By Noreen Khan-Mayberry, PhD (a modified excerpt from her book, Talking Toxicology)
The sources of toxicity are abundant and are ever-present in our homes, vehicles, and offices as well as our outdoor work/play environments. At home we can look in almost any room and find toxic chemicals that we have purchased and intentionally brought into our indoor environment. Examples include cleaning products, laundry chemicals, paints, thinners, hydrocarbons and petroleum products, personal hygiene products, chemically treated fabrics, fire retardants, sealants, pesticides, pool chemicals and the list goes on.
Generally speaking, people have many more toxins and toxicants than can be listed in a short paragraph. It can seem overwhelming when going through a list of potentially toxic chemicals. But many of us have learned to live with so many chemicals, that we may become complacent of their potential toxicity or we may cling to them as if they are part of our heritage and culture. Do you know anyone that cannot live without their bleach? I know far too many people who do not believe that their house is clean unless they can smell the chemicals, and they refuse to give up any chemical cleaners in the home. What is unfortunate is that they are breathing in unmeasured concentrations of these household cleaners—this also means that they are getting untold dosages of volatile chemicals. They are also exposing their family and pets to the same potentially toxic environment.
When you smell a chemical, or anything with a scent, this is a lightweight or volatile chemical which is evaporating into your breathable air. These repeated exposures to various toxic mixtures can lead to adverse health effects in the short-term such as headaches, nausea, or fatigue and/or long-term effects such as chemical sensitivities, asthma, weight gain, and mood changes or, worse, chronic disease.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many chemicals you are exposed to every time you enter into a new environment? I am not just talking about outdoors. I am referring to each space that you enter, in a vehicle, office, restaurant, store, hotel, etc. Each area contains a different set of chemical mixtures at varying concentrations. For the most part, they are harmless if you are not in these “spaces” for long periods of time. But what happens when you live or work in a contaminated space for months or years? Have you considered that your body is responding and may be slowly declining in its ability to deal with these long term exposures?
A toxicologist makes these considerations. It is what this science is concerned with and why some of us work to set limits on the chemicals that can cause harm to human health. Toxicologists strive to protect people and the environment from harm caused by chemicals. While the effort is just, there is so much that is unknown about the synergistic (combined) effects of chemical mixtures. It is impossible to know and measure all of the types and concentrations of chemical mixtures since they are constantly changing due to natural and unnatural actions. This is why you should try to eliminate as many toxins and toxicants that are within your control.
Here are some tips you can use to reduce toxic exposures:
1. Make a checklist of your toxic roommates – chemicals that you live with at home, work, and in your vehicle (there is an extended checklist in Talking Toxicology).
2. Eliminate as many toxic roommates as possible.
3. Check the source of your water. Find your city’s annual water report and see what types of toxic chemicals are found in your water.
4. Use steam instead of chemicals to clean. Steam cleaning kills most germs around the home without adding additional toxic chemicals to your breathable air space. There are many cleaning tools on the market that use steam to clean easy and hard to reach crevices.
5. Eliminate dust. Dust is comprised of mostly dead skin particles. We shed about eight pounds of skin annually and potentially toxic chemicals adhere to these dust particles. Reduce the amount of dust that you inhale by using electrostatic cloths instead of chemical containing “dusting” products.
It is important to consider your environment at all times. By becoming more aware of your “chemical surroundings” you may become more diligent about reducing the amount of time that you linger in areas with high concentrations of chemicals. You can also incorporate conducting a routine inventory (every three to six months) of the chemicals in your home and other places that you frequently occupy. Remember that you will not always smell chemicals and you should look for visual clues of chemical contamination or the presence of chemicals.