There are as many as 17,000 secret chemicals that are potentially hazardous to our health, and to the environment, that we unwittingly use in our homes every day. Secret chemicals? Yes, according to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, the names and physical properties of chemicals in things like flame retardants in furniture and household cleaners are hidden from consumers and virtually all public officials. This is because 33 years ago, a federal policy was designed to protect chemical industry trade secrets. So it’s now impossible for regulators to control dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.
The EPA says that of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States today, nearly 20 percent are secret. Of these, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products.
The Centers for Disease Control has been doing body burden testing on Americans for more than 10 years and has found toxic industrial chemicals in almost everyone tested. Also, The Environmental Working Group released a study that found nearly 250 chemicals including polycarbonate plastics, flame retardants and chemicals from nonstick, stain repellant, and greaseproof coatings in newborn babies! Today’s children harbor way more toxins than their grandparents.
Plus, we have no idea what the long term effects might be. These chemicals may exacerbate allergies and asthma, and can cause nausea, dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, cough, headache, flu-like symptoms, and skin irritation. As they accumulate in the body over time they can silently affect how efficiently your body runs—like whether you can maintain a healthy metabolism, burn fat well, and keep your hormones in balance. Some also are known to cause heart, lung or kidney damage and even cancer and nerve damage if exposure is prolonged. This in turn can have a devastating effect on your health. If your liver, for instance, becomes taxed by an overburden of chemicals, it may not work efficiently, setting you up for other health problems.
In Europe, things are different. The European Union is following what’s known as the “precautionary principle,” where the burden of proof that a product is potentially harmful lies with the chemical companies, not the public. The EU restricts hundreds of chemicals and requires the industry to test most chemicals before being sold on the market. That’s not the case in the US. Essentially, the only way we know something is toxic is after it has been used for years and causes problems for thousands of people. This is, of course, why the precautionary principle is so important. If the health effects of a product are unknown, it’s best to avoid it whenever possible. In other words: Better safe than sorry. With all the untested chemicals in use today, if you don’t follow this advice, you just became a lab rat in the study!
Our bodies are remarkably resilient in defending against the effects of these chemicals, but only to a point. Scientists question the cumulative effect. It is common sense to believe that the more chemicals you are exposed to, the more likely you will eventually be negatively affected by them. My advice is always choose safe, natural products when you shop. In my book “Super Natural Home” I offer suggestions on what to look for and even how to make some of your own.
Beth Greer, Super Natural Mom™, is the bestselling author of Super Natural Home as well as a radio talk show host and impassioned champion of toxin-free living who busts open the myth that our homes are safe havens. Follow Beth on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook.
Photo: Howard R. Hollem, Flickr.com
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