these chemicals can be detrimental to their health.


o   Even exposure to chemicals in adulthood can increase an adult’s chances of developing health conditions.

Toxins not only affect the health of the population but it also impacts our environment as a whole. Toxins such as dry cleaning solvents like siloxane, Perc, or cosmetic products are released into our environment and are polluting Lake Ontario. These toxins have the same effects in aquatic organisms as in humans (i.e. Phthalates and Parabens found in cosmetic products can also affect the reproductive system in aquatic animals, and flame retardants can also have neurologic effects on aquatic organisms.) Once these toxins are released into the environment, they enter the food chain. Fish exposed to toxins in polluted lakes are eaten by birds. By consuming fish these birds have gained toxin exposure and are then consumed by seals. These now exposed seals are highly consumed by the Inuit population in North America causing a low IQ in the Inuit population.

        Overall, the ultimate goal is to prevent individuals from developing these conditions by reducing their exposure to products with harmful toxins. This can be achieved by 2 approaches:

The “Right to Know” Approach

Community “right to know” bylaw – population pushing the right to know about the toxins in their communities. The goal is to mandate manufacturing companies to disclose information regarding the toxic chemicals used in their products. This approach will allow consumers to be aware of the chemicals in their products and allow them decide which products to use, and which to avoid. For example, many families of low socioeconomic status buy canned foods but are unaware of the use of BPA used in food cans, with the rights to know approach, these individuals will gain knowledge about which food products to avoid.

Precautionary Approach

The main focus of this approach is to take some preventive measures when there is evidence regarding products of concern. This is done  in order to avoid negative health effects in advance. The logic behind this approach is that in most cases once some harm is found in a product, chances are more harmful effects will be discovered in the future. Therefore precautionary measures should be taken before toxic substances have detrimental effect to an individual’s health.

Discussion Questions:

1)   What are common consumer product toxins found in pregnant women and how do they affect the mother and/or fetus?

Toxins Products Toxins are Used in Maternal/Fetal Effects Preventative Measures to Avoid Toxin Exposure
Phthalates Plasticizers and fragrance products found in:

- Shower curtains

- Shampoos

- Soaps

- Reproductive issues

- Asthma

- Avoid consumption of processed


 Often handed by workers wearing plastic


- Do not heat food in plastic   


- Avoid cosmetic and personal care

 products with phthalate or have

 “fragrances” listed in the ingredient list

- Keep offices and homes well ventilated

- Limit child’s exposure to vinyl tires,

 imitation leather furniture, soft plastic toys

Bisphenol-A (BPA) - Polycarbonate plastics

- Lining of food cans

- Cancer

- Early Puberty

- Diabetes

- Obesity

- Reproductive Issues

- Avoid canned foods, instead use products in

 glass or cardboard

- Consume fresh and frozen fruits & vegetables

- Find BPA-free plastic products

- Avoid handling receipts

Teflon - Stain-protection products

- Non-stick cookware

- Low birth weight

- Obesity

- Cancer

- While using Teflon/non-stick cookware, keep

  stove temperature low

- Use cast iron or stainless steel cooking pans

Mercury - Appliances

- Automotive parts

- Electronics, Batteries

- Thermometers

- Dental amalgam,  

- Medications, Skin creams

- Vaccines

- Jewellery

- Light bulbs

- Impairs neurological


- Avoid consuming fish high in mercury

2)   Are most toxins in consumer products included on the product’s label/ingredient list?

Toxins present in cleaning products are not mandated by the federal law to be included in the list of ingredients regardless of how harmful it is to one’s health. Some cleaning product manufacturers include a more detailed list of product ingredients on their websites, which are not included on the in store product label. However, the ingredient list found online remains vague and includes unspecific chemical groups as opposed to the individual chemical ingredients found in these products.

The chemicals responsible for creating the products scent is made up of over 3000 chemical products, many of which are toxic. However these chemicals are not all individually included but instead in many cases are simply listed as “fragrances” under the list of ingredients.  

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2011, has required cleaning product manufacturers to include all ingredients, contaminants and each fragrance-creating chemicals online and on product labels. The federal Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 is mainly concerned with chemicals newly created, putting less emphasis on toxic ingredients that are already being used in consumer products and cleaning supplies.

Stricter regulations are placed on antibacterial and mold-fighting cleaning products because they contain pesticides. Therefore manufacturers of these products are required to disclose each pesticide the product contains and their amount in percentage on product labels. However the disclosure of other toxic ingredients are not required in these products.  

3)   Are there any correlations between toxin exposure and the development of certain autoimmune diseases?

Toxin Correlating Autoimmune Disease
Mercury Poisoning ·         Multiple Sclerosis

·         Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Silica, Asbestos, Dioxin, Lead ·         Rheumatoid Arthritis

·         Spondyloarthritis

·         Inflammatory Myositis

·         SLE

Excitotoxin Poisoning

(from aspartame in diet sodas)

·         Multiple Sclerosis
Pesticides ·         Rheumatoid Arthritis

·         SLE

·         Systemic Sclerosis


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