Avoiding Endocrine Disruptors in your Home

AdobeStock_99613781Many people are aware of the benefits of keeping what they eat and drink free of chemicals, including pesticides, mercury, and BPA. In addition to eating organic and drinking filtered water, to optimize your health, you should also take care to eliminate dangerous chemicals from your home – especially those known as endocrine disruptors.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies 12 endocrine disrupting chemicals, 4 of which are often found in common home products like paint, carpets, and furniture. Studies have shown that endocrine disruptors are responsible for increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; and accumulating in organs that produce hormones. These chemicals have been linked to lower sperm count, fertility issues, obesity, diabetes, thyroid irregularities, some cancers, neurological problems, developmental problems, kidney damage and more.

So how can you minimize or eliminate the impact of these chemicals in your home?

Phthalates:   Avoid plastic food containers, children’s toys, and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label #3. Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels carefully.  Also, be wary of products that simply list “fragrance,” this vague term can mean anything and sometimes includes phthalates.

Fire retardants (PBDEs, TDCIPP, and others): Choose furniture, carpet padding, mattresses and baby products that are free of all fire retardants. Consider replacing foam in older furniture, make sure cushion covers are intact since exposed foam allows chemicals to escape more quickly, and take care when replacing old carpet as the padding underneath is likely to contain PBDEs. Finally, use a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter to remove small particulates from your home.

Lead:  Keep your home clean and well maintained. Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water.

Perfluorinated chemicals  (PFCs): Avoid non-stick pans as well as furniture and carpets with stain- and water-resistant coatings.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) Avoid household plastics, especially food packages and storage. In 2012 the FDA banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups— but it remains in use in many other household products, like canned food and water bottles.

Finally, be aware of “regrettable substitution”  where companies replace toxic or dangerous chemicals (like BPA), for new or different chemicals (like BPS) that essentially have the same toxicity but have not been sufficiently tested to warrant being banned. There is no state or federal agency charged with ensuring replacements are any safer so while you might be able to limit exposure to the endocrine disruptors listed above, you still may be exposed to other chemical hazards, including carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Décor ideas that are green and healthy!

Home Decorating Ideas

Many people know the value of making “green” choices, like reducing their carbon footprint. But you need to make sure that your “green” choices don’t inadvertently compromise the health of your home. Check out our tips below for making your green choices, healthy ones too!

Go Green, Literally
Natural decorations, particularly houseplants, can add a refreshing splash of life and color to any design scheme. Additionally, living plants serve as natural filters that can help improve your home’s air quality.

But…be careful not to overwater plants and make sure keep the areas around plants dry so mold doesn’t start to grow!

Revive and Restore
Buying new, mass-produced furniture is often seen as an affordable way to furnish your home with attractive items. However, many such products are manufactured with toxic materials and using less-than-green methods. Every new thing created leaves some form of carbon footprint. So why not reuse what’s already there? Search antique and thrift stores as well as garage sales for older pieces that have already off-gassed. You can use the piece as is or choose to refinish it.

But…be sure to choose non-toxic solvents, paints, and finishes and be sure to work in a well-ventilated space. If you’ve bought older furniture, consider replacing the foam, whether or not you are reupholstering, with foam that is free of all fire retardants. Also, use extreme care when refinishing older painted furniture. Chances are if it was painted before 1978, the paint will have lead in it, which is very dangerous.

Be Natural
If antique or vintage isn’t your thing, you might consider buying from local artisans or furniture makers. Not only can you find unique pieces, but you can often talk with the maker to ensure that the pieces are made with non-toxic materials and finishes rather than from materials that contain formaldehyde, glues, and binders that outgas toxic fumes.

 

But…don’t stop at natural furniture. Make sure your flooring choices are also free of formaldehyde, glues, and other toxic materials. Skip the wall-to-wall carpeting in favor of area rugs made from jute, seagrass, organic cotton or wool. Better yet, go for a smooth surface like cork, stone, or sustainably harvested wood made with a non-toxic finish and installed with non-toxic adhesive or without adhesives completely! Also look for natural fabrics, like cotton and wool, and avoid all fabrics treated with fire retardants!

Minimize Chemicals
Chemicals are in almost every product we bring into our home and many of them are only minimally tested for their impact on human health. So keep your décor choices as chemical-free as possible by avoiding fire-retardants, stain-repellants, and anything with formaldehyde (such as some laminate floors and carpeting.) If your redecorating plans include painting, choose low- or zero-VOC paint.

If you do purchase anything and notice a strong odor once you get it home, leave it outside in the sun for 2-3 days to speed the off-gassing process. Also, keeping your house well-ventilated is a great way to make sure chemicals don’t accumulate.

Minimizing Health Risks from Paint

Limiting the hazards of Painting Picture

One of the easiest and most impactful ways to freshen up your space is to paint the walls. Unfortunately, many traditional paints off-gas Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) while they are being applied and for years after. So while your walls will look fresh, the air you are breathing might contain toxins.

Painting the interior of your home, removing older paints, or simply storing paint improperly can increase health risks to occupants due to the emission of toxic chemicals and the dust raised by sanding painted surfaces. These chemicals and particulates can lead to indoor air quality problems and may pose serious health risks. Babies, who have a greater rate of oxygen consumption than adults, are much more susceptible to harm from breathing in pollutants.
Among the immediate symptoms that are sometimes experienced with exposure to VOCs (whether from paint or other sources) are eye, nose, and throat irritation, allergic skin reaction, nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, memory impairment, and sometimes chronic sensitization to other substances. Longer-term exposures have been linked by some researchers to some cancers.

Many experts agree that most emissions occur during application of paint and the first few days of drying, but some contend that harmful paint fumes continue to off-gas in your home for years after painting (especially for oil-based paints). Currently, there are no regulations for the homeowners or occupants regarding the chemicals in paint and related supplies, but there are healthy choices you can make when choosing to repaint your home:

  • Choose a non-toxic paint stripper that is biodegradable and does not contain methylene chloride.
  • Choose a water-based Low- or Zero-VOC paint. Less than 8 grams/Liter (g/L) can be considered Zero-VOC. Below 80 g/L is considered Low-VOC, with 100-400 g/L is standard. Remember, “low-odor” is not the same as Low-VOC.
  • Check for other chemicals. Solvents, heavy metals and crystalline silica are sometimes added to and are considered carcinogens if inhaled (which can occur when sanding or scraping). Ammonia is used to inhibit bacteria and mold, pesticides are included to repel insects, and “mildewcides,” included to prevent mildew.
  • Do a spot test. Not only can you test color, but you can also test if you have a reaction to the paint. Zero-VOC means the paint cannot give off specific VOCs, not ALL

Because non-regulated VOCs are can differ from brand to brand, your reactions can differ, though the paints are labeled Zero-VOC.

If DIY is your style, here are a few tips to keeping you and your home healthy while you are painting:

  • Wear a quality mask to avoid breathing in particulates while sanding. Old paint is particularly toxic. After sanding, leave the room closed up and unoccupied for several hours.
  • To clean up dust, mop it with damp paper towels. Do not vacuum or sweep – you will leave a lot of dust in the air.
  • Ventilate! Provide as much air circulation as possible, especially if you are painting the ceiling. Fumes rise as paint dries, so ceiling fumes dissipate more slowly.
  • Store paint safely. Even water-based paints should be stored with the lids tightly closed away from HVAC systems that can circulate the air around the cans.