How to avoid unsafe chemicals in your home

Toxic chemicals in everyday products could be as harmful as cigarettes, warn two major medical bodies. Here’s how to protect your family.

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by Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

Late last year, both the Endocrine Society and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics issued warnings about the dangers of chemicals found in everyday products such as plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, cash register receipts and more.

In particular, chemicals known as endocrine disruptors can cause obesity, diabetes, infertility, and a range of cancers including breast, prostate, testicular, uterine and ovarian cancer.   

According to the Endocrine Society and the National Cancer Institute, unborn babies and young children are particularly at risk. Exposure to chemicals in the womb and in early childhood can lead to the development of illnesses decades later.

So how can you protect your family? Here are a few easy household product swaps to help you avoid unsafe chemicals in your home.

1. General purpose cleaner

If you use… Ajax Powder Cleanser with Bleach

Swap it for… Attitude All Purpose Eco Cleaner

The Ajax product is rated “F” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It contains symclosene and sodium hypochlorite, both of which may cause cancer and a range of nervous system, endocrine and reproductive effects. The colors it contains are also considered high risk.

Attitude’s cleaner gets a shiny “A” from EWG with “low concern” over its developmental and reproductive toxicity. There’s a very slight cancer concern due to the possible presence of formaldehyde in the lavender oil used, but it wasn’t enough to merit a lower score.

2. Dishwasher detergent

If you use… Cascade Dishwasher Detergent Gel

Swap it for… The Honest Co. Honest Auto Dishwasher Gel

The EWG isn’t a big fan of the Cascade gel– it scores a big, fat “F”. There’s high concern over its developmental and reproductive toxicity and some concern about its cancer-causing effects.

The Honest Co. hovers at the top of its class. It rates as low-risk for cancer as well as developmental and reproductive effects.

3. Laundry detergent

If you use… Tide Liquid Detergent, Original

Swap it for… Molly’s Suds Laundry Detergent

Nothing beats the clean smell of Tide, but unfortunately it doesn’t rate wellin any of the categories analyzed by the EWG. In particular, its use of sodium borate lands it in the high-risk category when it comes to reproductive and developmental effects.

Molly’s Suds elicits minor concerns over possible respiratory effects and skin allergies (as do most products evaluated by EWG), but overall it rates “A”for its clean bill of health.

4. Shampoo

If you use… Biosilk Thickening Shampoo, Cleanse

Swap it for… Acure Organics Shampoo, Moroccan Argan Oil & Argan Stem Cell

If you use any of the Biosilk products, you may want to reconsider because several of them rate badly. The Thickening Shampoo was given the EWG’s worst rating of 10 for cosmetics with high concerns over its cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting ingredients.

On the other hand, the EWG loves the Acure shampoo, which merits the highest cosmetics rating of 1. There are minor toxicity and cancer concerns due to the potassium sorbate and tocopheryl acetate it contains, but overall this shampoo is a winner.

Extra tips:

1. Filter tap water to reduce your exposure to chemicals – it’s preferable to bottled water.

2. Eat organic food as often as possible.

3. Choose BPA- and phthalate-free plastic containers and avoid microwaving any plastic.

4. Dispose of household chemicals and pharmaceuticals safely.

5. Touch cash register receipts as little as possible.

For more information on the ratings of common household products, head to ewg.org