The Link between Household Chemicals and Cancer
Due to an abundance of synthetic chemicals found in household products and furnishings, roughly 15 percent of Americans have developed chemical sensitivity, according to the National Academy of Sciences. In fact, some chemicals found in household products have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious health concerns.
Concentrations of toxic compounds are sometimes 200 to 500 times higher inside American homes than outdoors, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which examined 600 homes across the United States. Traces of at least 400 toxic chemicals - some which are found in household products and foods - have been found in the human bloodstream and in fat tissue.
Exposure to some of these chemicals can lead to a variety of symptoms like headaches, fatigue, dizziness, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rash. Exposure to indoor toxins over the long term can affect the lungs, kidneys, liver and central nervous system. Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems associated with indoor toxins.
It has been found that children under the age of eleven who live in homes where pesticides are used have an increased risk of developing leukemia that is four to seven times greater than that of other children. Also, brain cancer in children has been linked to the use of pesticide bombs, flea collars, garden insecticides and herbicides.
Particular chemicals that present a concern to experts are fluorinated polymers. From microwave popcorn bags to stain-free carpets, there are many household products that contain these dangerous chemicals. Regrettably, fluorinated polymers (which become toxic perflourocarboxylates or PFCAs when degraded) can be found in the bloodstream of animals and people all over the globe.
Scientists are finding that the risks to human health and the environment associated with PFCAs is widespread – large amounts have even been found in the bloodstream of polar bears and seals in the Arctic, and the amounts found in seals have doubled over the last five years.
In research with animals, PFCAs have been linked to cancer. These chemicals are pervasive - they can be found in household air and dust, and some scientists believe that PFCAs found in soil may remain there for hundreds of years. In spite of the obvious health risk that PFCAs pose, the EPA has not yet determined how to classify these chemicals in terms of danger to human health.
Methylene chloride is a toxin found in some aerosol products. Many products containing this dangerous chemical have been pulled from the marketplace but it can still be found in items like spray paint and paint stripper.
Many cosmetics also contain carcinogens or carcinogenic precursors. In fact, some scientists have estimated that 20 percent of cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in women can be attributed to the use of hair dye.
Here are some tips for limiting exposure to toxins in your home:
- Read labels. Learn about product safety and the dangers associated with use.
- Never mix products - mixing chemicals can cause reactions that could be toxic.
- Use painting products that contain dangerous chemicals in well-ventilated areas, and use a respirator if possible. Open windows, use fans and take breaks for fresh air.
- Do not smoke, eat or drink while using products that may be toxic. Also, carefully clean up after use.
- Avoid exposure to potentially toxic products if pregnant – many of these have not been tested for their effects on unborn children.