How Your Endocrine System is Being Harmed by the Top 5 Home Toxins
The jury is in: American homes are contaminated with an array of toxic chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting pesticides and many others.
The average American spends 65 percent of his or her time at home, says John Spengler of the Harvard School of Public Health. Other experts put the amount of time at 90%. This means that for the majority of our days - and of our lives -- we're spending our time in toxic environments. (As most readers of the SixWise.com have heard, toxic pollution inside the home is an average 2-5 times higher than outside, and in some homes up to 100 times!)
The most recent study, led by researchers with the Silent Spring Institute (a nonprofit organization, as part of its Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study), found that, on average, dust in homes contained 26 different toxic compounds and the air contained 19 different compounds.
The foundation of your endocrine system are hormones and glands. Endocrine glands such as the major ones above send 20 major hormones directly into the bloodstream so they can be transported to cells in other parts of the body. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another.
Major toxins -- which come from a variety of sources discussed in this article and become dust in your home -- can disrupt your endocrine system, wreaking havoc on your body in a number of ways. Fortunately, the risks can be seriously reduced by following the five steps below.
Most Abundant Toxins in Homes
The following toxins appeared most often in the 120 participating homes.
Phthalates: These endocrine-disrupting chemicals are commonly used to soften plastics, but they're also in a host of other products like fragrances, hair spray and nail polish. Various phthalates were found in both air and dust.
One in particular, bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," was found in the dust of every home in the study. DEHP is used to make children's toys, shower curtains, raincoats, shoes and floor tiles. According to the study:
Concentrations of DEHP exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) risk-based safety guidelines of 35 micrograms per gram (µg/g) in most homes. Concentrations in the study ranged from 16.7 to 7,700 µg/g.
The EPA's safe level to protect against reproductive toxicity is1,240 µg/g: some homes also exceeded this level.
Alkylphenols: Many of these compounds, including nonylphenol, octylphenol, and their small ethoxylates, are classified as endocrine disrupters because they can mimic female estrogen hormones in the body. These compounds are found in laundry detergents, disinfecting and all-purpose cleaners, spot removers, hair color and other hair care products, and spermicides. Some interesting findings:
4-nonylphenol, which previous studies have suggested was not a likely source of air contamination, was found in the air of every home tested.
"Finding the alkylphenols in air was a bit of a surprise because EPA and some documents from the manufacturers had suggested that you wouldn't expect it to volatilize at all," said lead researcher Ruthann Rudel of the Silent Spring Institute.
Parabens and Phenols: These compounds are found in many household products. According to the NIH, phenol is toxic and people who are hypersensitive to it could experience death or serious side effects at very low exposures. Specifically, the disinfectant o-phenyl phenol, 4- tert -butyl phenol, and methyl paraben were commonly detected in the homes' air.
Pesticides: Perhaps most concerning, the researchers discovered that pesticides that have long since been banned in the United States are still showing up in our homes. For instance, DDT, which was found in 65 percent of the homes, hasn't been used in 30 years but a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found its breakdown product, DDE, in children aged 12-19 years-born after DDT was banned.
"Since [DDT] really hasn't been used in 30 years, it means it's really not breaking down indoors," Rudel says. Other banned pesticides commonly found, at times in levels exceeding the EPA's safe limits, include:
Heptachlor (found in the air of 44 percent of homes)
Pentachlorophenol (in the dust of 86 percent and the air of 58 percent of the homes)
Methoxychlor (in the dust of 54 percent of the homes)
Chlorpyrifos (found in the air of 38 percent and the dust of 18 percent of the homes)
The currently used pesticides permethrin and the synergist piperonyl butoxide (PBO) were found in the highest concentrations of all in the homes' dust. For more information on the health risks of pesticides, and why you don't want them in your home, check out our past article The Dangers of Pesticides.
Brominated Flame Retardants: Polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDEs, which are flame retardants used in foams and other plastics, were found in levels 10 times higher than those found in Europe. Three animal studies have shown that the variety of PBDE most commonly found in household dust, called BDE-99, can be neurotoxic and that exposures in utero may cause future sexual and thyroid problems in the offspring.
PCBs, which have a similar level of endocrine toxicity as PBDEs, were also found in some homes' air and dust, but in lower concentrations than the flame retardants. Another finding worth mentioning:
2,3-dibromo-1-propanol, a chemical described as "a mutagen and carcinogen" that was an impurity in the TRIS flame retardant, was found in the air of 9 percent of homes and the dust of 6 percent of homes, despite the fact that it was banned in 1977.
How Do I Measure My Own Home's Risk?
Your home is your safe haven ... but researchers say it may also be a haven for dangerous chemicals and pesticides.
As Spengler says, "The real concern is, how does an individual get informed about the concentrations in their own home? It's not easy for an individual consumer to get these measurements made-the laboratories that can make these measurements are few and far between, and they're expensive measurements to make."
Not only that, but, even if you were able to measure individual levels of toxins in your home, there's currently no way to assess what affects they have on your body when combined. Rarely are we exposed to only one toxic chemical at a time; rather we are exposed to a multitude of them at once, and over long periods of time.
"The need to assess mixture toxicity is recognized by most environmental toxicologists, but the tools to do this, especially for complex mixtures, are lacking or poorly developed," said Paul Sibley, an assistant professor at Canada's University of Guelph.
And, unfortunately, the researchers believe their findings only represent the tip of the iceberg: "We just happened to look for 89 of these chemicals ... but most chemicals that are actually in use haven't been screened yet, so probably the true number of endocrine-active chemicals that people are exposed to is much, much higher than the number we came up with," Rudel says.
Chances are There are Toxins in My Home ... Now What?
Knowing that there may in fact be alarming levels of toxic chemicals and pesticides in your home is only half the battle. Knowing what to do about them is the other half. Aside from adorning yourself with the latest hazmat suit while you relax for the evening news, try out the following key steps to significantly reduce toxin levels in your home to safe levels.
Because, considering the information above, these are now some of the most critical tools for you and your family's health, we researched and consulted with leading experts to recommend and offer the best types of solutions in several of these categories. Rest assured that where we don't yet have a specific brand/type recommendation, we are working hard to analyze the options out there and provide the best options to you in those areas as well:
1. Keep Your Home Clean-Down to the Microscopic Level
Since toxins reside on surfaces and in household dirt and dust, which is swept up into the air for your family to breathe in with every step you take, keeping your home as clean as possible will help keep toxin levels down. But just using ordinary cleaning rags will only push dirt and dust around-not pick it up and get it out of your home (and if you're using chemical cleaners, forget it; they're just introducing even more chemicals into your home!).
SixWise.com's Top Recommendation: PerfectClean Mops, Cloths and Dusters. Every item is built with PerfectClean's revolutionary ultramicrofiber construction that enables them to reach deep into microscopic crevices (NO other cleaning tool available even comes close!) and remove everything in their path: all forms of dirt, dust, hair, dander, and the biological contaminants too small to see with the naked eye. That is because at an astonishing 3 microns, the ultramicrofibers are even smaller than most bacteria (each cleaning cloth contains over 300 miles of actual cleaning surface!)
Plus, PerfectClean cleaning tools can be used dry or dampened with only water (NO harsh chemical cleaners are needed!) and can be used over 100 times before needing to be replaced, so they're incredibly economical and environmentally friendly.
2. Change Your Heater Filter.
As air cycles through a dirty heater filter, contaminants are continually recycled through your indoor air. Changing filters regularly will eliminate this risk.
3. Use the RIGHT Type of Air Cleaner.
Because indoor air can be two to 100 times MORE polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA, having a high-quality air purifier is now as essential as having locks on your doors. But choosing a high-quality air treatment system can be a cumbersome task, given the numerous models on the market (and their quality varies drastically).
All PerfectClean cleaning products are made from an ultramicrofiber construction combined with a patented antimicrobial chemistry that allows them to clean down to microscopic levels using ONLY WATER. No chemical cleaners are needed. Plus, they remove over 99% of all contaminants they contact ... far more effective than any other cleaning tool!
Read More & Try the PerfectClean Now
3. Clean Your Air Ducts Routinely.
As with your heater filters, dirty air ducts can potentially harbor toxins for years and as air flows through them those toxins are spewed back out into your home air. Cleaning your air ducts regularly means that the air flowing through your home has not passed through a dirty passageway, and picked up those dirty particles along its way.
4. Use Doormats.
As strange as it may sound, a few high-quality doormats placed strategically around your home (such as in entranceways and other highly trafficked areas) is an excellent deterrent to home toxins. That's because a chief way chemicals, pesticides and other contaminants enter your home is through dust and dirt you track in on the bottom of your shoes. They then settle into your carpeting or become part of your household dust, which is circulated into the air as you move around.
SixWise.com's Top Recommendation: Waterhog Grand Premier Mats. Unlike other mats out there, Waterhogs have a distinctive "water-dam" border that traps soil and liquids in the mat so they don't drain or track onto your floors ... while vastly minimizing slipping. Plus, they have a unique ridged construction that effectively removes and traps dirt and moisture beneath shoe level, so contaminants are not tracked into the home.
It's important to avoid mats made from coir, sisal and other fibers-even cotton-because, although they may look nice, they do not retain dirt, dust or water very well, and can actually "kick up" dust into your home. This is the opposite of what a good mat should do. Plus, cotton mats retain moisture, which makes them ideal places for mold spores and germs to thrive.
Keep Dirt, Dust and Toxins Where They Belong: Out of Your Home
Every step you take into your home presents an opportunity for germs to get in. That's why The Waterhog Grand Premier Mats and Rugs, placed strategically around your home at entranceways and highly trafficked areas, are essential to keeping your home clean!
These premier decorative mats and rugs:
- Keep Dirt and Liquids Beneath Shoe Level
- Dry Very Fast and Resist Corrosion
- Won't Slip
- Last Much Longer Than Other Mats
- Are Simple to Clean
- Are Attractive and Affordable
- Can be used Indoors or Outdoors
- Come in a Variety of Colors & Sizes
Learn Why You Should Avoid Other Mats, Why The Waterhog Grand Premier Mats are Superior!
Waterhog Grand Premier mats are made of the completely safe premium polypropylene fiber system that dries remarkably fast, preventing a "harbor" for germs and molds. Find out how you can get FREE SHIPPING for a limited time!
5. Use Natural Cleaning Products and Personal Care Items.
Because household items like cleaning products, toiletries (fragrances, hairspray, deodorants, shampoos, etc.), air fresheners, paint, bug sprays and many others are major contributors to the toxins in your home, seeking out natural varieties of these items is essential. Over time, your exposure to chemicals will be drastically reduced if you pay attention to the ones you yourself are intentionally spraying into your home and eliminate them. These days, almost every item you need and use has a natural variety available in your local health food store.
Doormats: The Most Unknown, Underrated but Crucial Health Tool
Exposure to Air Pollution Linked to Genetic Abnormalities
The Five Key Areas of Illness-Causing Germs & Toxins in Your Home
Environmental Science & Technology Online News
Phthalates and other Endocrine-Disrupting Compounds in Indoor Air and Dust
Are U.S. Homes a Haven for Toxin? (PDF)