Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Just One Small Change In Each Room = Big Impact On Your Health

A client recently challenged me to giving her ONE easy change per room that would make a difference in decrease her family's exposure to toxic chemical.  She new it was important to make some changes, but was overwhelmed by all the literature she found online and, quite frankly, did not have a lot of time between work and being a mom and wife to go crazy overhauling her life and home.  At this point, she wanted easy-breezy & healthy.

Challeng accepted. 

Little changes can have a huge impact on your family's chemical exposure.   Stop eating canned foods and your family's BPA levels will fall drastically.  Switch to non-toxic natural cleaning products and you are probably doing the single best thing to decrease your home chemical exposure. Small changes do make a difference, and the best thing is that these small changes dont always have to cost a lot of money. 

ROOM:  Foyer/ entryway
Change THIS: Adopt a no shoes policy inside the house
Why?: Think about where you walk every day; over grass in the park, sidewalks, streets, gas stations, supermarkets,  parking lots, well the list can go on and on.  What you normally don't think about is that everything you step on (pesticides at the park, rodent poop, garbage, petroleum products and on and on.) you bring home with you.  If you have toddlers they are crawling around and touching and tasting (come on, they spend the day with their hands in their mouth) all that nasty stuff your shoes brought home.   Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specifically recommends shoes remain outside to avoid lead exposure in children.  

Room:  Living Room
Change THIS:  Vacuum frequently with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter
Why?: Most families spend a large part of the day in the family room.  Kids play on the floor, and people walk through the living room constantly.   Most electronics (tv's, cable boxes, gaming consoles, entertainment systems etc) are located in the living too, and most of these are treated with flame retardants.   Most upholstered furniture (sofa's, armchairs etc) are treated with flame retardants (although if you are in the market to change sofas this is a great time since laws requiring flame retardants on upholstered furniture have recently changed.   Read more).  Flame retardants are know to migrate out and into dust particles which you breathe in and which younger children who are all over the floor ingest.  The cleaner your living room is, the easier you can breathe knowing that chemicals related to   thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing deficits, delayed puberty onset, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations and, possibly, cancer. are not entering your little munchkin's bodies.

Room: Kitchen
Change THIS: This was a hard one, since there is a lot you can change in the kitchen, however I am
going to say get rid of non-stick teflon pans.   I have been in so many kitchens that only have non stick teflon pans - if this is your case STOP USING THEM NOW.   RIGHT NOW. 
Why?:  Teflon is so toxic that it is being phased out of cookware (and let me tell you that chemical companies are so powerful that it takes a lot of proof that a chemical is toxic for chemicals to be taken out of products that are so popular!!) .  Switch to cast iron, stainless steel (my choice) or ceramic.  

Room: Bathroom
Change THIS: Switch to a natural non-toxic body/shower gel /soap
Why?:  Most of us shower with warm water - warm water opens our pores.  When we shower our bodies absorb a good amount of what is slathered all over our skin- including 2 especially bad chemicals that are found in most conventional shower gels:  phthalates and parabens.  
  • Phthalates:  Most shower gels and soaps smell. This is probably why you like them and buy them, however chemicals called phthalates are used to bind fragrance molecules to different products.  Every time you read (or smell) the word 'fragrance' in the ingredient list, it is code for phthalates.  Why are phthalates bad? These hormone altering chemicals are considered 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and have been also linked to human reproductive problems, decrease sperm counts, damaged sperms, behavioral problems, premature birth, birth defects and respiratory difficulties in children  (potentially linked to asthma).  Switch to natural nontoxic options.  Castille soap is by personal favorite
  • Parabens:  Parabens are used as preservatives to lengthen the life span of your beauty products - yet they might be shortening yours. They have been found to provoke the growth of breast cancer cells in lab studies.

To find a body wash that is free of these chemicals search the Environmental Working Groups 'Skin Deep' database

Room:  Bedroom
Change THIS: Open windows every day.  Even in winter!
Why?:  Indoor air is usually more contaminated than outdoor air - even if you live in a big city.  How is this possible? You can thank contaminated dust (with flame retardants from furniture and electronics, among other chemicals) volatile organic compounds (VOC's are found in new carpets and new furniture, paint, particle board, plywood and pressed wood, new plastics and electronics, cleaning fluids, varnishes, shampoos, dry clean clothing, air fresheners etc) and the very products you use to clean your house.   Clorox fumes, phthalates in that pine/lemon  fresh smelling floor cleaner etc make cleaning products one of your house's biggest contaminates.  Opening windows every day allows these toxins to escape and allows your family to breathe cleaner, fresher air.

Room :  Baby's Nursery
Change THIS: Invest in an organic mattress.
Why?:  While new laws have made selling upholstered furniture without flame retardants easier, these efforts have not been extended to mattresses.  This is unfortunate, especially considering that cribs are said to be the primary source of toxic exposure during the first year of life.  Parents might think the government regulates what is used inside crib mattresses, but it doesn't. In fact, there are no regulations regarding chemicals in mattresses.  

What can we find in a non organic mattress? Many conventional mattresses have polyurethane foam, which is very flammable and thus ends up being doused in flame retardants.  They also might be exposing your baby to phthalates, PVC and other chemicals.  The first years of a baby's life is when they develop the most and thus are the most vulnerable to chemical exposure- this is why choosing an organic crib mattress, while expensive, is really the safest option for babies who spend such a large part of their first years sleeping.  As a reminder, flame retardant chemicals have been linked to neurobehavioral issues, developmental disorders, endocrine disruption, reproductive health problems, diabetes, and even cancer. PVC, which can make up to 30% of non organic mattresses, has been linked to asthma, lung damage and allergies. 

Room:  Laundry Room
Change THIS: Stop using fabric softener
Why?: I grew up loving the Snuggle fabric softener bear commercials.  Every time he bounced on that pile of oh-so-fluffy (and sweet smelling, no doubt) towels I wanted to cuddle there too.  The reality?  Fabric softener is not something you want your little kids, or anyone, cuddling close too.   Why?  Fabric softeners and dryer sheets coat our clothes with a subtle layer of slimy chemicals, called quats, which are made up of a cocktail of hard to pronounce and not really healthy chemicals (they are also found in antibacterial wipes), These quats are known to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people.

As for the flowery smell?  Yes, you probably guessed it:  it is loading your crib sheets, towels and cute children's clothes with the endocrine disruptor phthlates (read above for why they are so bad).

Alternatives?  1/2 cup of white vinegar per load during the rinse cycle  is said to help.  I use rubber balls that are sold in some stores to help alleviate static in the laundry.

There you go, small steps - as little as one change in each room of your house, can and do add up. Make these easy, quick, small changes and you can feel good about making your home less toxic for your family and still have time to finish up your weekly to do list !

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