We’re surrounded by toxic chemicals everyday; they’re in the food we consume, the products we use and in the air we breathe. These toxic chemicals come from a variety of sources in the industrial (producing paper and steel, burning coal, manufacturing chemicals, generating electricity, etc.) and agricultural (herbicides, insecticides, etc.) sectors. What most people fail to realize is that they’re also being exposed to harmful chemicals in their homes through the products they commonly use, including cleaning products, air fresheners, shampoos, perfumes, frying pans, appliances, food and even the furniture.
Bioaccumulative and persistent chemicals
Persistent chemicals don’t easily break down in the environment which means that they remain in the soil, air or water for a longer period of time. This means that persistent chemicals have more time to affect people. Bioaccumulate chemicals on the other hand rise in concentration in the tissues of living creatures at increased levels compared to those found in the surrounding environment because the chemicals are drawn to biological tissues and fluids such as fats.
How Do Toxic Chemicals Get into our Bodies?
Toxic chemicals work their way into the body in three ways; inhalation, through the skin and the mouth, with inhalation and through the skin being the most common. When toxic chemicals enter through one of these pathways they’re carried through the bloodstream to various parts of the body. From the bloodstream, the chemicals are commonly stored in tissues, like bone and fat or they can travel through your liver and eventually excreted.
Skin (Dermal) Exposure
It’s been estimated more than 13 million United States workers are exposed to chemicals that have the potential of being absorbed through the skin. These numbers don’t count households that are being exposed everyday as well. While the skin does act as a barrier to some chemicals, it’s one of the primary routes of exposure. Skin exposure to various toxic substances can cause damage and irritation to the skin and eyes. Based on the chemical and duration of exposure, the effects of skin exposure can range from mild short term irritation to permanent damage. Direct contact with the skin can occur during common activities that include showering, swimming, toxic household cleaners, dust, sediment and soil. Some of the most common job positions that face exposure to toxic chemicals include healthcare, food, cosmetology workers and painters. Chemicals are absorbed much faster through cracked, chapped or injured skin.
Toxic chemicals in the form of dusts, mists, vapors, gases and fumes that enter the body through the mouth and nose can be absorbed through the trachea, bronchi, lungs and the mucous membranes found in the nose. In contrast to the skin, lung tissue doesn’t provide a very protective barrier against chemical access into the body. Organic chemicals in particular, enter into the blood stream quickly and all can damage lung tissue. Once toxic chemicals enter the body, they can cause numerous health problems including the following:
• Can affect sexual function and reproductive ability.
• Can have a negative effect on normal childhood growth and development.
• Aggravate or cause various cancers, which are described as the growth of and spread of abnormal cells throughout the body.
• Neurotoxin chemicals that can cause damage to the brain, leading to behavioral and/or developmental impairments, especially in children as their brains are still in the developmental stage.
• Respiratory toxins that can affect the breathing system, causing respiratory conditions including cancer, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchitis and other common breathing problems.
• Hormone disrupting chemicals that block, mimic, or hinder hormones that include estrogen, thyroid and androgen. Side effects included fertility, developmental, behavioral and neurological problems.
Children and Toxic Chemical Exposure
Children, especially infants, are sensitive to toxic chemicals so it’s important to use toxic free, untreated, natural baby products. In your child’s room, in particular, avoid using products with synthetic fragrances, anti-bacterial products, disinfectants, and chemical air fresheners. You’ll also need to consider toxic-free furniture and upholstery, carpeting and curtains, that don’t contain wrinkle-resistant treatments, stain repellents or brominated flame retardants.
Detoxing Your Home
Walk through your home and come up with some quick and easy ideas for safe, non-toxic alternatives to the products you’re currently using. Here are a few things to consider (every little bit helps).
• Swap household cleaners that include triclosan with non-antibacterial alternatives.
• Instead of using chemical-laden air fresheners use natural options that include baking soda and potpourri.
• Get rid of cleaning products that contain synthetic fragrances and other harsh chemical ingredients that include phthalates. Opt for biodegradable products scented with natural ingredients.