Are there toxins in your water, linens, and toys? 18 ways to protect your family by Celeste Perron
POTENTIAL DANGER: Nonstick cookware
The scoop: Pans that let cookies slide off easily and make cleanup a cinch contain perfluorochemicals (or PFCs), which have been shown to cause cancer, hormone disruption, and hypothyroidism in animals. In humans, they’ve been linked to a decreased ability to fight infection, as well as low birth weight in babies whose mothers were exposed to them during pregnancy. PFCs are found in the linings of fast-food packaging and most microwave-popcorn bags to keep grease from soaking through (as well as in some furniture and carpeting).
Healthy-home fixes: It’s not clear whether humans are at risk from day-to-day exposure, but environmental-health experts recommend these commonsense precautions:
POTENTIAL DANGER: Pollutants in tap water
The scoop: Here’s something you can worry less about. “Tap water is more regulated than bottled water,” says Dr. Paulson. However, it can vary greatly from region to region. An analysis of tap-water data from 19 cities by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), for instance, revealed elevated levels of lead, arsenic, and other hazardous chemicals.
report in the mail once or twice a year, call and ask for one. For a guide to understanding water-safety facts and figures, go to safe-drinking-water.org.
However, there are some water contaminants (percholate, a by-product of rocket fuel, for example) that may require a reverse-osmosis filter. These under-sink units are expensive and waste some water in order to clean it, but they may be worth it if you live in an area with heavily contaminated H2O. Whatever type of
filter you choose, look for one labeled as meeting NSF/ANSI Standard 53, which means that the manufacturer’s claims have been verified. You can find a more detailed explanation of water-filter options at waterfiltercomparisons.net.
POTENTIAL DANGER: Chemical flame retardants in bedding and furniture
The scoop: Tons of household products contain chemicals called PBDEs, which slow the rate at which something burns. The problem is, PBDEs have been shown to interfere with a child’s developing nervous system, causing problems with memory and attention. What’s more, they have widely contaminated the environment and even our bodies. Although there’s still a scarcity of data regarding the danger to humans, several states are concerned enough to have banned the production and sale of certain PBDEs.
a science fellow at the NRDC in San Francisco. “And kids are especially likely to be exposed because they spend so much time on the floor and put things in their mouths.”
A list of companies that make PBDE-free mattresses and bedding can be found at ewg.org/pbdefree.
POTENTIAL DANGER: Lead in toys
The scoop: You no doubt heard last year that hundreds of thousands of popular toys, including many based on characters from kid favorites like Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine, were found to contain lead paint — a dangerous neurotoxin that can hinder brain development and cause learning and behavioral problems (and which was banned by the government from house paint in 1978). The toys were recalled, forcing parents to stealthily toss them in the dark of night (or return them to the company).
Healthy-home fixes: There’s really no way to tell if a toy has lead. (DIY tests aren’t accurate, say most experts.) So:
e-mail alerts at recalls.gov; you’ll also find an up-to-date listing of recalled toys here.
POTENTIAL DANGER: Arsenic-treated wood decks and play sets
The scoop: It’s hard to fathom, but for decades, arsenic was added to outdoor wood as a preservative. After evidence emerged that it could cause cancer in
humans, the EPA banned the manufacture and sale of arsenic-treated wood for most uses. However, wood decks and kids’ play sets built before 2004 usually contain arsenic. So if you’ve got any wood in your yard that’s more than four years old, you can take some simple precautions to protect your kids, who can ingest arsenic when they touch the wood or the soil underneath it and then put their hands in their mouths. (If you want to know for sure whether wood in your backyard contains arsenic, you can buy a simple but reliable test kit, priced from $25 to $40, at ewg.org.)
Celeste Perron writes about health, style, and green living, and is the
author of Playing House: A Starter Guide to Being a Grown-Up.