When it comes to undisclosed toxins in everyday stuff, cleaning products win the prize. There's a lot to look out for out there. 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 conventional make-up, fragrances, and vinyl items to be safe. Stick to natural personal care products and unscented or botanically scented products, too. Avoid anything with the word "fragrance" in the ingredients list. Scrutinize polymer clays, and don't microwave anything in plastic.
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. UPDATE: The FDA has banned 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.