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A few weeks back, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) launched a new online cleaner guide, and all I could think was, what took them so long? Because when it comes to undisclosed toxins in everyday stuff, cleaning products win the prize. So wouldn't their guide be first? I guess not, and this points out a truism: there's a lot to look out for out there.
Not to say that the new EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning doesn't have a lot to offer.
Though not without its faults, it's a useful database that rates 2,000+ cleaning products and discusses the mysteries of product labels and industry regulations.
Here's a quick guide to common toxicological troubles that may hide where we least expect them:
Where: Personal care products, synthetic fragrances, vinyl and other flexible plastics.
Why: Phthalates easily escape from products that contain them. That's a bummer because they're linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, organ and nervous system damage, and hormonal disruption.
My Advice? You'll rarely see phthalates listed as ingredients. So ditch the make-up and vinyl items to be safe. Stick to natural personal care products and unscented products, too. Scrutinize polymer clays, and don't microwave anything in plastic either.
What: Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical.
Where: Soaps, toothpastes, and other personal care products.
Why: Studies suggest Triclosan may contribute to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The FDA is engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient.
My Advice? Check ingredients panels and avoid those that contain this or any synthetic antibacterial agents unless there's a special need.
What: Perfluorochemicals (PFCs).
Where: Non-stick cookware, stain- and water-repelling fabric treatments, takeout containers.
Why: The PFC called PFOA is suspected of causing cancer, immune system and organ damage, reproductive disorders, and hyperthyroidism.
My Advice? PFOA is being phased out, but I don't trust its chemically similar replacements. So I'm using cast iron pans, immediately removing takeout foods from their containers, and refusing treated furniture and clothing.
Where: #7 polycarbonate plastics, food can linings, and thermal receipt paper.
Why: BPA is a slippery toxin linked to reproductive and neurological damage, diabetes, obesity, early puberty, cancer, and cardiovascular trouble.
My Advice? Buy only reusable water and baby bottles that say "BPA-Free." Keep canned food and drink consumption to a minimum. Refuse paper receipts when feasible and never recycle any you receive—the world's recycled paper supply is being inadvertently contaminated by this chemical pollutant.
Where: Old paint, yes, but lead also shows up in costume & toy jewelry, candies, toys, and ceramic glazes and paints.
Why: Lead is bad neurological news.
My Advice? Be careful about trusting any of the above from Asia or Mexico, the source of most lead problems. Stick to domestic and European varieties.
What: Genetically altered foods.
Where: About 80% of conventional processed foods.
Why: About 90% of U.S. corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola is genetically modified. These crops can contain new substances like pesticides, never-before-seen allergens, and higher levels of known allergens.
My advice? Two words: organic foods.