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Dangerous Household Chemicals to Toss

Harmful Household Chemicals to Throw Away Now

We're happy to present this article from our partners at Yahoo! Shine.

As consumers, we often assume that the products we buy are safe and healthy for our families, but unfortunately that's not always the case. On Thursday afternoon, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA related to two hazardous pesticides. Propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) are banned for use in most household products because of their danger to children, but they are still used in flea collars for dogs and cats. These neurotoxins can have a similar impact on kids' brains as exposure to lead and might also cause cancer. "We've been putting pressure on EPA for almost a decade on this," Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior public health scientist at NRDC, tells Yahoo Shine.

Related: 7 Superefficient, Supereffective Ways to Clean Your Home

Children are particularly susceptible to household toxins. "Pound for pound, they eat more, drink more, and breathe in more air than adults," Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician and expert in environmental medicine explains to Yahoo Shine. He adds that their developing organs are vulnerable and can be permanently damaged from exposure to certain chemicals. Children also play close to the ground where toxins settle and often put their hands into their mouths.

Pets are mammals and their nervous systems are also susceptible to these pesticides, explains Rotkin-Ellman. She says low-level toxicity can be hard to spot in pets; it might manifest in lowered energy and cognitive function. In high doses, these chemicals can be deadly. And having these chemicals on pets can also expose the humans around them. "It's a good issue that the NRDC has brought forward," Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group (EWG), tells Yahoo Shine. "We want to lower kids' exposure to organophosphates," the class of chemicals that include propoxur and TCVP. She points to three studies released in 2012 that linked organophosphates to lower IQ.


The NRDC recommends avoiding flea collar brands that use them, including Sergeant's Pet Care Products, Wellmark International, and Hartz Mountain. It has also published an updated Green Paws product guide, listing safer alternatives.

Exposure to harmful chemicals in household products is an issue that goes way beyond flea collars. "Consumers get a lot of distracting advice from manufacturers," says Rotkin-Ellman. Lower our health risks takes a combination of demanding regulating agencies, such as the EPA, phase out the most harmful chemicals and using common sense at the store. It's usually not difficult to find healthier substitutes. Here are potentially harmful products that you can readily eliminate from your shopping list now:

Antibacterial soap. Soaps that contain triclosoan and triclorcarbon don't clean any more effectively than conventional soap and water, but can disrupt hormonal function and might be linked to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They don't get completely broken down during sewage treatment, and they pollute rivers and streams, which further harms plant and animal life. Just use plain soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Fertilizer combined with weed killer. Avoid products labeled "weed and feed," which contain a carcinogenic Agent Orange chemical called 2,4-D. You'll end up spreading the dangerous herbicide far more widely than necessary in this formulation. Instead, pull up weeds by hand and spot-apply weed killer sparingly.

Bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical is used in the linings of canned food and beverage containers, and over 90 percent of Americans carry its residue in their bodies. According to the NRDC, BPA is a hormone-disruptor that has also been linked to impaired development of the brain and nervous system, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and metabolic diseases including obesity and heart disease. While it's been banned for use in baby bottles and baby-formula containers, children and adults can be exposed in other ways. Trasande recommends reducing the use of aluminum cans and avoiding microwaving food and beverages in plastic. "Don't wash plastics in the dishwasher and if plastics become etched or scratched, throw them away," he adds.

Harsh cleaning products. "This is an area where alternatives are readily available," says Rotkin-Ellman. "If you look at the ingredients label and understand what they mean, that's a good sign. Always start with [the] least toxic options before you reach for a heavy-duty cleaning product." As a rule of thumb, if a product carries the label "dangerous," "toxic," "poison," "may cause burns," or "fatal if swallowed or inhaled," don't bring it in the house. EWG has a guide, Healthy Home Tips, which covers the basics of what chemicals to avoid in home and personal care products.

Flame retardants. Fire-retardant chemicals are commonly found in foam furniture like couches, mattresses, carpet padding, and some children's products, especially those manufactured before 2005. They have been linked to a range of health problems such as cancer, male infertility, and lower IQ. The toxins flake off and settle into dust. Children are particularly vulnerable, Lunder says. "Because of the way they play, a recent study found that 19 out of 20 kids had more fire-retardant chemicals in their blood than their moms." Obviously, you aren't going to get rid of all your furniture, but you can reduce your risk. A new standard is set to go into effect next year, but to limit exposure now, vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter or damp mop to avoid spreading the dust.

Lunder says people, especially parents, can feel overwhelmed by a "laundry list" of what they should do when it comes to avoiding chemicals in everyday products. Both the NRDC and EWG websites offer a wealth of information on how to be a thoughtful consumer in a realistic way.

— Sarah B. Weir

Also on Shine:
Organic Milk: Is It Really Worth It?
5 Things You Didn't Know About Shy Kids
Are You Washing Your Clothes Wrong? Probably

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