Five simple steps to reducing environmental toxins around your house
Reduce household dust.
Those dust bunnies may look harmless, but nasties like lead, phthalates, BPA, flame-retardants, PFCs, and chemicals from cleaning products lurk in them. Gary Ginsberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor and toxicologist at Yale School of Public Health, has studied household dust extensively. He says dust is a key source of children’s exposure to contaminants at home, with levels of phthalates, lead, and flame-retardants in dust relating closely to levels in blood and urine. Children and babies ingest a lot because they spend more time on the floor and put things in their mouths. They are also much smaller and still developing, so toxins have a much bigger potential impact on their health.
Vacuum regularly using a HEPA filter vacuum, wet-mop floors, and wipe down surfaces. Fit filters to heating and air-conditioning units, take off your shoes when you get home, and use a doormat to reduce the amount of outdoor dust and soil coming into your home.
Buy a water filter.
“Another small change that is really impactful is purchasing a water filter,” Leibe says. The quality of tap water can vary widely, so it’s important to check yours via your water utility’s website or a resource like the EWG Tap Water Database. Just make sure to regularly clean the water container and change the filter.
Switch to cleaner personal care items.
Many beauty products contain small amounts of chemicals, including EDCs and lead. James recommends starting with the products that are used the most often and on the biggest areas such as moisturizers, sunscreen, and shampoos. Many people are surprised to hear the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing for personal care and cosmetic products, so it’s up to the consumer to check labels. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a great resource for researching ingredients as are apps such as Think Dirty, which let you check on the go.
Ditch plastic and non-stick cookware.
Replace plastic bottles with stainless steel or glass. The dangers of BPA are well known, but the plastics used to replace it (like bisphenol S aka BPS) are also thought to contain EDCs, according to the EWG and James. Never heat food in the microwave in plastic as this can lead to chemicals such as phthalates leaching into it, and replace non-stick cookware as these are made with PFCs.
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All of the experts interviewed were keen to emphasize that we should not be lying awake at night (on our non-organic mattresses) panicking. “I know it’s hard to not freak out about this stuff as you begin to educate yourself,” James says. “But it’s helpful to remember that it’s all about cumulative risk. No one item in the home is going to make or break your family’s health.”
“It’s not a life or death situation,” Dr. Ginsberg agrees. “There are a lot of low-level risks out there. We are doing much better today than we were when I was a kid. We don’t want to overwhelm people because then [they] will be paralyzed.”
“All of these changes combine to reduce our body burden of chemical exposure,” Leibe adds. “They’re small changes but very, very important to reducing the number of chemicals we’re exposed to that lead to adverse health impacts.”
The onus is now on us, as consumers, to do the legwork to find out what’s in the things we use. “The biggest piece of advice is that because of lapses in regulation, parents have to become amateur investigators,” Leibe concludes. “They can’t rely on claims and advertising hype.”
By increasing your knowledge and making smart choices, it is possible to make your home a greener and healthier place. So you can sleep better in more ways than one!
Main image: Some plants, such as Spider Plants, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Peace Lilies, Aloe Vera, and Garden Mums are natural air purifiers, according to NASA. So this Earth Day, why not take your kids to pick out a little greenery for your home?