Do You Need a Hazardous Chemical Warning Label?

Warning SignMost of us think that toxic chemical exposures can’t be very good for us. Yet, it seems that we go about our busy days blissfully unaware of the alphabet soup of toxic chemicals to which we expose ourselves each day. If you think about it, you start to wonder whether you should have a hazardous chemical warning label inked on your chest.

Before you read any more, let me just be clear that just because we are a exposed to a chemical, doesn’t mean that we are going to get sick. A particular chemical may cause an increased risk of cancer in a laboratory animal. But, just because I am exposed to that chemical doesn’t mean that I am going to have an increased risk of that same cancer. At the same time, it seems to me that it is a wise course to avoid or reduce toxic chemical exposures if you can. Now, I’m not recommending eliminating all luxuries. I’m not advocating, for example, eliminating nail polish if you like to paint your nails. But, I do think that instead of choosing a nail polish with phthalates and formaldehyde, you can choose a nail polish without those chemicals, and still be a happy camper.

Have you wondered what your chemical body burden might be? Do you think that our easy care, disposable, Teflon-coated lifestyle has left us with a with a body burden of chemicals – flame retardants, bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, DDT, PCBs and more? Body burden is a snapshot of the chemicals in your body at any one time. Biomonitoring studies (studies looking at hair, blood, urine and more and measuring the presence of chemicals) have repeatedly found participants with numerous chemicals, even chemicals such as DDT that were banned long ago. One of the first biomonitoring studies in 2003 found that the participants had an average body burden of 53 chemicals linked to cancer, 62 chemicals toxic to the brain and nervous system, 58 chemicals disruptive to the hormone system, 55 chemicals associated with birth defects or abnormal development, 55 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system and 53 chemicals toxic to the immune system.

So, does it make you wonder what your chemical body burden is? It is expensive to figure it out, although you can get your hair sampled for mercury for $25 if you are curious about your mercury body burden. But just answering some simple questions may give you a pretty good indication of your chemical body burden:

  1. Was your home built before 1978? In 1978, the amount of lead allowed in paint was limited to 600 parts per million (ppm) (or 0.06%). But, if you house was built before 1978, then it is likely that you are exposed to lead paint and lead contaminated dust. Try these simple steps to reduce exposure:  maintain paint in  good condition, don’t disturb lead based paint, wash hands regularly, wet wipe surfaces regularly, take off shoes before coming in, use a HEPA equipped vacuum and eat a healthy diet.
  2. Do you know what’s in your drinking water? Do your pipes, fittings and faucets leach lead into your drinking water? Or do you use water delivered in a polycarbonate 5 gallon plastic bottle, and does it leach BPA? If you have filtered water, when was the last time you changed the filter? Know your water, know your pipes, know your containers and keep your filter systems up to date.
  3. Do you eat meat? Meat products can be contaminated with chemicals that accumulate in fat, such as dioxins and PCBs. To reduce exposure, trim fat off and use a cooking method that allows fat to drain away.
  4. Do you eat fish? Fish can be contaminated with mercury, dioxins and flame retardants. To reduce exposure, select your fish species carefully.
  5. How many personal care products did you use today and what’s in those products? Think about it – what did you slather on your body today? Did you use shampoo, conditioner, soap, a shaving product, body lotion, facial moisturizer, hair styling product(s), sunscreen, perfume, toner, makeup, night cream, or bubble bath? Any or all of these products can have formaldehyde contributors, phthalates, parabens, toluene, and a number of other chemicals. Check your ingredients and consider switching to products with fewer toxic ingredients. Check out the cosmetic ingredient safety database Skin Deep as a starting point – but just keep in mind that it isn’t always up to date with a product’s ingredients, may have an error and always review the data gap information. It is a great resource, just not fool proof.
  6. How many cleaning products did you use today? Do you know what is in those cleaning products? Conventional cleaning products can contain a number of nasty chemicals, including phenols, cresol, phthalates, and ammonia, which can pollute indoor air and potentially cause adverse health effects. Reduce exposure by greening your cleaning.
  7. Did you use any household pesticides, in the home or garden or on any pet? Pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia and have been linked to autism spectrum disorders.
  8. Did you pump gas today? If yes, then you were probably exposed to benzene.
  9. How many electronic products do you have in your home and your office (if you work outside the home)? Electronic products and upholstered goods have flame retardants added to them, which offgas and adhere to dust. Reduce exposure by eliminating dust bunnies. And when buying new, look for products without brominated or chlorinated flame retardants.
  10. Does anybody in the house work with chemicals or have a hobby that involves chemicals? You can bring home chemicals on your clothing – asbestos and lead from construction and demolition, etc. To reduce exposure, change clothes and shoes before coming into the home – and even before getting into your car to drive home if your kids get in the car.

The questions just highlight some of the ways we can be exposed. The list is not exhaustive – of course there are lots of other ways.

But I think it does bring home that we are exposed to toxic chemicals every day, and that we can reduce those exposures by making simple choices.

And that is the point–if there is a safer alternative, I’ll choose the alternative. I don’t need to have scientific certainty that something is bad. And I believe that those small choices, made be each and every one of us, to forgo this product or that product because of its chemical content or its impact on the environment, shapes our world. In making those choices, I make the world a little bit safer for me and my children and my children’s children.

Original 5 Minutes for Going Green post.

You can read more from Jennifer aka TheSmartMama at her blog The Smart Mama where she writes about simple solutions to reduce toxic chemicals around the home and green parenting and living. Her motto is smart mamas do it all, naturally!

5 Responses to Do You Need a Hazardous Chemical Warning Label?
  1. Mimi
    August 28, 2008 | 8:11 am

    National Geographic did an article on how bio- hazardous we are in the past year. I have to say, however, it was more fun when I didn’t worry about so many things. The article said we are all more okay than we think. What do I look for? Lead paint: sure. Asbestos in old floor tile: check. My electronics, pumping gas, meat? Give me a break. I want my family to enjoy living life, not be afraid of it. Besides, what’s the point in worrying so much when it could all end tomorrow?

  2. Mrs. Greenhands
    August 28, 2008 | 10:38 am

    Great post! I try not to use chemicals in my garden. In fact, the only thing I use is a spray to kill the posion ivy – I’m highly allergic!

  3. Jennifer (The Smart Mama)
    August 28, 2008 | 11:13 am

    Mimi – I agree that we should enjoy life!

    But, I think with some simple steps, you can minimize the exposure for the things you do like. And I was pointing out some exposures you might not think about – not trying to scare people.

    My family eats meat – but I buy organic (when I can afford it) and trim the fat off when I can’t. Easy peasy and I’ve done what I can to reduce exposure to those chemicals that accumulate in fat. Pumping gas – step away from where you are pumping – also easy peasy!

  4. Monica (Healthy Green Moms)
    August 29, 2008 | 3:28 pm

    Great informative post Jennifer!
    I agree 100% that we do need to be especially aware now of the toxic load on our bodies from the cumulative exposure of these contaminants.

    I wanted to add that one time I am even more careful about my exposure is during breastfeeding. I eliminate virtually all personal care products during this time, or opt for safe alternatives.

    I was surprised the other day when I discovered a deodorant that found it’s way into our home containing Triclosan.

    It’s important to be informed. It is slowly having an effect on big business manufacturing. I believe being actively informed will help future generations by educating them to read labels, be informed and take action to protect their own health.

    Also, being careful does not effect how we enjoy life at all. Its just a habit we have established. Easy.

  5. Betting site free casino reviews com.
    August 4, 2009 | 8:48 am

    Bet online betting poker casino….

    Need casinos betting casino Betting casino casino mania online poker welcome. Betting site free casino reviews com….