Thursday, July 8, 2010

Avoiding chemical exposure

One of the first strategies for improving wellness is to limit exposure to chemicals that pose a health threat.  Avoiding chemicals seemed like an almost impossible task to me. First, because not all of them are required to be disclosed. Second, because chemicals that are disclosed on labels require some detective work to decipher what they are and if they pose any health problems. Third, I come into daily contact with a virtually endless number of chemicals. So, where to start?

Undaunted, I began my quest by looking at the personal care, cleaning and lawn and garden products we use.  The personal care products were a big surprise.  As discussed in the post, What's on the Label?, most of these products contain chemicals that act as endocrine system disruptors.  Most definitely not good. You can find a cosmetic safety database at Skin Deep. You can do a search for the beauty or personal care product of your choice to see how Skin Deep rates it for safety. Even some of the so-called natural products are big offenders, so beware.

Next up, were the laundry products, which usually contain petrochemical detergents.  Again, not good for us or the environment. The first thing I eliminated were dryer sheets. These are especially nasty. The Environmental Working Group suggests using a cup of baking soda in the rinse cycle as an inexpensive fabric softener alternative.  Check out more of their eco-friendly options for the laundry here.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a Safer Product Labeling Program. Products that carry the label shown at left mean they have been proven to be "safer for people and the environment" (EPA). You can learn more about this program here.

I've discovered that Shaklee makes a great line of green cleaning products.  They might seem a little expensive, but they are very concentrated. A little goes a long way. Check out the Healthy Home section where they offer Get Clean Kits that provide everything you need to eco-clean your home and laundry. If you're more inclined to purchase from the grocery store, Seventh Generation is another good option for environmentally friendly household cleaners.  They even go so far as to list the ingredients in each of their products in Material Safety Data Sheets. You can find this information, as well as coupons for their products if you visit their website

We're getting ready to paint indoors and this prompted me to research paint to find a brand that has little or no volatile organic compounds (VOC's). These are defined as products that contain organic carbons that readily evaporate changing from liquid to gases when exposed to air. VOC's contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution and are a rather sneaky health hazard.

In 2002 the EPA did an interesting National Scale Air Assessment that looked at the risk of both the cancer and noncancer effects of inhaling outdoor air.  They measured 124 air toxins and compiled an air toxicology study.  They released the results in 2009 and you can find maps here, that illustrate the areas in the U.S. that have the highest levels by county for carcinogenic, neurological and respiratory risks.  I believe knowledge is power, but if you're feeling a little down today you might want to skip looking at the maps. They aren't uplifting, especially if you live in or near any major metropolitan areas.

As if having polluted outdoor air isn't bad enough, it seems that indoor air pollution can surpass outdoor levels. Aren't I just full of good news Anyway, if you're looking for information on indoor VOC's, the EPA has another reference called, "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality" that I found helpful. In addition, Oklahoma State University has a comprehensive site here.  If you're looking to check the information on chemicals, this site is the place to start.  It has links to a number of resources like Material Safety Data Sheets, Chemical Database,  National Toxicology Program Chemical Health and Safety Database and even a glossary of terms that's useful.  I was able to do a search on a variety of different paint brands and discover the VOC ratings, as well as other information.

Last, but not least, check out the National Geographic's site, The Green Guide.  They have many good  articles, tips and suggestions to help you go "green". It definitely requires diligence and more than a little detective work to revamp your personal care, cleaning, paint, and lawn and garden products. However, it's definitely worth the effort, because:

When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.  ~David Orr

Sources
Skin Deep - http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/
Environmental Working Group - http://www.ewg.org/node/18698 
Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/formulat/saferproductlabeling.htm
Seventh Generation - http://www.seventhgeneration.com/Green-Cleaning 
Oklahoma State University - http://ehs.okstate.edu/links/msds.htm
The Green Guide - http://www.thegreenguide.com/ 
Inside Story: Guide to Indoor Air Quality - http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidest.html 

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